China's highest environmental authority outlined its 2004 plan to protect the country's environment, which is increasingly threatened by the burgeoning economy.
At an annual conference of nationwide environmental officials that began Thursday in Beijing, Xie Zhenhua, head of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said that this year SEPA will focus on cleaning up China's most polluted areas and most polluting industries.
“If not handled well, the fast-growing economy may lead to terrible pollution,” said Xie. “SEPA hopes to help forge more balanced growth.”
China's GDP hit US$1.3 trillion in 2003, and this figure could quadruple by 2020.
The most polluted waterways such as the Huaihe River and Taihu Lake areas, and heavy-polluting papermaking and chemistry plants will be primary targets, said Xie.
Plans also include adding environmental indicators to the performance evaluations of local officials, completing drafts of environmental legislation and improving the management system.
Xie said much more work was needed in preservation of the ecological system and prevention of radiation leakage.
“It's a time of both challenges and opportunities,” he said, citing Chinese President Hu Jintao's Wednesday speech, which noted the need to transform the current environmentally unfriendly and resource-draining growth model.
Premier Wen Jiabao has demanded that the SEPA promote recycling, slash pollutant emissions and clean major waterways.
Also on Thursday, Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan urged a crackdown on crimes that violate environmental laws.
Generally speaking, the worsening trend in the nation's environment has not changed, Zeng said.
While such problems as river pollution, acid rain and noise are still a concern, new problems like electronic and hazardous wastes are emerging.
Polluting enterprises that pose a threat to drinking water sources must be shut down, work on construction sites where noise affects the living conditions of nearby residents stopped and sewage and solid waste disposal in cities strictly supervised, Zeng declared.
He said all construction projects must undergo environmental impact assessments. Those that fail to meet environmental standards will be stopped and ordered to improve their environmental protection facilities.
The vice premier also urged that pollution control projects be built up quickly in key regions, including the Taihu Lake area in east China's Jiangsu Province and the Three Gorges Reservoir.
He said efforts will be made to promote clean production and develop an economy based on the most efficient use of resources and the most effective protection of the environment.
In a national blitz against polluting enterprises between June and September last year, more than 7,300 enterprises across the country were shut down and more than 2,000 ordered to stop production and implement measures to treat pollution.
In addition, more than 1,000 companies have been asked to upgrade pollution treatment systems to bring them up to national standards.
(China Daily & Xinhua News Agency March 12, 2004)