China published on Monday a white paper on environmental protection, illustrating the government's persistent efforts in this field in the past decade.
The white paper also says that the situation of environmental protection in the country is still "grave".
The 45-page white paper, the second of its kind since 1996, is titled "Environmental Protection in China (1996-2005)" and released by the Information Office of the State Council, China's cabinet.
The white paper points out that since the late 1970s, China's economy has developed rapidly and continuously. During the process, many environmental problems that have haunted developed countries in different phases of their 100-year-long industrialization have occurred in China all at the same time.
The conflict between environment and development is becoming ever more prominent. Relative shortage of resources, a fragile ecological environment and insufficient environmental capacity are becoming critical problems hindering China's development, it says.
The Chinese government has attached great importance to environmental protection and set it as a basic national policy and sustainable development as an important strategy.
Thanks to these efforts, although the amount of resource consumption and pollutants is increasing greatly, the trend toward aggravated environmental pollution and ecological destruction is slowing down, says the white paper.
Environmental pollution control in some river valleys has seen some positive results, the environmental quality of some cities and regions has improved, the amount of pollutant emission of industrial products has declined, and the people's awareness of the importance of environmental protection has enhanced, it elaborates.
The 17,000-word white paper briefs on China's achievements in environmental protection legislation and system, prevention and control of industrial pollution, pollution control in key regions, environmental impact assessment, international cooperation in environmental protection and some other related aspects.
According to the white paper, since 1996, the State has formulated or revised major laws on environmental protection, such as those on prevention and control of water pollution, marine environment protection, prevention and control of air pollution, as well as evaluation of environmental impact.
The State Council has formulated or revised over 50 administrative regulations to strengthen environmental protection.
Relevant departments of the State Council, local people's congresses and local people's governments have, within the limit of their powers, formulated and promulgated over 660 central and local rules and regulations in order to implement the national laws and administrative regulations on environmental protection.
For three years in a row, the State has launched special environmental protection campaigns to rectify enterprises that have discharged pollutants in violation of the law and to protect people's health.
The campaigns have dealt with over 75,000 environmental law violation cases, and had 16,000 enterprises closed down for having discharged pollutants in violation of the law. More than 10,000 warnings have been issued to environment polluters, obliging them to remedy the problems under government supervision.
In 1998, the Chinese government changed the name of the State Environmental Protection Bureau to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), and elevated it to the ministerial level, says the paper.
There are now 3,226 environmental protection administration departments at different levels all over China, with 167,000 people engaging in environmental administration, monitoring, scientific research, publicity and education. There are 3,854 environmental supervision and environmental law enforcement organs with more than 50,000 staff members.
The white paper stresses that prevention and control of industrial pollution is the focal point of China's environmental protection endeavors.
Statistics show that the amount of industrial waste water, oxygen for industrial chemicals, industrial sulfur dioxide, industrial smoke and industrial dust discharged in generating one unit of GDP in China in 2004 dropped by 58 percent, 72 percent, 42 percent, 55 percent and 39 percent, respectively, from 1995. Energy consumption per 10,000 yuan (1,250 U.S. dollar)-worth of GDP in 2004 declined by 45 percent from 1990.
Compared with 1996, in 2005 the proportion of cities with air quality reaching Grade II of the state standard increased by 31 percentage points, while that of cities with air quality lower than Grade III decreased by 39 percentage points.
In recent years, China has completed more than 800,000 rural drinking water projects, solving difficulties and insecurity in this regard for 67 million rural residents.
The white paper says that the eco-environment in some parts of China has begun to improve after a long period of unswerving efforts.
According to its statistics, the total newly afforested area has reached over 6.67 million hectares every year since 2002. At present, the national forest acreage is 175 million hectares, the forest cover 18.21 percent.
By the end of 2005, there were 2,349 nature reserves of various kinds and levels in China, covering 1.5 million square km and taking up about 15 percent of the country's land territory, the paper says.
The last decade has seen the largest increase ever in China's investment in its environmental protection. A pluralistic financing system based on government support has taken initial shape after years of efforts.
Between 1996 and 2004, China's investment into environmental pollution control reached 952.27 billion yuan (119 billions U.S. dollars), amounting to one percent of that period's GDP. In 2006, expenditure on environmental protection has been formally itemized in the State's financial budget, the white paper says.
The paper highlights environmental impact assessment (EIA) as a legal measure to curb environmental pollution and ecological destruction at the source.
China attaches great importance to and consistently seeks to enhance the support capability of science and technology for environmental protection, actively promotes the industrialization of environmental protection, the paper says.
By the end of 2004, China had 11,623 enterprises, each with an annual sales income of more than 2 million yuan (250,000 U.S. dollars), engaged in environmental protection businesses, employing a total of 1.595 million workers.
The white paper notes that the Chinese government has endeavored to boost public participation in environmental protection. There are now more than 1,000 non-governmental environmental organizations in China.
So far, China has acceded to more than 50 international conventions on environmental protection, and has been active in performing the obligations stipulated in these conventions, which include the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The white paper, however, also notes that the government is fully aware of the grave situation of environmental protection in the country.
In some regions, environmental pollution and ecological deterioration are still very serious. The discharge of major pollutants has surpassed the sustaining capacity of the environment. Water, land and soil pollution is serious, and pollution caused by solid wastes, motor vehicle emission and not easily degradable organic matter is increasing, the paper warns.
In the 11th Five-Year Program for Economic and Social Development (2006-2010), China has clearly set forth its main goals for environmental protection for the next five years: by 2010, while the national economy will maintain a relatively stable and fast growth, the environmental quality of key regions and cities will be improved, and the trend toward ecological deterioration will be brought under control.
The 11th Five-Year Program also requires energy consumption per unit of GDP to be declined by 20 percent, compared with the end of the 10th Five-Year Plan period. The total amount of major pollutants discharged will be reduced by ten percent, and forest coverage will be raised from 18.2 percent to 20 percent.
In its conclusion, the white paper stresses that China is a big, responsible developing country. Solving China's environmental problems is in keeping with China's development goals. It will contribute to the wellbeing of the 1.3 billion Chinese people, and it is also an important manifestation of the shared interest of mankind.
"The Chinese government and the Chinese people will join all other governments and peoples in the world in protecting the Earth -- our beautiful home," the paper says.
Zhu Guangyao, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said at Monday's press conference releasing the white paper that the Chinese government has taken environmental protection as one of the "brakes" in its economic macrocontrol policies.
Large construction projects, both of central and local levels, must go through assessment for their feasibility in advance. Projects will be cancelled if they either overdevelop land resources or may affect surrounding eco-environment negatively, Zhu said.
In China's future development, environmental protection will become a more and more important standard for the government to adjust its macrocontrol policies, which will ensure a balanced, healthy and sustainable economic growth, Zhu said.
The 7.5 percent annual growth rate set by the 11th Five-Year Program will keep the country's development at a stable pace. But some local governments, especially those in remote and backward areas, are still pursuing rapid economic development, giving more pressure on local environment and resources, he said.
He suggested more efforts be devoted to maintaining a reasonable and ordered development level and to enhancing the awareness of environmental protection among local officials and the public.
He also listed seven tasks as the major environmental protection work in the coming five years. The most important task is water pollution control, with focus on drinking water security. The second is to step up urban environmental protection, especially the pollutants control in cities.
He highlighted the reduction of sulfur dioxide discharge as the focal work in air pollution control, the third of the tasks.
Other tasks include rural environmental protection, with emphasis on soil pollution control, eco-system protection, enhancement of nuclear and other radioactive sources security and implementation of the state environmental protection projects.
Only these tasks be fulfilled can we achieve the environmental protection targets set by the 11th Five-Year Program, Zhu said.