China Announces Major Plan to Combat Pollution, Revive Battered Environment

Thursday, February 16, 2006

China announced a plan Wednesday to combat widespread pollution and leave a better environment for future generations, citing the need to stave off possible social instability.

The plan, approved by the State Council, or Cabinet, focuses on pollution
controls and calls for the country to clean up heavily polluted regions and
reverse degradation of water, air and land by 2010.

“The move is aimed at protecting the long-term interests of the Chinese
nation and leaving a good living and development space for our offspring,”
according to an announcement published in state media.

Among the most urgent problems cited by the official Xinhua News Agency were acid rain, pollution of the soil, organic pollutants, potential risks from
nuclear facilities and a decline in biodiversity.

Most major rivers are polluted and acid rain has damaged more than one-third
of China’s land area, as well as neighboring countries, the Xinhua report noted.

The government has previously responded to environmental crises largely on a
piecemeal basis. The new plan appears to be a broader strategy in keeping with the government’s newly stated emphasis on seeking sustainable development after years of breakneck growth.

“The government does seem to be paying more attention to broad environmental protection issues,” said Zhao Qingxiang, a professor in the Environment Department of Shanghai’s East China University of Science & Technology.

“But what I’m concerned about is how this plan will affect the entire
ecological system, which has a long way to go. It’s not just a matter of closing
down a few factories.”

Under the plan, regional governments will be asked to set environmental
targets and conduct regular evaluations. It also calls for environmental quality
to be considered in assessing the performance of local officials until recently
judged mainly on their success in promoting economic development.

“Leading officials and other relevant government officials will be punished
for making wrong decisions that cause serious environmental accidents and for
gravely obstructing environmental law enforcement,” it said.

Government ministries have been ordered to adapt fiscal, tax, pricing, trade
and technology policies to the new strategy.

The State Council said the plan was in part prompted by a toxic chemical
spill in northeastern China’s Songhua River in November that “stunned the nation and sounded an alarm about the country’s worsening environment.”

The environmental protection minister was dismissed following the disaster,
which affected water supplies for millions of people in China and neighboring

Pollution, often linked to official corruption and incompetence, has sparked
a series of sometimes violent confrontations between authorities and rural

?? In one of the more widely publicized cases, dozens were injured in April
riots when police tried to move protesters from an industrial complex in
Wangkantou, a village in the east’s Zhejiang province. The residents were
outraged by chemical plant pollution they said had destroyed their crops.

?? “The issue of pollution has become a ’blasting fuse’ for social instability,”
Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said in comments posted on the agency’s Web site.

?? Evidence of the negative effects of years of rapid industrialization,
uncontrolled construction and widespread use of farm chemicals can be seen
everywhere in China, from the biggest cities to the countryside.

?? Some 16 of the world’s 20 smoggiest cities are in China, and the World Bank estimates that more than 400,000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution. Canals surrounding Shanghai stink and fester, as do many in the countryside. Piles of construction material and other waste cover huge stretches of rural land.

?? Local authorities have tended not to enforce pollution controls, land use
restrictions and other limits that might hurt land sales and tax revenues or
discourage investors. Heavily polluting factories often either bribe officials
to look the other way or pay cursory fines.

Source: Associated Press Financial Wire