China will increase pressure on local governments and enterprises to cut pollution and lift energy efficiency, Wen Jiabao, the premier, said yesterday, after the failure to meet benchmarks set last year in both areas.

In his annual report to the National People’s Congress, the country’s top law-making body, Mr Wen said “many backward production facilities” had not been shut as planned and local governments and enterprises had failed to comply with laws.

His sharp rhetoric reflects a recognition by Beijing that worsening energy efficiency and rising pollution are rapidly becoming significant domestic and international political problems for China.

According to the International Energy Agency, China is expect-ed to become the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2009 based on present consumption patterns, which will put it at the centre of the climate change debate.

In addition, China’s surge of investment in heavy, polluting industries in the past five years has coincided with a sharp rise in global energy prices and rising demands from its citizens for cleaner air and water.

Investment in heavy industry has also been a big driver in the expansion of the power industry, which added new capacity last year equal to about twice the installed base of California, 90 per cent of it coal fired.

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