Polluting companies around China might be forgiven for feeling under pressure: they have good reason to be after China announced the latest measures to fight environmental damage. On February 11, news came out that in 2013 China's environmental watchdog blocked 32 projects – the combined value of which amounted to 118.4 billion yuan ($19.5 billion) - on the ground that they had broken rules protecting the environment.
Zhai Qing, the vice-environment minister, portrayed a grim future for industrial polluters. "I think our ability to enforce and monitor is extremely important... and since last year, we have been constantly trying to strengthen our abilities," he told the press. The watchdog showed its teeth again two days later, when it blacklisted China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), the country's biggest oil producer, reportedly because it did not comply with regulations at one of its refineries. It is the second time that the company enters the list of environmental felons in six months.
Alongside its increasingly uncompromising stick, Beijing carried a large carrot and announced the creation of a 10 billion yuan ($1.65 billion) fund to fight air pollution. According to Premier Li Keqiang, the plan is to "use rewards to replace subsidies to fight air pollution in key areas."
Battling pollution is certainly a priority for the development of China, as reports show staggering data about life and economic losses linked to the deterioration of the environment. In 2007, a study by the World Bank and China's Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)pointed out that the combined health and non-health cost of outdoor air and water pollution for China's economy was about $100 billion a year – which, at the time, meant 5.8 per cent of the country's GDP. And that is besides the human suffering caused by diseases linked with the deteriorating environment.
The problem is also a political headache, as increasingly watchful citizens cry foul on the dangers posed by pollution. Only a few days before authorities announced their crack down on polluters, people in Baha, a village in Yunnan province, took the matter in their own hands and attacked a polluting factory nearby, reportedly smashing offices clashing with the...