China to halt new projects in pollution 'red zones'

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a respiratory protection mask walks toward an office building during the smog after a red alert was issued for heavy air pollution in Beijing's central business district, China, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will halt major projects in regions with high levels of pollution, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Wednesday, underscoring an environmental crackdown that is starting to hit business around the country.

Chinese authorities will roll out a new pollution alert system for regions ranging from the cleanest “green non-alert zones” to the most severe “red” zones, where the environment and natural resources are severely strained.

“For red-alert areas, government authorities will stop granting approval on relevant projects,” Xinhua reported, citing a document from the ruling State Council, China’s cabinet.

“(Meanwhile), enterprises causing severe environmental and resource destruction will face punishment, including fines, production restrictions and shutdowns.”

Regions will also be categorized as “overloading”, “near overloading” or “not overloading”, depending on the level of strain on their environmental and resource capacity.

China’s war on pollution has ramped up steeply this year, rattling the country’s ports, commodities markets and factories across the country’s smog-affected north. Even firms in higher-tech sectors like autos have started to take a hit.

Xinhua added that owners of polluting firms or slack local officials would be held accountable for any environmental damage and could be prosecuted for criminal liability. “Green zone” areas, however, could be financially rewarded.

“China has said ‘no more’ to economic growth at the price of the environment, by putting environmental protection at the top of the agenda to ensure greener, more sustainable development,” Xinhua said.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Michael Perry