China says local governments pulling punches in winter smog fight

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Some local governments are not fighting hard enough to combat pollution, China’s environment ministry said on Thursday, as Beijing prepares to launch a tough new winter campaign to curb smog and meet politically crucial air quality targets.

FILE PHOTO: An elderly man exercises in the morning as he faces chimneys emitting smoke behind buildings across the Songhua river in Jilin, Jilin province, February 24, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer

The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) said last week it would step up efforts to bring smog under control this winter and force as many as 28 northern cities to reduce concentrations of hazardous particles by at least 15 percent compared with 2016 in the coming months.

The MEP’s 143-page battle plan is part of a year-long campaign launched in April and meant to ensure that the heavily polluted Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region meets targets set in 2013 to improve air quality and head off growing public unrest.

But the ministry said on Thursday a small number of local government bodies at county level or below still “did not show sufficient awareness of the importance, difficulty and urgency of air pollution prevention work.”

It said that out of more than 38,000 enterprises that have been inspected in the region since April, 57 percent were found to have “problems”.

Related Coverage

Readings of small particulate matter known as PM2.5 rose 11.3 percent on the year in the first seven months of the year in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, caused by near record smog levels in January and February.

Average PM2.5 readings stood at 69 micrograms per cubic meter in the region in the first seven months, nearly double the state standard of 35 micrograms.

The national government ordered the region to lower PM2.5 by more than 25 percent over the 2012-2017 period.

To ensure the targets are met and winter policies properly implemented, the ministry said it would dispatch 102 inspection teams to 28 cities in the region beginning on Sept. 15.

The teams will assess actions taken to meet the winter targets, and review efforts made earlier in the year to “rectify” non-compliant firms and ensure that problems do not recur, the MEP said.

Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue