The War Against Pollution

The Chinese Government has committed itself, in its 10th Five-year Plan (2001-05), to improving the nation's environment through a combination of laws and increased environmental investment, a top environmental protection official said yesterday.

Xie Zhenhua, minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, revealed this plan at a seminar on sustainable development policy.

Speaking before Xie, Yukon Huang, the World Bank's country director of China, asserted that financial problems, rising unemployment and a deteriorating environment will be the major threats to China's development in the next 20 years.

Xie acknowledged the serious environmental situation unfolding in China and stressed that pollution will gradually be reduced.

As part of the Ninth Five-Year Plan (1996-2000), the central government attempted to limit gross pollution to the level it reached in 1995. By 1999, the country had exceeded that goal, actually lowering the gross pollution level.

During that period, environmental investment reached 380 billion yuan (US$45.9 billion), accounting for roughly one percent of the nation's gross domestic product.

The goal of the new 10th Five-Year Plan is to reduce gross pollution levels by 10 per cent by 2005.

Xie emphasized that environmental protection must be balanced, and enhanced, with economic progress.

"Only with better development can the government and enterprises attain the money and technology to fight pollution," the minister said.

Xie pointed out law as one tool in the fight against pollution.

Enterprises unable to introduce pollution treatment facilities will be heavily fined in order to benefit those manufacturers who adopt relatively expensive environmentally friendly technologies and techniques.

The minister added that pollution prevention should be combined with industrial restructuring. Low efficiency, high pollution enterprises will be gradually phased out, and clean industries, such as the high-tech and service industries, will be developed.

Xie admitted that the sewage treatment rate in large cities is currently only 15 percent, but he promised that rate would reach 50 percent by 2004.

Foreign investment in sewage treatment is currently low because fees paid for sewage services are low. But, according to Xie, the State Council has decided to increase these fees in order to make the field a reasonably profitable market.

More than 100 central and local officials and researchers participated in the seminar, which was jointly sponsored by the World Bank and the National School of Administration.

Doctor Claude Martin, director general of the World Wildlife Fund, and Bjorn Stigson, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, also made presentations.

(China Daily 10/31/2000)
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