China targets pollution on eve of Xi Jinping’s second term

12 Oct 2017   Air Quality, China

A wave of environmental inspections in China has led to the closure of tens of thousands of businesses producing commodities from industrial chemicals to cement and rubber, pushing up prices and disrupting some global supply chains. The inspections highlight the ruling Communist party’s willingness to sacrifice some economic growth for what it calls a “war” on the country’s chronic air, water and land pollution. The crackdown comes ahead of this month’s political congress that will install President Xi Jinping as party chief for a second five-year term. Mr Xi has struggled to improve the government’s record on pollution in his first term — Greenpeace estimates that a third of Chinese cities saw worsened air pollution this spring compared with the previous year. Critics blame Beijing’s continued focus on meeting economic growth targets, the low status of environmental officials tasked with enforcing rules, and insignificant fines that fail to discourage polluters. However, a spate of environmental inspections launched in August across 31 provinces and regions were carried out by central government officials — including from the party’s feared anti-graft commission — which means negligent officials can lose their jobs or face jail sentences. Penalties imposed on polluters have also been toughened. “It used to be just fines, but now it is suspensions or shutting down production. That has a much greater impact because to the manufacturer it is life or death,” said prominent Chinese environmentalist Ma Jun. “It’s the first time I feel companies are becoming motivated to take a greener path.” More than 7,000 factories have been closed — at least temporarily — in Sichuan province, according to local media. The city of Zibo in Shandong province alone has seen 5,000 chemical companies closed this year, according to Rubber and Plastics News, an industry journal.

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