China will meet air pollution goals by 2035, says minister

Cost of China’s economic expansion has been a stark rise in environmental degradation

Cleaning up China's notorious pollution was a major struggle, but environment protection minister Li Ganjie has urged people to be patient and said he was confident the country would meet its targets on air quality by 2035.

"We are aware of these challenges we face," Mr Li told a briefing on the fringes of the Communist Party congress in Beijing.

The downside of China’s remarkable decades of economic growth has been its poor environmental record, as industrialisation on a huge scale has been matched by the degradation of the country’s rivers, skies and soil.

Increasingly, it has become a political issue, as concern about the effect of pollution on health and food safety has become a threat to stability, prompting a renewed campaign by the ruling Communist Party to address environmental problems.


“By 2035 there will be a fundamental improvement in the environment, and the goal of building a ‘Beautiful China’ will basically be attained,” he said.

There was a sharp reminder of China’s pollution woes when the capital was shrouded in smog for the opening days of the congress last week, despite factories in the surrounding provinces shutting and building sites stopping work in the run-up. Even barbeque stands stopped selling grilled lamb in some neighbourhoods.

Airborne pollutants

The government has pledged to cut average concentrations of the most harmful airborne pollutants, known as PM2.5 (particulate matter up to 2.5 micrometres), by more than 15 per cent in the coming winter months in 28 of the worst-affected northern cities by closing factories and enforcing emission cuts.

There are days when smog in Beijing is many times the concentration of 10 micrograms considered safe by the World Health Organisation. Mr Li said China should aim to meet its own "interim" standard of 35 micrograms by 2035.

“We have never had a deeper understanding of ecological civilisation, and the party and the whole nation has embraced the concept of environmental protection,” said Mr Li, who was named minister for the environment in June.

Despite the progress made, there were structural issues that had to be dealt with, and he said there would be efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on coal.

China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.

‘Ecological civilisation’

In his speech opening the congress, president Xi Jinping referred regularly to the environment and said the ruling Communist Party had made progress in building an "ecological civilisation".

“Any harm we inflict on nature will eventually return to haunt us,” he said.

Environmental protection is one area that Mr Xi is keen for China to lead in, especially in the international arena after US president Donald Trump took the US out of the Paris accord on climate change.

“Taking a driving seat in international co-operation to respond to climate change, China has become an important participant, contributor and torchbearer in the global endeavour for ecological civilisation,” Mr Xi said.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing