Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged Sunday to make the country's smoggy skies blue again and "work faster" to address pollution caused by the burning of coal for heat and electricity. His words to delegates at the opening of the annual National People's Congress highlight how public discontent has made reducing smog, the most visible of China's environment problems, a priority for the leadership, per AP. The 10-day event got underway under a sunny blue sky, thanks to heavy gusts from the north that cleared away the unhealthy gray from the day before. Protests have increasingly broken out in cities where residents oppose the building of chemical plants and garbage incinerators, as China's middle class grows increasingly vocal in awareness of the dangers of pollution.
In a report to China's ceremonial legislature, Li said that "people are desperately hoping for" faster progress to improve air quality. "We will make our skies blue again," he declared to almost 3,000 delegates in the Great Hall of the People. He said the government intends over the next year to step up work to upgrade coal-fired power plants to achieve ultra-low emissions and energy conservation, and prioritize the integration of renewable energy sources into the electricity grid. Despite China's lingering dependence on coal plants, its consumption of the energy source fell in 2016 for a third year in a row. Coal now makes up 62% of China's total energy consumption mix. "All key sources of industrial pollution will be placed under round-the-clock online monitoring," Li promised. (Read more China stories.)