China says to end 'one size fits all' environmental policies

By Reuters   May 27, 2018 | 10:14 pm PT
China says to end 'one size fits all' environmental policies
Residents on their bicycles and electric bikes wait for the traffic at an intersection amid heavy smog in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China, December 10, 2015. Photo by Reuters
China imposed blanket restrictions on traffic, coal use and industrial activity in the smog-prone north last year.

China plans to end its “one size fits all” approach to fighting pollution, the environment ministry said on Monday, as it tries to devise more nuanced policies that match local conditions and minimize economic disruption.

The failure to take heed of local conditions will be regarded as a form of bureaucratic thinking and officials will be held responsible for any serious problems that arise, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) said in a notice.

China imposed blanket restrictions on traffic, coal use and industrial activity throughout the smog-prone north last year as it raced to meet its politically crucial air quality targets.

In some cities, industrial sectors like steel were forced to shut down as much as 50 percent of their total production capacity to limit smog build-ups in the region, and many firms complained that Beijing’s failure to take account of local conditions had made it impossible to fulfill client orders.

Overzealous efforts by local officials to convert coal-fired boilers to cleaner-burning but scarce natural gas also left thousands of households without heat during the freezing winter.

The new measures will ban the use of blanket production suspensions on industrial enterprises that are already complying with environmental requirements. Firms that have not met those requirements will also be subject to more targeted rectification measures and punishments, the ministry said.

It also promised to give local regulators enough time to investigate and resolve environmental problems rather than imposing orders from above.

While China met its 2013-2017 air quality targets, environment ministry officials have said that a more scientific, city-by-city approach will be required over the next few years to make further improvements.

“One size fits all was easy to implement but economically, it may be inefficient,” said Chen Songxi, an expert in environmental statistics at the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University.

“The problem is that some factories have implemented much better emissions standards but they are treated the same as those that have done nothing,” he added.

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