(2015-03-10)Ecological protection has been a major focus for the ongoing "two sessions" -- China's most important annual political event.
President Xi Jinping asked Chinese people to protect the environment as if they were "caring for one's own eyes and life", while reviewing the work report of the State Council together with national lawmakers from eastern Jiangxi Province.
"We are going to punish, with an iron hand, any violators who destroy ecology or environment, with no exceptions," said Xi.
The environment has long been a regular topic in official speeches and the public is expecting revolutionary measures to tackle the conundrum.
In this year's government work report delivered at the annual parliamentary session, pollution was called "a blight on people's quality of life" and promises were made that the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide will cut emissions by at least 3.1 percent this year.
Xi used the oriental culture's concept of harmony and balance to explain nature preservation.
"Mankind's pursuit of development and the limited resource supplied by Earth has been an eternal contradiction," he said during his visit to southwest China's Yunnan Province at the beginning of 2015.
"The Chinese civilization has lasted more than 5,000 years. Can it last another 5,000 years and ultimately achieve sustainable development?" Xi asked.
"The ecological problem has been accumulated in history and the environment has not been damaged suddenly in a day," he said, adding it was the Communist Party of China's (CPC) responsibility to stop the environment from turning worse.
The CPC's 18th congress promised to "build a beautiful China" as part of its ecological civilization drive in November 2012. The concept was also promoted by the United Nations Environment Programme in February 2013.
Xi, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, has stressed the concept of ecological civilization and conservation culture at political events in China and abroad more than 60 times since November 2012.
He once said that if mountains and forests are damaged, soil will be flooded by water and farmland will become barren.
Xi called for comprehensive measures to save the environment.
"Forests have a leading position in safeguarding homeland security and coordinating comprehensive management on environmental protection. Forests are the top level of ecosystem. To save Earth, we have to save forests first," he said.
However, forest areas have dwindled by about 50 percent globally, according to UN figures.
"(I) can't imagine what Earth and mankind will be like without forests," Xi said while planting trees with members of the public in Beijing in April 2013. He vowed severe punishment on environment destroyers.
However, there are still more than 900 million mu (about 60 million hectares) of natural forests that are not under protection, with weak ecosystems, water loss and soil erosion. Therefore, the government has expanded the scope for prohibiting commercial deforestation this year and will ultimately cease any commercial tree-cutting in the future.
Water shortage is also a headache. Xi said crude oil can be imported, or, if exhausted, replaced by new energy, "but if water is depleted, what shall we turn to?"
Official statistics show more than 200 lakes, each covering more than ten square km, have been shrinking in China. Nearly 1,000 natural lakes in the country have become extinct due to reclamation.
The same with air quality. Among 74 monitored major Chinese cities, only 4.1 percent reached a clean air standard.
China, over a long period in the past, stayed in a lower position on the global value chain and the environment has been damaged by highly polluting, energy-intensive industries.
"There are too many debts to pay," Xi said while visiting south China's Guangdong Province. He warned that if action is not taken immediately, more debts will lie ahead.
He told college students in Kazakhstan in September 2013 that economic development must not come at the price of the ecology.
The Chinese government has shifted from its long-time GDP-obsessed development concept to a comprehensive social and economic development evaluation system that balances GDP growth and impact on the environment.
"A sound eco-environment can benefit all members of the public," Xi said in the southern island province of Hainan in April 2013.
Xi also includes environmental preservation as part of the "Chinese dream" for the nation's revival. He told foreign dignitaries in his address at the welcoming banquet of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Beijing last November that he hopes the sky of Bejing as well as the whole China will be clear and blue forever, and children will live in a sound eco-environment.