Environmental disasters such as the Songhua River pollution incident last November have increased international pressure on China to step up its environmental protection efforts. There has been serious criticism of China's "pollution prosperity" development over the past 20 to 25 years and the general view is that the environmental pollution caused by China is no longer a domestic problem.
China Business News (CBN) on Monday published an exclusive interview with Yang Chaofei, director of the Policies and Regulations Department of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), in which he addressed these issues.
The following are key excerpts of that interview.
CBN: There have been calls from the international community for China to step up its environmental protection efforts. Could you give us a brief introduction to the situation?
Yang: China has faced international pressure in relation to environmental issues for several years. Allow me to define the five key issues of discussion: environment security has become an important element of national security; the total volume of contamination is huge and this has an impact on the world environment; environmental frictions with neighboring countries are rising; a rise in demand for resources is affecting global supply; environmental problems have become a restriction on foreign trade.
Environmental issues are so important now that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) actively supported their inclusion to the conventional security concept in its Ten Year Plan on Environmental Law which was passed in February 2001. Last year, the EU expressed the hope that the Chinese government could also include environmental protection in its social and economic development policy.
It is true that contamination that China is responsible for has an increasingly serious impact on the rest of the world, in particular neighboring countries. We also acknowledge that our rising demand for resources to fuel our rapid economic development is putting more pressure on the international resources market.
CBN: What have we learnt from the Songhua River incident?
Yang: Let me add some perspective to the discussion. Two principles apply in international waters issues: the fair and reasonable utilization of water resources by different states; and one that governs pollution prevention and elimination, and compensation for violations.
The Songhua River incident showed us a few things: China is at a stage where enterprise lacks the necessary environmental protection capabilities; the types of pollution are also becoming more complicated; inherent problems continue to trouble certain regions; law enforcement and environmental protection monitoring functions are weak; our response mechanism is inadequate.
SEPA should always be on high alert, reinforce the collaboration between departments on crisis response and management, enhance pollution prevention and control, and rigidly enforce regulations on the examination and approval of new development projects.
As far as the government is concerned, it must be fully aware of the cost of environmental pollution prevention and control, implement proper zone planning along the rivers and lakes, establish mechanisms to prevent and control pollution that include a civil compensation and social insurance system for environmental damage.
CBN: What policies and regulations on environmental protection will be implemented during the 2006-2010 period?
Yang: I would like to say that environmental protection and economic development are organic processes. The sixth national conference on environmental protection has called for a shift from a blinkered focus on economic development, to the detriment of environmental protection, to one that pays equal attention to both.
With regard to policy-making, it is crucial to abide by the rules established by the following three systems: environmental impact evaluation, contamination discharge and emission control, and environmental protection target responsibility.
The environmental impact evaluation system sets standards that enterprises must meet. This ensures that pollution and ecological destruction are prevented from the beginning.
The second system provides for accountability and liability of anyone including local government officials and central government ministers found responsible for pollution.
And finally, the third system requires that targets are rigidly assessed, laws strictly enforced, and the relevant punishment or incentives handed out.
(China.org.cn by Li Shen, June 14, 2006)