China is officially setting targets to reduce air pollution across its provinces. The central government outlined the expectations, which vary by region, as part of its push to clear its smoggy skies. Reuters reports that the government is considering a system in which it will measure the progress each area is making, “naming and shaming” those who don’t perform. Another sign that China is taking this toxic threat seriously: important party members are acknowledging the health dangers of air pollution, and the state media is reporting it. More:
Former health minister Chen Zhu said air pollution in the country causes premature deaths of 350,000 to 500,000 people yearly, state media reported on Tuesday. Chen wrote the article in a December issue of the Lancet medical journal.
Publicly acknowledging that air pollution is killing Chinese citizens en masse may be a better sign of progress on the issue than this new naming-and-shaming campaign. Here’s why: in China, local politicians have a strong incentive to encourage economic (and more often than not that means industrial) growth as a path for political advancement. Green goals tend to stand at odds with such growth, which is how China got in to its environmental situation in the first place. Naming and shaming specific culprits may work piecemeal, but local leaders will still want to fudge the numbers. The lack of transparency and reliability of data that so frequently frustrates foreign observers of the Chinese economy is working against China’s central government here.Still, the costs of doing nothing are extraordinarily high, and it seems Beijing is coming around to the fact that its growth will have to be at least partly checked for the sake of public health.