China to extend pollution clampdown, but warns coronavirus makes targets tougher

FILE PHOTO: People are seen on a polluted day in central Beijing, China March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Friday it will continue to strengthen anti-pollution controls and meet its environmental targets for 2020, but warned that the coronavirus pandemic would weigh on energy intensity goals.

“By maintaining the same direction and intensity of effort, we will address problem at the source, (and) bring about sustained improvement in the environment,” the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said in a statement.

Earlier this month, China’s environment ministry had said the improvement in air quality in the first quarter of this year was “incomparable” as restrictions imposed to contained the coronavirus outbreak meant the closure of industrial plants and reduced travel.

But China’s air pollution saw an increase in April for the first time since December, with analysts attributing the rebound to the resumption of economic activity.

China’s finance ministry will allocate a total of 407.3 billion yuan ($57 billion) to ecology and environment protection in 2020, up from 390.6 billion yuan last year, according to a statement on Friday.

The country will continue to promote less polluting heating systems in northern China by replacing coal with gas or electricity, and will impose ultra-low emission standards at more steel mills, the NDRC said.

“However, the tasks for this year remain formidable,” the NDRC said, pointing out that the impact of the epidemic on economic growth is likely to be greater than the impact on total energy consumption.

China fell short of its energy efficiency goals in 2019, leaving experts concerned it might struggle to meet 2020 targets as it would prioritise more energy-intensive projects to shore up the virus-hit economy.

Meanwhile the state planner vowed to push forward on tightening emissions controls at coal-fired power plants, and “actively yet prudently” develop hydropower and advanced nuclear power facilities, making non-fossil fuels the major contributor to energy consumption growth.

Reporting by Tom Daly, Min Zhang and Muyu Xu; Writing by Shivani Singh; Editing by Tom Hogue and Kenneth Maxwell

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