Lawyers sue China for not getting rid of smog

2017-03-02 21:15
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Beijing - Lawyer Cheng Hai has an itemised list of compensation demands from Beijing authorities over the city's smog: $9 for having to buy face masks, $15 for seeing a doctor for a sore throat and $1 500 for emotional distress.

Fed up with what they consider halfhearted efforts to fight air pollution, Cheng and like-minded lawyers are putting China's legal system to the test by suing the governments of the capital and its surrounding regions.

Closing factories

"Some people might think that air pollution is inevitable with economic development, but they are wrong," said Cheng, 64. "We have laws to protect air quality and major pollution can be avoided if they are fully enforced".

The lawsuits demonstrate the mounting frustration of China's middle class at the country's notoriously bad air, a topic that is expected to be discussed at the upcoming annual meeting of the country's parliament three years after Premier Li Keqiang declared a "war on pollution" at the same event.

The dissatisfaction comes even as authorities in the capital are closing factories, getting rid of coal-fired boilers and taking older, heavier-polluting vehicles off the road.

Official data show those measures are having some effect, with Beijing showing year-on-year improvements since 2013.

Yet the city's average reading of the tiny particulate matter PM2.5- considered a good gauge of air pollution - is still seven times what the World Health Organisation considers safe.

"We are the victims of smog and we are entitled to ask for an apology and compensation from the government," said another of the lawyers, Yu Wensheng, 50, from Beijing.

China is grappling with serious pollution resulting from three decades of breakneck growth that vastly improved living standards for many, but took a disastrous toll on the environment.

Polluting factories

As people became more aware of the health issues associated with smog, the declaration of a "war on pollution" at the National People's Congress in 2014 resulted in measures to reduce pollutants in the air, including capping coal consumption. However, a particularly heavy bout of smog at the beginning of this year still triggered pollution "red alerts" in more than 20 cities.

Beijing plans to spend $2.7bn on fighting air pollution this year, part of which would be used to close or upgrade more than 3 000 polluting factories, replace the use of coal with clean energy on the outskirts of the city and phase out 300 000 high-polluting older vehicles, according to the city's acting mayor, Cai Qi.

Read more on:    world health organisation  |  china  |  pollution

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