what jumped out at me about the state council air quality announcement

The State Council this week released a major new set of air quality improvement measures. For broad summaries, see Xinhua and/or Reuters.

Two things about the announcement I want to note:

First, perhaps the most important sentence in the announcement – that was not mentioned in the Xinhua or Reuters stories – is this one: “加强人口密集地区和重点大城市PM2.5治理,构建对各省(区、市)的大气环境整治目标责任考核体系。” This means, “Strengthen PM2.5 control in dense population areas and key, large cities. Build a target responsibility and evaluation system for cities and provinces based on air quality remediation.”

This is a big deal, because it indicates for the first time that local leaders in China will be on the hook not just for vague, game-able targets like total emissions reductions, but actual improvements in measured ambient air quality. This would be similar to the US’ system of State Implementation Plans (SIPs). I predict this will have major implications by forcing provinces and cities to start doing real air quality planning in which they close the loop between emissions control measures and the air quality people are actually breathing.

Note: Beijing and some other cities already have nascent closed-loop planning requirements (for example, in the State Council 12th Five-Year Plan for Environmental Protection and MEP’s 12th Five-Year Plan for Key Region Air Pollution Control). But this recent State Council announcement appears to be much broader, with strong indication that ambient air quality improvements will be “binding targets” (约束性目标) for local-level officials.

The second thing I found noteworthy about the State Council announcement are these two sentences right towards the beginning: “会议确定了防治工作十条措施。一是减少污染物排放。” This means, “The meeting confirmed 10 measures to prevent and control [pollution]. The first is reduce pollution emissions.” I LOL’ed when I read this. I love the directness and the simplicity. The sentences that follow go on to detail (slightly) more specifics, but I love the initial, direct recognition that the fundamental problem is that emissions are just too high. This echoes an argument I made a few months ago on this blog and in the NYT Chinese edition: “The fundamental solution to China’s air pollution crisis is the rapid introduction of deep, permanent emissions reduction policies for all sources, especially power plants, industrial factories, and motor vehicles.”

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