Smog-hit China learns lessons

David Stanway –
The heavily polluted northern Chinese province of Hebei said it will learn lessons from the smog that engulfed the region last week and step up its clean-up efforts, while the country’s Supreme Court vowed to crack down harder on polluters.
Hebei, which surrounds Beijing and was home to seven of China’s 10 smoggiest cities last year, has been on the front line of China’s nearly three-year war on pollution, but experts say enforcement remains lax amid concerns about the impact that smog controls have on economic growth and jobs.
In the Hebei capital of Shijiazhuang, average concentrations of small breathable particles known as PM2.5 were higher than 500 micrograms per cubic metre for three consecutive days last week — 50 times higher than World Health Organization recommendations.
In the province’s first official response, governor Zhang Qingwei said Hebei would work to improve “levels of scientific precision” when it came to controlling pollution.
Hebei would also draw up more detailed plans to deal with issues like the direct combustion of coal, a major source of smog, the provincial government said on its official website.
The province aimed to cut PM2.5 concentrations to an average of around 67 micrograms per cubic metres this year, down from 77 micrograms in 2015.
Officials also said that despite the recent smog, caused in part by “the most unfavourable weather conditions since 1998”, Hebei was still on course to meet its goals, with emissions in Shijiazhuang set to drop around 12 per cent this year.
Hebei has declared 2017 to be the “year of transformation and upgrading”.
Eight cities in Hebei launched “red alerts” last week in response to the smog, which reached record levels at some monitoring stations in the province, but it quickly came under fire from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with a number of its steel firms singled out for failing to suspend operations.
Courts will widen the range of offences that constitute “environmental crimes” in order to make it easier to take legal action against polluters, a senior judiciary official said.
But Yan Maokun, head of the research office at the Supreme People’s Court, told reporters that it had struggled to gather the evidence required to prosecute, according to a transcript of the briefing published on China’s official court website.— Reuters