Shame Game: China Pressuring Cities to Reduce Pollution

By Brooke Jackson-Glidden
BU News Service

BEIJING — The Chinese government will attempt to shame the seven most air-polluted cities into reducing their overall emissions to cap the record-breaking pollution levels.

Vice Premier Zhang Gao Li told the 18th Air Pollution Control Conference in a statement that this environmental crisis could deter the social and economic growth of China overall, beyond the devastating health and ecological risks.

And the ecological risks are great: A recent report by the Asian Development Bank showed that seven of the 10 most polluted cities in the world were in China. The study surfaced a year after the Chinese capital reported China’s air pollution levels broke the record for worst air pollution levels in recorded history.

“China is now realizing that they have really got to clean up the air, because it’s making the population suffer,” said Professor Nathan Phillips, a BU professor of Earth and Environment. “In cities like Beijing, people are concerned for their children, for their babies.”

Not everyone is optimistic that China’s claim will prove successful, however.

“This will do absolutely nothing to address the problems that China faces,” said Professor Joseph Fewsmith, a BU Professor of International Relations with a specialization in Chinese domestic politics. He, among other BU professors, believes the government could lower China’s overall carbon footprint with a stricter policy from the top.

“The way things are done in China is from the top down,” said Professor Peter Rand, a BU journalism professor who has written extensively on Chinese politics and translates Chinese works. “The party has to usually punish in some effective way that will make them do what they want them to do.”

“I do think that they might actually do something in some of the worst cities, like Beijing,” Fewsmith said. He recalled the public outcry regarding air quality in the capital on his last visit. “I could imagine the leadership taking some fairly serious steps to do that, but that would go way beyond shaming.”

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