China says environment still grim despite five years of progress

Asia

SHANGHAI: China’s environment conditions are “grim”, falling short of public expectations even after five years of efforts to improve air quality, boost clean energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions, a senior official said on Wednesday (Oct 21).

There was still a long way to go, said Zhao Yingmin, the vice-minister of ecology and environment, even though China had met a series of targets on smog, water quality and carbon emissions over the five years from 2016.

READ: ’Two-headed beast’: China’s coal addiction erodes climate goals

“While seeing the improvements … it should be clearly recognised that the quality of the ecological environment remains far from people’s expectations for a better life,” he told reporters in Beijing.

China remains dependent on heavy industry and coal, and the “grim environmental trends” have not fundamentally changed, he added.

Last month, President Xi Jinping set a 2060 deadline to attain “carbon neutrality”, as part of China’s commitments to the Paris climate change accord. It also aims for emissions to peak by 2030.

The announcement was seen as a challenge to the United States, set to withdraw from the Paris deal on Nov 4. On Monday, the foreign ministry criticised Washington’s record on climate, calling it a consensus-breaker and a troublemaker.

READ: High stakes for Earth’s climate future in US vote  

China is drawing up a new five-year plan for 2021 to 2025, which experts say would require stronger commitment to controlling coal consumption and promoting low-carbon energy to meet the 2060 target of carbon neutrality.

Zhao did not give details of the next five-year plan, but said China would step up efforts to control fossil fuel consumption and promote low-carbon technology, while promising greater contributions to tackling climate change.

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