China was paying a heavy environmental price for growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and leaders would only solve the pollution problem if they changed the country’s development model, a vice minister said at the weekend.

China’s efforts to protect the environment had been weakened because power was spread among too many departments, Vice Environmental Protection Minister Wu Xiaoqing said. Seventy-one of 74 Chinese cities last year failed to meet air quality standards set for them, he said, adding that heavy pollution late last month affected 15 provinces.

“We are suffering in our pursuit of GDP growth,” Wu said during the annual session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. “Our GDP needs to make a contribution to solving our environmental pollution problems.”

Premier Li Keqiang said last week that the country would “declare war” on smog and fight it with the same determination with which it tackled poverty. The government invested more than 300 billion yuan (R526bn) on environmental protection last year. – Bloomberg