Raising Ecological Awareness

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-21 09:57
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    Raising ecological awareness is a necessary step that China must take in order to accelerate the transformation of its pattern of economic development. For this reason, the promotion of ecological awareness has been identified as a task of strategic significance. China’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan has been built around the primary goal of transforming the pattern of economic development at a faster pace. Development is closely tied to the environment. We say this because the fundamental roots of environmental problems lie in economic structures, modes of production, and developmental approaches. It would be fruitless to approach environmental protection without considering economic development; at the same time, to pursue economic development without giving consideration to environmental protection would be like “draining the pond to catch all the fish” as the Chinese saying goes. Environmental capacity has become the main constraint on the scale and scope of economic development. Environmental protection will not only promote the accelerated transformation of the pattern of economic development, but will also optimize this transformation and guarantee its success. Therefore, we should use environmental protection as a means of effecting changes to our economic structure and modes of development from the bottom up. The effect of this “backward driving mechanism” will put China well on the path toward developed production, affluent standards of living, and healthy environments.  

 I. We are working hard to find a new approach to environmental protection that will bring about a low cost of development, better effects, low emissions, and sustainability

 Environmental protection is the core aspect of our efforts to promote ecological awareness and the focal point of our initiatives to achieve sustainable development. As major goals for social and economic development under the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, China will strive to make considerable headway in the strategic readjustment of its economic structure, significantly reduce its energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP, cut the aggregate emission of main pollutants by a notable margin, and achieve a clear increase in the quality of ecological environments. In his Report on the Work of the Government, Premier Wen Jiabao clearly stated that China will raise the proportion of non-fossil energy in primary energy consumption to 11.4%, reduce energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP by 16% and 17% respectively, cut the total discharge of main pollutants by 8% to 10%, and increase the total area of forest reserves by 600 million cubic meters during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan.

 Flocks of migratory birds fly over the wetland at Yalujiang estuary in the city of Dandong in China’s northeastern province of Liaoning, April 25, 2011. According to a survey conducted by Chinese and overseas ornithologists, which sampled 7 points over an area of about 40 kilometers, a total of 140,000 birds belonging to 36 species use this wetland as a temporary resting ground. After staying for around a month, the birds then migrate to habitats in Siberia and Alaska to breed and raise their young. / Photo by Xinhua reporter Lv Wenzheng

 Over the past three decades of reform and opening up, some localities have tended to treat environmental protection and pollution as isolated issues, often repeating the mistake of polluting first and then clearing up later. These practices have proven highly costly to the environment. The situation dictates that we need a new approach to environmental protection, the aim of which should be to achieve a low cost of development, better effects, low emissions, and sustainability. This not only adheres to the basic conditions of our country, but also to the major theme of scientific development, the core task of transforming the pattern of economic development, and new requirements for raising the level of ecological awareness.

 When we say “low cost,” we mean that we should keep a balance between environmental protection and economic development. Wherein, economic activities on a larger-scale should be achieved at the minimum cost to resources and the environment. By “better effects,” we mean that we should continue to bring environmental protection under overall plans for economic and social development in order to optimize the environmental, economic, and social effects of development. By “low emissions,” we mean that we should give focus to both the prevention and the rectification of pollution so as to minimize the damage that economic and social activities have on the environment. By “sustainability,” we mean that environmental protection must be closely factored into long-term development and that the sustainable development of the economy and society should be promoted by developing a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society. Efforts to achieve a low cost development, better effects, low emissions, and sustainability should cover all sectors of the national economy and all aspects in our system of social organizations. We must optimize regional distribution in line with environmental capacity, use environmental protection as a means of bringing about changes to our pattern of development, and regain environmental advantages through ecological conservation. This is the fundamental means by which we will reduce the pressure on environmental rectification and put an end to the trend of environmental deterioration. 

 II. We need to speed up the development of a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society and boost ecological awareness

 At present we are facing increasingly serious environmental and resource constraints. We must be fully aware of the graveness of this situation and respond by embracing green and low-carbon notions of development. By placing the focus on conserving energy and cutting emissions, we should take steps to improve incentive and constraint mechanisms, accelerate efforts to develop resource-conserving and environmentally friendly modes of production and consumption, and strive to make our development more sustainable.

 Global climate change must be tackled head-on. Climate change is an environmental issue as well as a developmental issue. The Chinese government has committed to a 40% to 45% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP by the year 2020 compared to 2005 levels. In addition, binding targets have also been set for significant reductions in the intensity of energy consumption and carbon dioxide discharge. Once implemented, these measures will effectively control the discharge of greenhouse gases. The focus of our efforts should be to mitigate climate change, adapt to climate change, and enhance our ability to deal with climate change. With respect to mitigation, we need to take the following actions: develop industrial structures, modes of production, and modes of consumption which are conducive to the conservation of energy and resources and the protection of the environment; devote major efforts to cutting energy consumption and increasing energy efficiency; adjust the structure of energy consumption in order to increase the proportion of non-fossil energy; and continue to promote afforestation in order to raise forest coverage, increase forest reserves, thus boosting the carbon sequestration capacity of our ecosystems. With respect to adaptability, we need to strengthen our capacity to forecast, monitor and respond to various kinds of weather conditions and climatic events; establish a statistical monitoring system for greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation, and emissions reduction; promote scientific research, accelerate the development and application of low-carbon technologies, and gradually establish markets for the trading of carbon emissions. With respect to international cooperation, adhering to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, we should assume a level of responsibility in the reduction of emissions that reflects China’s level of development.

 More should be done to cut the discharge of pollutants. Although the pace of economic growth and the total volume of energy consumption exceeded forecasted levels during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan, China was still able to reduce chemical oxygen demand (COD) and sulfur dioxide emissions by 12.45% and 14.29% respectively during this period. The central government has identified the reduction of four main pollutants as binding targets under the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, namely COD, sulfur dioxide, ammonia nitrogen, and nitrogen oxide, which means that we will continue to face an extremely arduous task in the reduction of pollutants. We will take solid steps to assign responsibilities for the attainment of targets, which will help to promote enhancements in the treatment and reduction of pollutants. Greater emphasis should be given to structural emission, while further efforts should be made to cut emissions attributable to construction projects and administrative activities. At the same time, we should also build sewage treatment facilities at a faster pace in order to raise the rate of treated sewage and the load rate of these facilities. We should intensify efforts to prevent and treat water pollution in key watersheds, such as Huaihe River, Haihe River, Liaohe River, Taihu Lake, Chaohu Lake and Dianchi Lake (collectively referred to as the “three rivers and three lakes”), Songhua River, Xiaolangdi Reservoir on the Yellow River, the Three Gorge Reservoir area, and at both the sources and the channels of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project. We need to effectively control air pollution in urban areas, promote desulphurization in coal-fired power plants, increase denitrification in power plants, and rigorously control exhaust emissions from motor vehicles. In addition, we shall map out plans for atmospheric regulation of each region as an integral whole, and work hard to form a new working mechanism of joint prevention and control of the atmosphere across entire regions, through unified planning, unified monitoring, unified regulation, unified appraisal and unified coordination.

 Major efforts should be made to develop circular economy. The central government has put forward a series of demands regarding the development of circular economies. These demands include the following: First, strengthening the guiding role of planning, providing greater policy support in regard to taxation and finance, improving laws and regulations, implementing a system to expand the responsibilities of producers, and promoting the development of circular economics in production, distribution, and consumption in an effort to raise resource productivity; Second, speeding up the development of industries for the recycling of resources, promoting the comprehensive utilization of mineral resources, encouraging the recycling of industrial waste, improving the system for the recycling of resources and guidelines for the classification of garbage, and promoting industrialization of the recycling of resources; Third, developing and applying techniques to cut waste and toxicity at the source, developing technologies for the recycling, remanufacturing, zero emission and industrial inter-linkage, popularizing successful models for circular economy, and promoting trials for the development of low-carbon cities. These requirements have provided us with a set of clear tasks. To implement them successfully, we must devote our full efforts to a wide range of measures and policies.

 Special efforts must be made to combat environmental issues that threaten public health. We need to further improve measures for the management of protected drinking water sources and take solid steps to ensure the safety of environments from which drinking water is extracted. Rapid action should be taken to implement the Plan for Comprehensive Prevention and Cure of Heavy Metal Pollution During the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. To do this, we shall identify enterprises which discharge pollutants such as heavy metals, survey environmental dangers in their surrounding areas, and effectively resolve striking issues concerning key areas, industries and enterprises for the prevention and control of pollution. We should initiate a comprehensive campaign for the rectification of chemical enterprises located by rivers and lakes in order to address the frequent occurrence of environmental incidents in the chemical industry; enhance our capacity to monitor and control nuclear and radiation safety; and take effective measures to control noise pollution in urban areas. In addition, we should offer more incentives for environmental rectification in rural areas, control non-point source pollution, implement rural hygiene campaigns, and co-ordinate rectification over extended rural areas in order to ensure clean water sources, clean farmland and clean living environments. 

 Conscientious efforts should be made to restore ecological environments. Giving priority to protection and natural recovery, we will combat the increasing deterioration of ecological environments at the source of the problem. We will implement major ecological recovery projects; consolidate the achievements that have been made in the protection of natural forests, the replantation of forests on cultivated land, and the restoration of grasslands on grazing land; and provide effective protection for grasslands and wetlands. We shall continue efforts to reverse the process of desertification and rocky desertification; raise the standard of protection and management in nature reserves, key ecological function areas, and along coastlines; speed up treatment of water and soil loss; enhance our capacities in water source conservation, water and soil conservation, wind sheltering, and sand fixation; and build up an ecological security barrier for the country. We need to protect biodiversity and strike a balance between the effective protection and the rational utilization of biological resources. In addition, efforts should also be made to promote the recuperation of important ecological systems such as rivers and lakes. 

 Institutional mechanisms conducive to environmental protection must be developed. We need to further develop our environmental appraisal system, implement more stringent environmental requirements, tighten law-enforcement and supervision, improve the accountability system for major environmental incidents and pollution accidents, and continue to implement dedicated environmental protection campaigns. We must emphasize the role of the market, speed up the establishment of a mechanism for ecological compensation, actively reform the way that natural resource-based products are priced, revamp charges for environmental protection, promote the comprehensive reform of resource taxes, introduce an environmental protection tax, and improve scientific and economic policies for environmental protection such as green taxation, green securities, green purchasing and green trade. We need to establish guidelines for the collection of fees from polluters, establish diverse forms of investment and financing for environmental protection, and devote major efforts to developing environmental protection industries.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.7, 2011)

Note:Author: Minister of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China.

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 The Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China

 The Ministry of Environmental Protection is responsible for the following tasks: 

 1. Establishing and improving China’s basic system for environmental protection; developing and organizing the implementation of national policies and plans for environmental protection.

 2. Taking charge of the overall coordination, supervision, and management of key environmental issues; coordinating the investigation and handling of serious environmental pollution accidents and ecological damages; coordinating and resolving trans-provincial pollution disputes. 

 3. Implementing the targets set by the government for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; organizing the formulation of total emission control systems and pollutant discharge license systems for major pollutants, and supervising the implementation thereof.

 4. Examining and approving fixed asset investment projects within national plans and within the scope of the annual plan; participating in, guiding, and facilitating the development of circular economy and the environmental protection industry; taking part in efforts to combat climate change. 

 5. Preventing and controlling environmental pollution and damage at the source; conducting environmental impact assessments for major economic and technical policies, development programs, and major economic development plans.

 6. Supervising the prevention and control of environmental pollution; Formulating guidelines on pollution prevention and control for water bodies, air, soil, noise, light, stench, solid waste, chemicals, and vehicle emissions, and organizing the implementation thereof.

 7. Guiding, coordinating, and supervising ecological protection.

 8. Supervising nuclear and radiation safety; formulating relevant policies; supervising and managing the safety of nuclear facilities and radiation sources.

 9. Monitoring the environment and releasing information; developing environmental monitoring systems and norms; organizing the monitoring of environment quality and pollution sources.

 South-to-North Water Diversion Project

 The South-to-North Water Diversion Project is a major strategic project designed to address the serious water shortages faced in northern China. By rationally reallocating water resources across different watersheds, the South-to-North Water Diversion Project transfers water from China’s flood prone southern regions to its drought prone northern regions. The project will significantly mitigate the shortage of water in northern China and promote the balanced development of the economy, society, population, resources, and the environment in China’s northern and southern regions. The project comprises of three separate routes: the eastern route, the middle route, and the western route.

 The eastern route: water is pumped northward from the Yangzhou area in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River using sections of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal and rivers running parallel thereto. The course passes several lakes, namely Hongze Lake, Luoma Lake, Nansi Lake and Dongping Lake, which serve to store water and regulate the amount of water in the channels. After leaving Dongping Lake, water is divided into two separate routes: one runs north, crossing the Yellow River via a tunnel near Weishan Mountain; the other runs east, sending water to the cities of Yantai and Weihai via Jinan City through a trunk line in Jiaodong Peninsula. The eastern route was the first of the three routes to start construction, and mainly uses existing water transmission channels to achieve its purpose.

 The middle route: water is drawn from Danjiangkou Reservoir on Hanjiang River, a major tributary of the Yangtze River, in Xichuan County, Nanyang City, Henan Province. The course runs to the west of the Tangbai River drainage basin, crosses the watershed divide between the Yangtze River and Huaihe River basins at Fangcheng bealock, runs along the western edge of the Huanghe-Huaihe-Haihe Plain, the largest plain in China, crosses the Yellow River west of Zhengzhou City, and continues northward along the western side of the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway. On the whole, water is able to flow to Beijing and Tianjin by gravity after crossing the Yellow River.

 The western route: reservoirs have been formed by building dams at Tongtian River, which is located in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, and on the upper reaches of the Yalong and Dadu rivers, which are both tributaries of the Yangtze River. A water transmission tunnel has been excavated to carry water through the watershed divide at the Bayanhar Mountain, thereby diverting water from the Yangtze River into the upper reaches of the Yellow River. The objective of the western route is to address water shortages in the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River and the Guanzhong Plain (a plain in central Shaanxi Province, also known as Weihe Plain), involving the provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Shaanxi, Shanxi and the autonomous regions of Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Combined with pivotal water conservancy projects on the Yellow River, it can also supply water to the Hexi Corridor area in Gansu Province, which is adjacent to the Yellow River drainage area, and when necessary to the lower reaches of the Yellow River.

 According to plans, the project will divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of water by the year 2050. This includes 14.8 billion cubic meters via the eastern route, 13 billion cubic meters via the middle route and 17 billion cubic meters via the western route. The project will be implemented in stages according to actual circumstances.

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