China's Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining listens to a question at a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in Beijing, March 7, 2015. [Photo by Wang Jing/chinadaily.com.cn]
( 2015-03-07 )Authorities have to bring down the emissions of major pollutants from tens of millions of tons to millions of tons if the country wants its sky to return to blue, said Chen Jining, China's newly appointed minister of environmental protection.
Chen made the remarks at a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing annual session of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in Beijing on Saturday.
He said the target can be reached although the government will face great difficulties.
China cannot relent on efforts to tackle pollution, though a rapid turnaround should not be expected, the environment minister said.
He admitted the world's second largest economy is faced with the unprecedented conflict between environmental protection and development in human history.
"China's environmental problem is still severe," he said, citing woes in poor environmental quality, grave ecological damage and high environmental risks that come with unreasonable industrial layout.
The minister said that China needs to do more to cut pollution, acknowledging the country's environmental laws were still not as strong as its economic laws.
He promised that the environmental protection ministry will spare no effort to strengthen the implementation of the revised environmental protection law and raise the capacity of pollution control this year.
The authorities will also ensure information transparency and protect the public's right to know, participate in and supervise the fight against air pollution, according to Chen.
"We would publish activities of the government and enterprises, leaving no space for violators to hide from the environmental protection law," said Chen.
The environmental scientist and former president of Tsinghua University assumed the position a week before the "two sessions", namely the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, kicked off on March 5.
He said the first thing he does since becoming the minister is to look at the sky and see if it is smoggy or not.
More than 80 percent of about 300 cities failed to meet the official standard of air quality last year, with smog frequently hitting the Yangtze River and Pearl River deltas as well as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, said Chen.
The government would also use the WeChat, a popular instant messaging service, to encourage the public to report illegal emissions, he said.
Environmental protection a 'key growth driver'
Environmental protection is an important growth driver for China and the demand for investment would be huge in the years to come, said Chen Jining.
He said total investment demand for environmental protection in China will be around 8 trillion yuan ($1.3 trillion) to 10 trillion yuan over the next few years.
Such investment provides "good" momentum for economic growth as it has no repeated construction and yields long-term returns, Chen said.
Currently the government funds accounted for 30 to 40 percent of the total input into environmental protection, said Chen, adding that social capital does not have full access to the market.
The ministry will seek to advance price reform to build a mechanism for measuring project returns and further ease market access by means such as public private partnership, the minister said.
Financing services will be improved, and regulation and oversight will be strengthened as well, he said.
The world's most populous country, China has been seeking a "difficult balance" between economic and social development and ecological and environmental protection.
Environmental deterioration is a blight on people's quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts, Premier Li Keqiang said while delivering the annual government work report Thursday.
"We must fight it with all our might," the premier said.
Developed countries urged take lead in climate change
Developed countries should take the lead and offer more capital and technological assistance to developing countries amid the world's efforts to tackle climate change, said Chen Jinin.
We hope that parties attending the Paris climate conference later this year would respect the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and follow the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities to reach an agreement as soon as possible, said Chen.
Developed countries should honor their commitments and shoulder their responsibilities under the Convention to do more in support of developing countries in terms of finance, technology and capability building, he said.
Legal construction of PX projects 'should' continue
Chen Jining said the construction of city garbage incinerators and PX (paraxylene) projects should continue, but on the conditions that certain requirements are met, in response to a reporter on the protests against the construction of PX factories or garbage incinerators.
"PX products are important industrial materials while garbage incinerators are important part of modern city's infrastructure, so we should support those projects," said Chen, adding construction sites must be scientifically decided and they must pass environmental impact assessment.
After construction, such projects should be under strict regulation so that the public can be assured, added Chen.
The construction of PX projects and garbage incinerators, if poorly handled, can lead to political problems, said Chen, adding such "not-in-my-backyard" situations also happened in other countries.
Chen urged local governments to better handling information disclosure work on the construction and said factories should work together with local communities on defusing such misunderstandings instead of hiding behind the government.
China vows active Int'l role in pollution fight
China pledged to actively cooperate with other nations and International organizations in its battle against pollution, said Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining.
He said that as a responsible member of the international community, China will enhance its cooperation with others to push forward the smog-choked nation's energy conservation and pollution cut.
Polluting plants 'not' to be located to west regions
Chen Jining pledged not to relocate its polluting plants in the coastal areas to the vast central and western regions in the country's industry upgrade.
As the world's second largest economy is gearing up for a slower but more self-sustaining growth, observers have voiced their concerns that as China's coastal regions turn against pollution, low-end manufacturers and plants may be relocated to central and western regions that are economically lagging behind the booming east and desperate for development.