China issues guideline on environmental development

China’s cabinet on Tuesday published a guideline on improving the country’s environment, vowing to achieve “major progress” in the area by 2020.

In the 35-clause guideline, the State Council stressed the need to consider environmental protection when planning economic and social development, and to raise public awareness about the environment.

China’s safeguarding of the environment still lags behind its economic status, with prominent problems such as limited resources and severe pollution becoming major bottlenecks for sustainable growth, the guideline noted.

It called for more economical and efficient use of resources. By 2020, China aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 to 45 per cent from the 2005 level, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15 per cent, according to the guideline.

Other targets include a steady improvement in water and soil quality, forestry and wetland coverage.

The guideline also stressed efforts to promote green urbanization and strengthen protection of ocean resources.

Decades of breakneck growth in China have dried up resources and left the country saddled with problems including smog and contaminated waterways.

In 2014, only eight of 74 major Chinese cities subject to PM 2.5 air quality monitoring met the national standard for clear air, according to data released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).

Another MEP report released in June 2014 revealed that some 60 percent of ground water checked by 4,778 monitoring stations was rated as “bad” or “very bad”.

To strike a balance between growth and environment, China declared a “war against pollution” last year, calling for tougher regulations over polluting industries.

In his annual government report in March, Premier Li Keqiang pledged to take “a firm and unrelenting approach to ensure blue skies, clear waters, and sustainable development”.

Steady progress is being made. A new environmental law launched in January has toughened penalties for pollution and made clear that public-interest groups have the right to sue liable parties.

Earlier this month, the State Council unveiled a detailed action plan to fight water pollution. It said more than 70 percent of the water in the seven major river valleys, including the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, should be in good condition by 2020. The same target is set for offshore areas. Small factories in sectors including paper, insecticides and tanning will be shut down by the end of 2016.

And with Tuesday’s announcement of the overall roadmap, analysts expect more detailed regulations to follow.

“The key for the next step is whether we can seriously implement the guideline,” noted Wang Yi, head of the Institute of Policy and Management under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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