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China Vows to Clean up 60 Percent of Cities by 2020

BEIJING (Reuters) - China pledged on Sunday that it will make sure that 60 percent of its cities meet national pollution standards by 2020, with pressure growing to make cities liveable as hundreds of millions of migrants are expected to relocate from the countryside.

China's environmental problems such as pollution and water scarcity are expected to intensify as rapid migration pushes urban infrastructures to the limit. Almost all Chinese cities monitored for pollution last year failed to meet the standards.

The environment has emerged as a key priority amid growing public disquiet about smog, dwindling and polluted water supplies and the contamination of farmland. Poor air quality is estimated to end hundreds of thousands of lives prematurely each year and has led to a series of riots and public protests.

The pledge to clean up the nation's major metropolitan centers was made in a State Council plan for how to deal with China's rapid urbanization drive.

"We will improve and promote green, sustainable and low carbon development in the urbanization process, enforcing the strictest measures on ecological and environmental systems," the plan said.

According to the State Council, 60 percent of the cities will meet national air quality standards in 2020, which it said was up from 40 percent in 2012.

However, at China's annual parliamentary session earlier this month, officials said only three of 74 major cities met the pollution standards in 2013.

The State Council plan outlined a lengthy list of policies it will implement to meet the target, including boosting renewable energy use, curbing emission-intensive industries and taking the most-polluting vehicles off the roads.

China will also set up a tiered pricing system for electricity, natural gas and water, to control rapid growth in consumption of scarce natural resources.

The government plans to roll out trading systems for carbon and air pollutant emissions, energy-saving certificates and water to provide economic incentives to reduce waste.

China has already picked seven key regions to launch pilot carbon trading schemes with the intention of setting up a national market to cut emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020.

Guangdong province has already launched an emissions trading scheme, along with the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tianjin.

FOOD SECURITY

China is also seeking to ensure it has enough labor in its vast farming sector to guarantee food security, with rural worker shortages one of the country's biggest challenges.

The State Council plan restated China's commitment to protect agricultural land from further urban and industrial encroachment, a policy known as its "red line." It promised more state investment in major food-producing regions, improved insurance coverage in rural areas and reforms to the pricing systems of major agricultural commodities.

It also promised to raise farming mechanization rates to around 70 percent from current levels of 60 percent.

(Reporting by Kathy Chen, Stian Reklev and David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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