Systemic Protection of the Ecological Environment

By staff reporter LI WUZHOU

THE Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, held in November 2013, decided to establish a sound ecological civilization system, reforming the current institutions for environmental conservation to ensure that ecology and the environment are afforded rigorous systemic protection. This initiative demonstrates that the construction of ecological civilization plays a vital role in China’s endeavor to comprehensively deepen reforms.

Need for Systems and Laws

The construction of an ecological civilization system was cited at least three times in the document released at the conclusion of the Third Plenum, with the proposition of the “ecological red line” being put forward. Pan Jiahua, director of the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, observes that resource scarcity and environmental pollution have already considerably impacted on our survival and development, so against this backdrop, emphasizing ecological civilization at the Party meeting is of vital importance.

The government has taken many measures to tackle increasingly salient environmental issues, but without satisfactory results. The major cause of this failure lies in the lack of a sound system, according to Li Zuojun, deputy director of the Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies of the State Council’s Development Research Center. Li believes that what is most needed now is a compensation and paid use mechanism to encourage stakeholders’ participation in ecological conservation and afforestation.

Huang Rongsheng, Party secretary of Southwestern University, believes the ecological civilization system should comprise five components: evaluation, management, paid use of resources, accountability and compensation, and a market mechanism.

National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Xie Zhenhua advocates addressing the issue of air pollution through strict observation and rigorous enforcement of laws, along with robust prosecution of violations.

Fortunately, ecological legislation is already on the agenda. A draft amendment to the Environmental Protection Law is under deliberation at the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. And in June 2013 the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate issued judical interpretations of criminal cases involving environmental pollution.

A Long March Ahead

Heavy fog and haze have haunted many of China’s cities for quite some time. In the third quarter of this year, for example, Beijing,Tianjin and Hebei Province suffered foul air for 62.5 percent of those days. Such severe air pollution has drawn the attention of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who says both environmental protection and economic development are goals of China, the former most important, since the environment is both a source and guarantee of development.

China has in fact made great efforts in energy conservation and emission reduction, phasing out outdated capacities while developing new energies in recent years. According to National Development and Reform Commission statistics, carbon emissions were reduced by 1.5 billion tons from 2006 to 2010, and another cut of 400 million tons was made during 2011-2012. China is now the world’s largest user of hydropower and boasts the world’s biggest nuclear power installed capacity under construction. Moreover, China is taking the lead in such fields as wind power, photovoltaic power, and biomass energy.

Earlier this year, China introduced 10 measures to prevent and control air pollution, earmarking RMB 5 billion for the cause, and initiating a carbon market. On June 18, China’s first carbon exchange opened in Shenzhen, while Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong Province will see their carbon markets begin operation by the end of the year.

In 2012, two places in China were listed by a Green Cross Switzerland report as among the world’s 10 most polluted places. Yet this year, China was not mentioned in the list, demonstrating that some progress has been made through the country’s relentless efforts to tackle pollution.

However, China still has a long way to go before some fundamental changes take place. Zhao Hualin, director of the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s Department of Planning and Finance, stated that in the coming five years China will intensify efforts to address air, water and soil pollution, and focus on controlling PM2.5 (particulate matter) levels, while providing safer drinking water and improving the ecological environment in rural areas.

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