In what has to be its most drastic move yet to rein in its country's pollution crisis, the Chinese government will be coming out with a monthly list of 10 most polluted cities and 10 cities with cleanest air. Australia could be at risk with this as China has likewise ordered coal-reduction targets for its provinces.
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China thinks that humiliating these cities each month will stir the local governments to seriously plan and work double time to reduce their respective pollution contributions as well as push for a more concrete and lifetime environmental action.
"We must put air quality control as an ecological red line for economic management and social development," Zhang Gao Li, China's Vice Premier, said in a statement as he announced the new policy at the 18th Air Pollution Control Conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
"Air pollution control is a long, arduous and complex mission. We need to highlight the control of major polluted cities and strengthen the reduction and management of various polluters," Mr Zhang added.
To enable this pollution reduction, China will need to cut its reliance on coal, which by far supplies much of the country's electricity needs by more than 75 per cent. Authorities target to lower that by 2017 to as much as below 65 per cent.
The cities initially listed for immediate coal consumption reduction are Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei and Shandong. They have been ordered to slash their yearly consumption of coal by a total of 83 million tonnes by 2017. Their present combined coal consumption was 670 million tonnes annually.
"I think the policy is a very good inspirational mechanism, especially for those cities on the 'shaming' list, so that they can work to get off the list quicker," Huang Wei, Climate and Energy Campaigner at Greenpeace China, told CNN.
"However, it is not enough to rank those cities. It's also important to control energy, especially coal consumption. Some cities didn't clarify how much they are going to reduce their coal consumption. The lack of a number makes us worried that there won't be any dramatic change in terms of air quality."
It is not known when China will release the first list of its 10 most polluted cities and 10 cities with cleanest air.
Environmentalists lauded the coal consumption reduction, because apart from lessening its impact to the air above, it will likewise conserve China's water.
Coal plants need tonnes of water to cool. They also need it to produce the steam that drives the turbines.