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Pollution Is A Threat To Delta’s Development, Vice-minister Says

Shi Jiangtao in Shenzhen, SCMP – Sep 13, 2008

Severe pollution in the Pearl River Delta is threatening to hurt the area’s social and economic development, a top mainland environmental official has warned.

Pan Yue, vice-minister of environmental protection, said although the delta region remained an economic powerhouse, contributing more than 10 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product last year, it had also become one of the mainland’s most polluted areas.

“The Pearl River Delta has paid a great price in terms of environment and resources for the economic miracles it has created,” Mr Pan told the Green China Forum in Shenzhen yesterday.

The forum was co-hosted by the Hong Kong Business Environment Council and the China Environmental Culture Promotion Association.

Guangdong’s emissions of sulfur dioxide – the main cause of acid rain – last year accounted for 5 per cent of the country’s total emissions while chemical oxygen demand, a measurement of water pollution, was also high, Mr Pan said.

Guangdong’s vice-governor, Lin Musheng, admitted that air pollution in the region, including Hong Kong and Macau, had been getting worse.

Although authorities have spent more than 30 billion yuan (HK$34 billion) on cleaning up the Pearl River, pollution at the river’s mouth shows little sign of abating.

Lax regulation, poor law enforcement and powerful interest groups are often blamed for the mainland’s widespread pollution.

“The environment of the Pearl River Delta is at a critical juncture,” Mr Pan warned. “Pollution problems will put a heavy strain on the socio-economic development of the entire region.”

The environmental official also questioned the concentration of energy-intensive and heavily polluting industries in the region.

According to Mr Pan, Guangdong and Guangxi had made separate plans to develop chemical, steel and papermaking industries along the coast of Beibu Bay.

“Have they gone through an environmental assessment of the region? Do we know whether the environment has the capacity to afford such redundant development?” he asked.

He said the campaign to control pollution in Guangdong, home to the country’s first special economic zones, would have a big impact on other regions struggling to find a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

Fan Gang, director of the National Economics Research Institute and a central bank adviser, said the price of global competitiveness and soaring economic growth was the huge environmental costs that now had to be dealt with.

Professor Fan said mainland enterprises should not pin their hopes on avoiding their environmental responsibilities.

“A key step for the government is to increase penalties for enterprises that break the law,” he said.

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