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China Headlines: China pushes hard for cleaner environment; tougher requirement on officials

(Xinhua)    20:23, September 18, 2015

BEIJING, Sept. 17 -- Beijing on Thursday asked about 1,000 industrial and polluting companies in the new administrative center of Tongzhou District to either move out or upgrade their businesses in 2016.

It is part of China's efforts to forge ahead with a new environment action plan despite persistent economic headwinds.

Rather than being a drag on growth, the environmental campaign offers China "tremendous development opportunities" to upgrade and become a green and carbon-efficient economy, Yang Weimin, a member of the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform, said on Thursday.

"China has laws and regulations on environmental protection, but it lacks a 'top-level design' that can unite and coordinate them," Yang said.

The master plan, adopted at a key meeting last week and due to be released in a few days, is expected to resolve the "too many cooks" problem and make cleaner environment a realizable goal.


The plan laid out a fundamental framework, including a clear ownership system of natural resources, an ecological compensation system and a responsibility-tracking system on officials.

"Clearly-defined ownership of the natural assets will enable the compensated and more efficient use of natural resources," noted Zhang Xiaode, a professor with the Chinese Academy of Governance.

One of the key constraints on environment protection is overlapping supervision, which has made the implementation of regulations time-consuming and inefficient.

According to Yang, the latest reform plan was a result of "vehement" discussions and debates among 12 ministries and departments, including the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the National Development and Reform Commission.

The Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs will coordinate all opinions and a team has been set up to push for the reforms.

The plan also called for increased environmental protection weighting on officials' assessments. This would mean that those deemed to have pursued economic growth at the cost of the environmental will be unlikely to be promoted.

China's environmental protection lags far behind its economic status, with prominent problems such as limited resources and severe pollution becoming major bottlenecks for sustainable growth.

Decades of breakneck growth in China has dried up resources and left problems including smog and contaminated water.

In 2014, only eight of 74 major Chinese cities subject to PM 2.5 air quality monitoring met the national standard, according to data released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).

Another MEP report released in June 2014 revealed that some 60 percent of ground water checked by 4,778 monitoring stations was rated as "bad" or "very bad".

To strike a balance between growth and the environment, China declared a "war against pollution" last year, calling for tougher regulations.

In his annual government work report in March, Premier Li Keqiang pledged to take "a firm and unrelenting approach to ensure blue skies, clear waters, and sustainable development."


While China endeavors to ditch the growth-at-all-costs economic model, balancing growth and environmental protection in times of economic slowdown will inevitably be fraught with challenges.

Last year marked the weakest annual expansion in 24 years due to a housing slowdown and falling external demand and a tepid global recovery. Growth further slowed to 7 percent in the first half of 2015.

According to a report published by the MEP last week, measures to combat pollution, including closure of outdated production facilities and caps on pollutant emissions, have a negative, albeit short-term, influence on economic growth.

The report estimated that gross domestic product (GDP) had decreased 186.9 billion yuan (29 billion U.S. dollars) due to the closure of outdated facilities, 0.12 percent of GDP, during the 11th Five-Year Plan period from 2006 to 2010.

The clean-up process, though painstaking, is an inevitable path China must take to achieve sustainable growth in the long run.

"Though the move curbed the growth of traditional industries like thermal power, steel and concrete over a short time, it boosted some emerging industries such as services and environmental protection in the long term," it noted.

The advantages of an improved environment for economic development overweigh the disadvantages, said the report.

"In the past, we are only preoccupied with 'gold mountain, silver hill,' but we must realize that lush hills are themselves valuable treasures," Yang said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Ma Xiaochun,Bianji)

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