"We must put air quality control as an ecological red line for economic management and social development," China's Vice Premier Zhang Gao Li said in a statement as he announced the new policy at the 18th Air Pollution Control Conference in Beijing.
Chinese officials did not say when the first list would be announced, but the northern megacities of Beijing and Tianjin, as well as the surrounding provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia and Shandong have signed onto an official plan to speed up air pollution control measures.
Meanwhile, life was returning to some semblance of normality in northeastern China Wednesday as days of smog-filled skies brought one city to a standstill.
Thick smog closed Harbin's international airport, affecting hundreds of flights, and closed schools and businesses as visibility in some areas was reduced to less than 20 meters (65 feet). Some buildings could barely be seen from the opposite side of the street, while drivers brave enough to take to the roads were forced to flash their hazard warning lights.
The unusually severe pollution levels were blamed on the city's coal-fired heating system, as well as farmers burning straw as temperatures in the region begin to drop.