The first national survey of pollution sources, though belated, is of great importance for the realization of China's environmental protection goals.
Recently the State Council issued a notice on implementation that requires local governments' full support to facilitate preparation for the survey, scheduled to take place in 2008 with results to be published in 2009.
By collecting all the needed data at industrial, agricultural and residential pollution sources, the survey will lay a foundation for the country to substantially reduce emissions in the long run through not only administrative regulation, but market mechanisms as well.
China has made it a binding aim to cut main pollutants like chemical oxygen demand (COD) emissions and sulphur dioxide discharges by 10 per cent each during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-10).
In 2005, China discharged 25.5 million tons of sulphur dioxide, and released more than 14 million tons of COD.
The survey seemingly comes too late to be of immediate help in meeting the country's pollution control goal. By the time its findings are made public, the country will be left with only one year to achieve its five-year environmental goal.
China's discharges of COD and sulphur dioxide increased by 4.2 per cent and 5.8 per cent year-on-year in the first half of this year, instead of declining as expected. This fact only shows that extensive growth patterns in this country will die hard.
Hence, it is unlikely too much will be achieved in just one year if the survey result exposes a larger-than-expected pollution control gap for the country to narrow.
Even so, the lack of short-term effect does not negate the long-term significance of such a fact-finding attempt.
The survey of pollution sources is essential to both a thorough understanding of the country's environmental conditions and proper policy-making to combat pollution.
Only with timely and accurate emissions data can the country's environmental agency effectively monitor major pollutants and seek solutions.
The authorities have demonstrated their resolve to control total emissions with increased financial support and enhanced regulation.
But to ensure the efficient use and allocation of environmental resources, total emission controls alone are not enough. It is necessary to introduce emissions trading, which links environmental goals to economic growth.
To do that, a national survey of all pollution sources is the very beginning step. Polluters need to know how many pollutants they are permitted to produce and how much they can benefit from reducing emissions before they become active participants in the emissions trading market.
In this sense, the survey can help accelerate the crucial transition in the country's environmental policy from focusing on end-of-pipe pollution control to emphasizing sustainability.
(China Daily October 25, 2006)