China pollution

China's smog may prompt action

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:12am

People living in mainland cities choked by filthy air can be excused for feeling grumpy lately. For weeks, they have gazed into the sky to see a blanket of smog. Believed to be China's worst pollution spell in recent memory, the heavy smog has seriously disrupted traffic and forced schools, offices and factories to close temporarily. The question to ask is obvious. How long do they have to suffer before the situation improves?

There appears to be some good news in the air finally. According to the Ministry of Finance, Beijing plans to push ahead with a tax on carbon dioxide emission. The idea was first raised in 2009 but stalled because of the global economic situation. Separately, the Ministry of Environmental Protection is also imposing special emission caps on new coal-fired power plants and steel mills starting from next month.

It is good that the recent smog has renewed the momentum to tackle pollution on the mainland. Belated as it is, the proposed levy should be a welcome step for the world's biggest carbon emitter. Taxation has been well recognised as an effective tool to foster changes in the way we manufacture and consume. Hopefully, more measures can be introduced as soon as possible and help clean the air.

Fighting pollution in the world's second-largest economy is a challenge. It would be naïve to think taxation alone can clear up the sky. The use of less stringent air-quality objectives on the mainland means the public are still vulnerable even if the standards are met. For manufacturers, as long as the cost of complying with environmental protection law outstrips the punishment, the temptation to pollute is always there. A lot more needs to be done.

Concerns over the environment and public health rise with the country's affluence. At stake is not just the health of local residents. As a responsible global citizen, China has to do its fair share to control carbon emission. If the smog has any silver lining, it is the opportunity to get the public to rally behind the fight against pollution.