（2015-03-09）China has been working hard to tackle environmental problems and achieved remarkable progress over recent years, but the country still has an uphill battle to fight before ultimately eliminating the toxic legacy of rapid industrialization, said experts.
"At the highest levels of the Chinese government, there is an understanding that the economy simply has to become more sustainable because at the moment it is very wasteful of resources, of energy, of inputs of all kinds," said Isabel Hilton, a London-based veteran journalist and broadcaster, when asked to comment on the resolve of the Chinese government to clean up the country's environment.
Since the start of the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010), the Chinese government has been trying to fix the pollution problems and move towards a more sustainable model of development, said Hilton, also the founder and editor of chinadialog, an independent, non-profit organization that focuses on the environment, especially in China.
As she sees it, there have been successes in several aspects, including lower emission of sulfur dioxide, improved energy efficiency, and massive reforestation and afforestation programs.
"China has been thinking about ideas like the circular economy for some time. And you could point in the public policy space to a lot of ideas that have gained traction in China that have really to find their space in the mainstream elsewhere," Hilton told Xinhua in a written interview.
German ecologist Hans-Joachim Mader is also impressed by what China has done in recent years to protect the environment.
"The efforts that China has made are immense, fantastic and to be commended," he said, noting that there are already great national parks in China, and that some Chinese cities have restored health of the river systems.
China owns three out of the 28 global biodiversity hotspots that are the core areas of diversity, he said. "In these areas, a lot of good protection measures are taken to preserve the biodiversity."
Meanwhile, the Chinese are working really hard to build alternative energy. "Nowadays if one takes the train across the country, he may see many wind turbines."
Noting it is a universal problem that rapid economic growth always cause various environment problems, Hilton lamented that "it is a pity we do not learn faster" to avoid such pitfalls of sacrificing the environment for the sake of development.
There are huge challenges for China to tackle in its bid to clean up the environment. "This is a very big country and it is a very big problem," said Hilton.
Strenuous efforts are needed in coming years so as to clean up the air, water and especially the soil, said Hilton.
To cope with these challenges, she suggested that China toughen penalty against polluters, since the current fines for pollution were too low that "it is actually cheaper to pay the fines if you were caught than to avoid pollution in the first place."
She also suggested that Chinese regulators reinforce the inspection regime and mobilize the civil society to bring cases. "It is not just down to the state. Citizens could sue, people who had been suffering damage could sue, and there should be NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) that know how to do this, how to collect evidence."
According to Mader, specific measures that China could immediately take to better reserve the environment include installing a reclamation program for opencast mines.
He believed that more ecologists should be involved in the government's decision-making process. "It is much cheaper today to invest in ecological consulting, in networking of thoughts, in building a wide area protection system than to repair all of these later."