During China’s recent 19th People’s Congress (which we review here), Weimin Yang, deputy director of the Central Financial Leading Group Office and Ganjie Li, minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), spoke at a press conference on ‘practising the concept of green development and building a Beautiful China’. Below are Ganjie Li’s most important messages:
A press conference at the recent 19th People’s Congress was on ‘practising the concept of green development and building a Beautiful China’
5 past achievements & 4 future prospects
First, Ganjie Li described five of China’s unprecedented achievements from the past five years:
- Public awareness of environmental protection has greatly increased;
- China has made much progress in pollution control, with the Air Ten, Water Ten and Soil Ten plans published one after the other. Moreover, 570GW of ultra-low emission retrofitting has been completed, 18 million yellow label cars (lower than certain emission standards) have been made obsolete, and more than 110,000 villages have completed their pollution control tasks;
- The frequency of regulation issuance is high. Over 40 regulations relevant to ecological civilisation and ecological protection have been released;
- Enforcement is now stricter as a series of laws have been drafted or amended. Also, after the new Environmental Protection Law came into force in 2015, new schemes and regulations have played an important role in ensuring enterprises’ compliance; and
- Environmental quality has improved rapidly. PM2.5 levels in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, Pearl River Delta and Yangtze River Delta has decreased by 30% since the Air Ten plan was released. In addition, the proportion of river sections with water quality of Level I, II and III has increased to 67.8%.
To build on these achievements, a “new thought”, “new requirement”, “new target” and “new deployment” were proposed in the report of the 19th People’s Congress.
- New thought: insist on the harmony between human and nature; consider ecological civilisation construction as the millennium plan of China’s sustainable development;
- New requirement: produce more ecological products to fulfil demand for a better environment;
- New target: to perform well in the war on pollution by 2020; to improve ecological conditions and largely achieve a Beautiful China by 2035; and to build a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful by the middle of this century; and
- New deployment: promote green development and solve prominent environmental problems.
Looking to the future, environmental inspections to continue
The central environmental inspection team was first promoted by the President Xi then piloted in Hebei in 2015. By the end of the 19th People’s congress, 31 provinces have been covered by the inspection team. Ganjie Li summarised four key achievements from the environmental inspection team’s achievements:
- Greatly increased the awareness of ecological protection and green development;
- Solved some key environmental problems, and dealt with 102,000 public reports;
- Facilitated industrial transformation and upgrade; and
- Promoted the improvement of local environmental protection schemes.
He also stated that in future, environmental inspections will continue and the MEP has already started preparation in the following aspects:
- Summarise the first round of environmental inspections and prepare for the second round;
- Promote legislation regarding environmental inspections to make it a long-term scheme;
- Conduct more targeted inspections in key regions, sectors and for key problems; and
- Guide and urge provincial inspection schemes.
Ganjie Li stressed that environ protection is not contradictory to economic growth…
In particular, Ganjie Li emphasised that environmental protection is not contradictory to economic development. He pointed out that there might be some impact on enterprises at the micro-scale, but in a long-term and macro-scale view, environmental protection and establishing an ecological civilisation have a positive correlation with economic development.
He further notes that in the past 5 years, environmental protection activities such as central inspection teams and local environmental enforcements have not affected economic development. In fact, according to MEP’s record, economic indicators were not impacted by the environmental inspections, and to some extent, actually improved.
The idea of ‘one-size-fit-all’ shut downs is strongly opposed by the MEP
Ganjie Li also stressed that the idea of ‘one-size-fit-all’ shut downs is strongly opposed by the MEP and is not in practice. Even enterprises with environmental violations are given time to improve and only those who polluting with no value or hope of improvement are shut down eventually.
Prioritising “great protection” over “great development”
President Xi emphasised in January 2016 that for the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB), the ecological environment must be prioritised ahead of green development. This time in the 19th People’s Congress, President Xi stressed again that YREB’s development should be protection-oriented rather than development-oriented.
Ganjie Lie echoes these thoughts and listed the following existing problems of the YREB:
- Lack of environmental infrastructure, including urban wastewater facilities, especially in rural areas;
- Dense heavy chemical industries with great environmental risk;
- Rural non-point source pollution; and
- Some ecological systems have been impaired
In order to deal with the above problems, the MEP has made efforts in four aspects, which will be maintained going forward:
- Issuance of the ‘Plan for Ecological Environmental Protection in YREB’ in July this year as the top-level strategy for YREB environmental protection;
- Carry out environmental inspections across the Yangtze River Basin;
- Facilitate the identification of YREB ecological red lines; and
- Plan the ecological protection of drinking water sources in YREB
Only recently, on 27 October 2017, the MEP, NDRC and MWR jointly published the ‘Plan for Prevention and Control of Water Pollution in Key River Basins’, setting up targets for different basins and tasks for control units (in total 1,784, down to the city level). These specific requirements and targets will further help with the improvement of ecological environments in different river basins.
Ambitious plans outlined by the MEP show strong resolution towards building a Beautiful China
As pointed out by President Xi, the principal contradiction in China has become “unbalanced development” versus “people’s ever-growing needs for a better life”. However, there are clear efforts to resolve this. Past achievements and ambitious plans outlined by the MEP show strong resolution towards building a Beautiful China. Improving legislation and enforcement, as well as clearer responsibility, will help ensure the achievement of this great goal.
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