China Turns to Science for Effective Treatments in War on Smog

China Turns to Science for Effective Treatments in War on Smog

China's industry ministry will adopt a more nuanced, "scientific" approach when it comes to curbing emissions from polluting firms, it said on Wednesday as the country bids to fine-tune its tactics after a four-year battle against smog.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), in charge of heavy industries like steel and aluminium as well as high-tech sectors like telecommunications, said in a statement that it will ban the use of "one size fits all" production caps and punish only those companies that fail to comply with state environmental standards.

China last year imposed blanket restrictions on traffic, coal use and industrial activity in 28 cities in the smog-prone north, but the failure to take account local conditions disrupted businesses and left thousands of households without heat during the freezing winter.

MIIT said local authorities must impose production restrictions "scientifically" and provide "detailed measures for each production line, process and piece of equipment," adding that "one size fits all" measures were "strictly forbidden".

With much of the low-hanging fruit already taken, senior environmental officials have vowed to take advantage of gains made in data collection and analysis and rely more on science to cut smog further.

As part of an air pollution control project initiated by Premier Li Keqiang, about 1,500 scientists from major government institutes and universities have already been dispatched to 28 smog-prone northern cities since 2017, helping local authorities draw up bespoke pollution control plans, said Chai Fahe, deputy director of the National Air Pollution Control Centre.

China's central government will soon send new teams of scientists to assist local governments in the Fenwei Plain region straddling the major coal producing provinces of Shaanxi, Shanxi and Henan, a key pollution control region, Chai said.

"If air pollution control is a battle, we need to know who our enemies are," said Chai, who will lead teams to assist the city governments of Luliang and Linfen in Shanxi and Weinan in Shaanxi.

Advanced data collection equipment, weather modelling software and new industrial technologies will be deployed, helping local authorities to make decisions based on local circumstances, Chai said.

But analysts warned that assistance from scientists might not necessarily help local governments meet their long-term air quality targets.

"Local governments are dashing to meet headline targets of cutting PM2.5 readings by temporarily shutting down industrial production...But they need to make more efforts on changing the fundamental problems," said Wai-Shin Chan, head of ESG Research at HSBC in Hong Kong.


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