SCIO press conference on strengthening eco-environment protection for a Beautiful China

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Xing Huina:

The last two questions, please.

Hong Kong Bauhinia Magazine:

Good morning, Mr. Huang. Tightening the supervision of ecological conservation is an important measure for ensuring national ecological security. So far, what has been done to strengthen the supervision of ecological conservation? Moreover, what measures will be taken in the future to improve the diversity, stability and sustainability of the ecosystem? Thank you.

Huang Runqiu:

Thank you for your questions. The natural ecosystem is like a living organism. At the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that efforts should be made to improve the diversity, stability, and sustainability of the ecosystem, to protect it in an intensified manner, and effectively strengthen the supervision of ecological conservation and restoration, so as to leave a beautiful ecological environment for future generations.

In recent years, the MEE has carried out its duties of guiding, coordinating, and supervising ecological conservation and restoration efforts. We have strengthened external supervision with unified policy planning and standards-setting, unified monitoring and evaluation, unified supervision and law enforcement, and unified inspection and accountability. The highlights of our work are found in the following three areas:

First, we have made extensive efforts to build an ecological conservation supervision system. A series of documents were issued, including the Opinions on Strengthening the Supervision of Ecological Conservation, the Plan for Ecological Conservation Supervision During the 14th Five-year Plan Period, the Provisional Measures for Ecological Environment Supervision of Nature Reserves, and the Measures for Ecological Environment Supervision of Ecological Conservation Red Lines (for Trial Implementation). A basic ecological conservation supervision system has been established. The system conducts monitoring and evaluation at five levels, including the whole nation, key regions, and ecological conservation red lines. The system ensures the enforcement of central government environmental inspections and adherence to the Guiding Catalogue for Integrated Administrative Law Enforcement in Ecological and Environmental Protection. It also supervises ecological conservation red lines and nature reserves. It also includes the "Green Shield" campaign, aiming to strengthen supervision of nature reserves. Furthermore, we are developing an oversight platform for ecological conservation red lines and building demonstration areas for ecological conservation.

Second, we have made great efforts to improve our capability to detect problems. By fully utilizing satellites, manned and unmanned planes, and both fixed and mobile monitoring systems on the ground, we have established a space-ground integrated network to monitor eco-quality. We have also conducted eco-quality supervision and monitoring, focusing on nature reserves, ecological conservation red lines, and key ecosystem service zones to improve our capability to preemptively identify problems. Up to now, we have identified more than 5,000 key problems in national nature reserves and 79 cases of ecological damage in five provinces piloting the supervision of ecological conservation red lines.

Third, we have made significant efforts to urge the rectification of these problems. On the one hand, through two rounds of central government environmental inspections, we released 87 representative cases of ecological damage that hinder sustainable development. We made a documentary series that revealed 226 instances of ecological damage along the Yangtze Economic Belt and in the Yellow River basin. All these efforts have pushed for the resolution of many acute ecological problems. For example, the illegally constructed villas at the northern foot of the Qinling Mountains were demolished, and public parks are now built on the site. Moreover, in the Karamaile Mountain Nature Reserve in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Przewalski's horse - a species once extinct in this area - has been reintroduced into its native habitat. On the other hand, the "Green Shield" campaign helped to solve 94.24% of the key problems found in national nature reserves. The number of critical issues, as well as areas intensely impacted by human activities, have decreased within nature reserves. The encouraging progress achieved in recent years essentially represents a reversal of previous encroachments and environmental damage within nature reserves.

Next, we will act upon the arrangements and requirements set forth by the National Conference on Eco-environmental Protection. We will strengthen unified regulation over owners, developers, and even regulators, working collaboratively to protect and restore ecosystems, thereby acting as guardians of the ecological environment. First, we aim to enhance the mechanism for coordinating ecological conservation oversight. This will involve bolstering communication and cooperation among departments and improving information-sharing and case-transferring mechanisms. Second, we will rigorously fulfill the responsibilities of ecological conservation. To accomplish this, we will further refine the regulatory system for protecting and restoring ecosystems and continue to give play to the role of central inspection on eco-environmental protection. Third, we will take stern measures to address activities that damage the environment, ensuring we root out pointless formalities in protecting and restoring ecosystems. Thank you!

Nanfang Metropolis Daily:

In recent years, the MEE has strengthened law enforcement efforts. Notably, since 2020, the MEE, together with the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security, has launched a special campaign over four consecutive years to crack down on illegal and criminal activities that pose a threat to the environment, particularly those related to hazardous waste and the falsification of automatic monitoring data by key pollutant-discharging units. How effective has this special campaign been? Furthermore, what are the priority tasks moving forward? Thank you.

Huang Runqiu:

Thank you for your questions. The last questions indeed carry significant weight. Protecting the eco-environment with the strictest regulations and laws is the crucial principle of Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization. General Secretary Xi Jinping has emphasized that we must bolster systematic and holistic oversight, showing no leniency towards actions that damage our eco-environment. He insists that severe punishments should be levied for eco-environmental violations.

The MEE has thoroughly studied and put into practice Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization. To address the problems of the illegal transfer, dumping, utilization, and disposal of hazardous waste, as well as the frequent violations such as the forgery of automatic monitoring data by key pollutant-discharging units, we have collaborated with the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security to launch a special campaign to crack down on these types of unlawful activities. Over the past four years, ecological and environmental authorities nationwide have investigated and addressed a total of 19,982 legal violations related to hazardous waste and automatic monitoring data, transferring 3,667 cases of suspected criminal activity to public security agencies.

Over the years, my colleagues and I have led teams to many provinces in China. We have conducted spot checks following the principles of no prior notice, not accepting reports, no escorts or receptions, and immediate field inspections at the primary level. We traveled directly to businesses to monitor pollution control, uncovering serious issues with fraudulent monitoring data at some enterprises. For instance, some enterprises tampered with or covered the sampling probe, used running water or clear water as samples, manipulated equipment computing parameters, installed hacking programs to alter data remotely, or even falsified data records. These activities of data forgery were usually conducted deliberately by pollutant-discharging enterprises that colluded with third-party service agencies. The means of forgery they adopted were diverse and highly professional, posing great challenges to investigations. These practices were very serious and had harmful consequences. They crossed the bottom line and violated criminal law. As such, they must be investigated and prosecuted severely and cracked down on resolutely without leniency.

After carrying out this special campaign for four consecutive years, we have made achievements in the following three aspects. 

First, we have maintained a tough stance and handled a number of prominent cases in accordance with the law. We have publicized 10 batches of 80 typical cases of violations concerning hazardous waste and fraudulent automatic monitoring data. For instance, in 2022, the ecology and environment authorities in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, resolved a case of environmental pollution. In this case, 49 people were implicated in the cross-provincial disposal of aluminum ash through online platforms. Six prefecture-level cities in Jiangsu, Shandong, and Zhejiang provinces were involved, with 8,226 tons of aluminum ash disposed of. Eighteen people received prison sentences, ranging from a minimum term of seven months to a maximum term of five years, forming an effective deterrent to environmental violations.

Second, we have taken joint actions with multiple departments and continued to intensify coordination between administrative law enforcement and criminal justice. We have gradually developed joint-action mechanisms such as joint meeting mechanisms, two-way consultation and reporting, and expert assistance in handling cases. We have pursued multi-dimensional cooperation in case investigation, forensic assessment, evidence preservation, and compulsory execution. To deal with difficult and complex major cases committed by organizations, we have assembled competent personnel to establish a joint special investigation team, thus creating synergy in addressing challenging cases. In January of this year, we collaborated with the Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security. We jointly supervised the handling of three major cases where third-party service agencies were involved in falsifying environmental impact assessment reports, acceptance monitoring, and motor vehicle inspections. We have investigated and prosecuted a batch of cases involving the forgery of environmental impact assessments, exemplified by the case of Shandong Jinhua Environmental Technology Company. This was the first criminal case involving an environmental impact assessment that was investigated, prosecuted, and sentenced, further intensifying the deterrent effect.

Third, we have seen that local governments assume responsibility for rectification and promote the standardized management of the industry. To address the salient problems identified during examinations of law enforcement, relevant provincial governments have given them great attention, established leading groups for rectification, and held supervisory meetings to arrange and advance rectification efforts, leading to a thorough resolution of significant issues. At the same time, we have gleaned lessons from past experiences and organized multiple departments to launch joint inspections, preventing the recurrence of similar problems. During the special campaign, local governments have traced the origins of and broadened their investigations into suspected illegal and criminal activities. This has effectively severed illegal interest chains, applied pressure on the industry to standardize whole-chain management, and gradually strengthened the industry's consensus on self-discipline.

Next, the MEE will continue to strengthen supervision and law enforcement and promote inter-departmental coordination. The MEE will maintain our firm stance, focusing on key regions and industries and rigorously clamping down on illegal activities that violate environmental protection laws. With the utmost determination and the most effective measures, we will advance the rectification of issues. We will ensure the goals and tasks of environmental protection are implemented and deliver results.

Thank you!

Xing Huina:

Today's briefing is hereby concluded. Thanks to Mr. Huang and our friends from the media. See you!

Translated and edited by Xu Xiaoxuan, Li Xiao, Liu Jianing, Zhang Junmian, Zhu Bochen, Wang Wei, Liu Caiyi, Ma Yujia, Qin Qi, Yang Xi, Yan Bin, Yuan Fang, Liu Sitong, Liu Qiang, Xu Kailin, Huang Shan, Li Huiru, David Ball, Jay Birbeck, and Tom Arnsten. In case of any discrepancy between the English and Chinese texts, the Chinese version is deemed to prevail.

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