SHANGHAI Dec 20 Several Chinese lawyers are
suing the cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the surrounding
province of Hebei for what they say has been their failure to
fulfil responsibilities in battling against smog, which has
shrouded the region since Saturday.
Home to seven of China's 10 smoggiest cities last year, the
Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, also known as Jing-Jin-Ji, is a
front line in China's "war on pollution", and it has pledged to
cut coal use and promote cleaner industries.
But pollution levels have soared this week as a result of
rising winter coal use as well as "unfavourable weather
conditions", which have brought concentrations of dangerous
breathable particles known as PM2.5 to record levels at some
Since Saturday, a total of 24 cities have declared pollution
"red alerts", including Beijing, Tianjin and another eight
locations in Hebei province.
The lawsuit, posted by lawyer Li Zhongwei on his
Twitter-like Weibo microblogging account on Tuesday, accused the
region of being "all talk and little action", adding that the
red alerts "proved that local governments had not
conscientiously fulfilled their legal obligations to control air
The lawyers in the suit said the region had allowed
pollution to increase in the interests of "toxic economic
growth", severely endangering the physical and mental health of
millions of people.
They called on the three governments to issue a formal
apology and pay damages to the complainants.
Cheng Hai, another lawyer behind the suit, told Reuters that
governments bore overall responsibility for pollution and needed
to be held to account.
"We believe that China's smog is not unavoidable, but is the
result of weaknesses in governance," he said. "Ordinary people
think that the previous stage of economic growth led inevitably
to smog, but this is completely wrong."
China has promised to provide legal channels that will allow
citizens to sue polluters, and special tribunals have been set
up across the country to deal with environmental lawsuits.
China's amended environmental protection law, which went
into effect at the beginning of last year, allows individuals to
take legal action, but only via non-profit "social
organisations" that have been approved by the government.
"Our plan is to file the suit and we will receive the
verdict within seven days on whether or not it will be accepted,
and if it is not accepted, we will take it to the higher
courts," said Cheng.
(Reporting by David Stanway and the Shanghai newsroom; Editing
by Robert Birsel)