BEIJING, May 28 (Reuters) - China will boost funding to regions that do well in reining in air pollution and punish laggards, the cabinet has decided, as Beijing pushes local governments to step up the war on smog.
The fight on crippling pollution that prematurely ends hundreds of thousands of lives annually has risen to near the top of the national agenda, but is still ignored by some local governments that remain focused only on growing their economies.
Beijing now promises more money to regions that do well on cutting emissions of pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide.
Regulations released on Tuesday by China's State Council, or cabinet, said from now on it would rate provincial governments in one of four categories ranging from "excellent" to "substandard", based on whether they meet air pollution targets.
Local governments that do well will get more funding from Beijing, while those that miss targets will get less, and may also face disciplinary action.
Officials who fake environmental data will be punished and may even face criminal charges, the cabinet said.
The decision is the latest move by China's leaders towards a more sustainable economy as they turn away from dependence on energy-intensive and polluting economic growth.
"We now no longer request the regions to blindly pursue rapid GDP growth, and it isn't just the central government that recognises that this way of doing things has no future, but local governments as well," Huang Qunhui, director of the Institute of Industrial Economics of the China Academy of Social Sciences told reporters in the capital last week.
Last year the government said it would increasingly take into consideration additional indicators, such as resource use, environmental damage, industrial overcapacity, scientific innovation, work safety and newly-added debt.
(Reporting by Stian Reklev; Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)