New leaders target environment

Updated: 2013-03-07 07:19

By He Na, Wu Wencong and Tang Yue (China Daily)

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A tough challenge

For example, the heavy smog that lasted from Jan 10 to 15 affected more than 80 percent of cities from the northeast to the northwest and the central provinces to the coastal regions of the southeast. But that was just one of the four large-scale incidences of smog to hit China during January.

New leaders target environment

New leaders target environment

Hetianyoufang, in Changting county, Fujian province, was devastated by excessive logging (top, in 1983). A reforesting program has revived the once-barren hills. Provided to China Daily  

"I hope that, in addition to managing the economy, the new leaders can also make full use of their experiences in different provinces, regions and industries to help local officials rethink the relationship between the economy and the environment and seek a balance. If not, this unbalanced development will definitely lead to disastrous consequences," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, an environmental NGO.

However, despite the improvements, the new government still faces a tough challenge. Environmental problems are interlocked and instead of having a limited impact on individual cases, such as a river or a village, they have become regional causes for concern. In the case of rivers, for example, polluted water can flow through several provinces or cities, and smog often shrouds half of the country, affecting the health of hundreds of millions of people.

"Solving these problems will require cooperation across a range of industries and regions. I think the new leaders' long-standing experience of local politics will help them understand the importance of cooperation, which will allow for better decision making," said Ma.

That view was echoed by Ding Yuanzhu, deputy head of the Policy Advisory Department at the Chinese Academy of Governance.

"China's environmental problems have accumulated gradually during the past three decades. Therefore, prevention and improvement will also take time and will require various types of experience and research. Luckily, information is becoming easier to access, which brings fresh opportunities for environmental protection and prevention of pollution. I hope the efforts to safeguard the environment will benefit from the new leaders' experience of local politics," Ding said.

Gu Haibing, professor of public management at Beijing's Renmin University of China, spoke of people's high expectations. "People have the right to a better environment and the freedom to pursue a decent living environment. A heavily polluted environment deprives them of those rights completely. I hope the leaders can help people regain them," he said.

"How is it that these heavily polluting projects can be built and put into production so smoothly? What is the function of environmental assessment teams if that can happen? The Environment Protection and Resources Conservation Committee of the National People's Congress Standing Committee must fully enforce the supervisory obligations on the Ministry of Environmental Protection and oversee the process of environmental assessment," he said.

The ministry also needs to ensure that information relating to environmental assessments is freely available.

China's current capacity to evaluate environmental loss lags far behind those in many other countries. That results in inadequate punishments for those who violate the environment and can serve as tacit encouragement for those whose behavior leads to pollution, he added.

Peng Yining contributed to this story.

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