14 November 2018

POLICY WATCH: Targets set to curb worsening air pollution

China is stepping up efforts to curb the worsening air pollution problem, particularly the very visible scourge of smog in several major cities, which resulted from decades of rapid economic growth.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection on Tuesday signed an agreement with 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions setting targets to reduce key air pollutants by 5 to 25 percent in their respective jurisdiction.

The latest move aims to engage the active participation of local governments in improving the country’s deteriorating air quality in a bid to protect and promote the people’s health and welfare, according to a statement posted on the State Council’s website. It also dovetails with government efforts to phase out inefficient industries and reduce dependence on highly polluting energy sources such as coal.

In their pursuit of a more balanced and sustainable economic growth, the country’s leaders have realized they can no longer allow the destruction of the environment or disregard the harmful effects of haphazard development on the quality of life of the people.

Air pollution, in particular, has proved to be costly in terms of lost productivity and missed business opportunities.

In China, around 350,000 to 500,000 people die from severe air pollution each year, former health minister Chen Zhu {陳竺} wrote in the December issue of The Lancet medical journal. Tougher anti-air pollution regulations would prevent around 200,000 deaths, Chen said.

According to the document signed between the environmental protection ministry and the local governments, 11 regions were given PM2.5-reduction tasks, including an annual 25 percent decrease, the highest, for Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.

Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong and Shanxi will have to cut their indices by 20 percent, followed by 15 percent for Guangdong and Chongqing and 10 percent for the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The other regions were ordered to cut their PM10 readings by 5 to 15 percent, with only Hainan and Yunnan provinces as well as the Tibet Autonomous Region, where air pollution is relatively benign, given no specific goals but told to make “continuous improvements”.

PM2.5 refers to airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns while PM10 gauges particulate matter under 10 micrometers. Both are main air pollution indicators.

The document also urged the regions to take various measures such as reducing the use of coal, eliminating outdated industrial capacity as well as better management and control of boilers, vehicles and dust.

The local governments were asked to prepare detailed plans to ensure the implementation of various anti-pollution initiatives and lay down specific goals for each year.

The State Council, the country’s cabinet, is looking for the best way to monitor the progress of regions in the anti-air pollution campaign.

Most likely, those that fail to meet their goals will be named and shamed, aside from being required to provide explanations and make corrections.

Many local governments have launched a number of measures to curb air pollution, including imposing severe punishment for industrial polluters and resorting to the auction and lottery of car license plates.

But according to a government report released in December last year, progress was still lagging in several environmental targets, including reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption.

Beijing, for example, reported 58 days of heavy air pollution last year, or roughly one heavy pollution day in every six.

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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