China to hold local leaders responsible for air quality


China has pledged to hold local government leaders responsible for improving air quality, officials say, after heavy smog nationwide earlier this year stoked social discontent.

The State Council of the People’s Republic of China, the equivalent of its Cabinet, announced the move along with a range of other policies aimed at reducing emissions of pollutants that range from forcing industries to install anti-pollution equipment to strengthening the collection of fines.

China has long been criticized for incentivizing local officials to pursue economic growth while placing little emphasis on meeting environmental targets, leading to weak enforcement of green laws.

But the country will “build a targeted responsibility and evaluation system for cities and provinces based on air quality improvement,” according to a report of a state council meeting.

The statement suggests local officials will be assessed on improving general air quality, rather than merely face targets for reducing emissions of individual pollutants.

The meeting, chaired by Premier Li Keqiang, also agreed that the Chinese government would not approve industrial projects that fail to meet emissions standards, and would curb the growth of highly polluting industries such as steel and aluminium manufacturing, according to the report.

Earlier this year, levels of air particulate matter in Beijing were measured at almost 40 times the World Health Organization’s limits while other cities in China were hit by high levels of pollution as well.

Air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, the U.S.-based Health Effects Institute reported in March.