This piece by Chinese academic Wu Quiang on the domestic and international politics of China's smog problem is compelling.
A few vignettes, the first of which goes to a topic I have touched on previously, which is that the chances of a meaningful international emissions deal in Paris at the end of this year are somewhat higher than many think, because Washington and Beijing seem to be on similar terms:
President Obama and President Xi Jinping reached a deal in which China promised to reduce carbon emission by 20% by 2030. The deal was almost the sole instance of progress the Obama administration has made in the US-China relation at a time when the relationship is becoming more difficult. During the Clinton administration, the Most Favored Nation Trade Status was the issue that bound the relationship. During the Bush administration, the bond was war on terrorism. Now that these bonds have gone, the emission promise is becoming the new bond that keeps the two countries in a cooperative relationship in which they clash often but not break up. The deal is also one of the few gestures China makes to the United States and to the world that it is a responsible power and that it recognizes the international rules.
Then there are internal factors, such as the increasing influence of the Ministry of Environmental Protection:
It is also possible that the MEP will be given law enforcement authority for the first time, for example, the authority of forced inspection, search, sequestration, fines, recall and closure. We shouldn’t be surprised if in the future the MEP establishes its own environmental police force and environmental procureratorate, similar to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the United States, that merges the existing forest police force and fisheries regulatory body to form a new environmental law enforcement power. After all, the power redistribution and institutional reconstruction these changes bring is in line with the increasing trend of power concentration since Xi Jinping took power. It can also be put under the banner of “comprehensively deepening reform,” providing Chinese leaders with concrete evidence to show to the world that China is taking measures to reduce emission.
And finally, there's an internal security angle to China's smog problem that I had never considered:
As face masks people wear everyday render surveillance cameras meaningless, the security organs are said to be very uneasy, fearing that the situation can spin out of control and lead to a smog revolution.
(H/t Marginal Revolution.)
CORRECTION (30/3): The excerpt I quote above reads 'President Obama and President Xi Jinping reached a deal in which China promised to reduce carbon emission by 20% by 2030.' In fact, the commitments President Xi made in the joint announcement with Obama are (1) to peak China's CO2 emissions 'around 2030', with the intention of peaking earlier; and (2) to raise the non-fossil fuel share of its primary energy consumption to around 20% by 2030. (Thanks Fergus.)
Photo by Flickr user Nicolo Lazzati.