China’s new Davos pledge—blue skies, literally, in three years

Someday soon, you’ll be able to throw out the mask.
Someday soon, you’ll be able to throw out the mask.
Image: AP Photo/Andy Wong
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Liu He, Chinese president Xi Jinping’s right-hand man and the mastermind behind the country’s economic policy, made a concrete pledge to the country’s 1.4 billion citizens today: In three years, your skies will be blue again.

Air pollution in China is so bad that it darkens skies in the daytime, gives citizens cancer, and hinders its ability to produce solar power, thanks to the country’s coal consumption. China’s Communist Party promised to fight pollution in its latest five-year plan and even bring back blue skies, but Liu is the first to put a timeframe on the pledge.

He made the promise during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, while positioning China as a defender of global peace and prudent climate policy, a pivot of Beijing’s since the last US presidential election.

“Green and low-carbon development is what the Chinese people and people across the world want the most,” Liu said. In the next three years, he said China will “scale up pollution control, lower intensity of resource consumption, make our development more eco-friendly and our skies blue again.”

In contrast, the Donald Trump administration has filled its ranks with coal executives, and is trimming regulations on coal-fired plants while rolling back incentives for solar power. Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord last summer, a decision Liu seemed to criticize in Davos, without mentioning the US president by name.

Not only will China “honor the Paris agreement,” he said, it will “stay committed to improving the environment with the rest of the international community.”

While Liu outlined some economic changes—including opening up the market to more imports and better defense of intellectual-property rights (these are pledges Beijing has made before, but failed to implement)—he gave few specifics.

He did, however, talk about the need for “rational choices,” another dig that seemed aimed at Trump. It is “crucial to make prudent and rational choices, choices that will serve mankind well” on issues like terrorism and climate change, Liu said.

“We need to seek cooperation in a sensitive manner,” Liu added. “China is a force for world peace, development, and the international order.”