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Environmental Science and Technology Enters a New Era

The first conference dealing with China's environmental protection efforts in 30 years took place on August 8, in Beijing. Reporters from the People's Daily, who attended the National Environmental Protection Science and Technology Conference, spoke to Zhou Shengxian, Minister of State Environmental Protection Administration, on relevant issues.

People's Daily: What is the current state of environmental science and technology in China?

Zhou: The history of environmental protection efforts in the past three decades is also a process of environmental science and technology progress. Great breakthroughs were achieved in pollution treatment technologies, focusing on industrial pollution source treatment in the 1970s, which marked the beginning of China's environmental protection efforts. Since the beginning of the 21st century, we have developed basic research on persistent organic pollutants and on the evolution of pollutants. A series of key technologies, like desulfurization and dust removal, organic pollutant removal and restoration of water ecology, have been developed. Research on key supporting technologies for state environment management has been made. All these have contributed to the improvement of relevant laws and regulations, the enhancement of macro environmental management and the strengthening of international cooperation on environmental issues.

Despite the achievements, we must note that China's current environmental science and technology development level and the capability to deal with pollution still fall far behind the requirements for environmental protection. First, the lack of a scientific mechanism for environment management and decision-making has affected the efficiency of the policy measures that have been put in place. Second, recent years have seen a backslide in scientific and technological work in the environmental protection field, shown by the few investigation and research programs, seriously insufficient basic data, and even false data that fail to reflect the true environment conditions. All these problems have hampered the solution of complicated environmental problems. Third, there is not enough technology storage for pollution prevention and control. Only a small number of scientific achievements have been transformed into tangible productivity, few enterprises have a high capability in dealing with pollution, the research on nuclear security and radiation reduction is still at a low level, there is not enough technological support for environment supervision, and law enforcement and the environment standard system need to be improved urgently. Fourth, the quality of the science and technology research team needs to be further enhanced, and there are too few qualified middle-aged and young science workers. Fifth, the lack of a stable input mechanism for environment science and technology has led to a serious shortage of input and backward research and development conditions. All these problems need to be improved as soon as possible. How is the significance of scientific and technological innovation reflected in environmental protection?

In the modern world, science and technology is a vital factor in a country's comprehensive national strength, while independent innovation is the backbone of a country's development. History tells us that it is the most technology-innovative countries that are in a dominant position in promoting the progress of environmental protection science and technology.

In the National Science and Technology Conference held at the beginning of this year, it was proposed that China become an innovation-based country within 15 years. The construction of an energy-saving and environment-friendly society is designated as an important mission and environmental protection is listed among the five major scientific and technological development programs of strategic importance and among the 16 key specific programs. The conference pointed out definite direction for future environment-related scientific and technological work. The Central Government defines the development of technologies for energy saving, water resources conservation and environmental protection as a priority in the middle- and long-term scientific and technological development. This is an important measure to promote energy saving and environmental protection through technological innovation, an important way for the country to overcome the restriction of resources and environment over social and economic development, the inevitable choice to build a resource-saving and environment-friendly society and also the only way to achieve improved productivity, wealthy life and excellent ecologic environment.

The "water pollution control and treatment" program is among the major environmental protection initiatives of the country's middle- and long-term scientific and technological development planning. How is this program progressing?

Among the 16 key specific programs listed on the Outlines of the National Plan for Middle- and Long-term Scientific and Technological Development, four are related to environmental protection, which fully shows the importance of environmental technology in China's scientific and technological innovation. According to the overall arrangement by the State Council, the State Environmental Protection Administration is to play a leading role in implementing such key programs as "water pollution control and treatment," "development of large advanced pressurized water reactors and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors," "breeding of new products of genetically-modified organisms" and "development of high-resolution earth observation system." Currently, the leading team for the "water pollution control and treatment" program has already been set up, with the State Environmental Protection Administration playing a leading role and consisting of officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology, the National Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Construction, the Ministry of Water Resources, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. Both state and local finances will contribute certain support and it's also an environment-related scientific research program that has received the largest capital input to date. As for the other three programs, the State Environmental Protection Administration is cooperating actively with relevant departments to work out implementation schemes.

Established standards are an important means for environment management and an important basis for environmental law enforcement. What measures will the state take to promote environmental standards?

To set up a scientific and well-developed environmental standard system is one of the important objectives of China's environmental science and technology and also an important task concerning the work in this field. First, China's environmental standards must be scientifically defined, as it's the basis for their formulation. If the standards are not properly set, they are unlikely to reflect objective rules, which will impose a negative impact on environmental protection. The defining of environmental standards must depend on scientific research. Second, the environmental standard system needs to be improved continuously. Environmental quality and pollutant discharge standards need to be improved. At the same time, efforts must be made to accelerate the formulation of technological standards for the assessment of environmental impacts, the auditing and control of pollutant discharge, the auditing of clear production, environmental information and archives management, the assessment of health damages, ecological protection, the management of environmental engineering projects and the development of cyclic economy and ecological industry. Third, the environmental standards need to be strictly observed. Most importantly, current pollutant discharge standards should be strictly implemented and, with economic and technological development, the standards should be continuously strengthened.

The environmental standards will be tightened, environmental quality improved and economic development optimized, so that the ultimate objectives of environmental protection can be connected with environmental quality standards.

How can enterprises improve the prevention and treatment of pollution through independent innovation of environmental science and technology?

In terms of pollution abatement and technological innovation, enterprises are the principal part of pollution prevention and treatment, of research and development input, of technological innovation and of achievement application. It's of great importance to provide enterprises with guides in independent innovation, to help them improve pollution treatment capability and promote market-oriented treatment. First, it's necessary to create an environment where various enterprises are able to compete on an equal footing. All kinds of obstacles in the current administrative system should be removed and great efforts should be made to protect the intellectual property rights and to eliminate the monopoly of environment protection by a certain industry in the market, so that the whole nation is able to participate in the cause. National environmental science and technological plans and important projects should be open to enterprises, especially those projects enjoying promising future in the market. The mechanism that grants enterprises the leading role in implementing the state's important environmental science and technology programs should be set up. Besides, state key environmental protection laboratories, engineering centers and scientific and technological achievements for public welfare must be opened to enterprises.

Second, the intermediary service system for scientific and technological innovation should be improved. Enterprises will be supported in setting up their own research and development institutions and be encouraged to cooperate with environmental protection departments to set up engineering laboratories. Wholly foreign-owned enterprises will be encouraged to set up research and development centers for environmental protection. Various enterprises will be provided with market-oriented services to promote their innovation.

Third, enterprises are to be provided with guides in the research and development of special pollution prevention and abatement technologies. On the basis of environmental technology management system, enterprises should be encouraged to develop technologies concerning desulphurization in coal-fired power plants, wastewater treatment in urban areas, dust removal, emission treatment for large garbage incinerators, treatment of hazardous wastes, prevention and control of seeping fluid in landfills, clean fuel, environmental supervision and ecological protection and restoration, so as to raise the level of environmental protection technologies, improve the construction quality of related facilities and offer technological support and material assurance for the achievement of targets contained in the 11th Five-Year plan (2006-10) for environmental protection.

What is the function of the newly established State Environment Counsel Committee? Environmental protection is of great concern to the whole nation. The establishment of the State Environment Counsel Committee means to build the most extensive "unified front" in terms of environmental protection. The State Environment Counsel Committee is a high-profile expert panel taking part in the formulation of comprehensive policies on environmental protection. Its major task is to carry out investigation and research over strategic, overall and major environmental problems in the process of China's environmental protection cause and to put forward suggestions on middle- and long-term plans, important laws and regulations, economic and technological policies and guidelines and measures on environmental protection. Besides, we have also had the Science and Technology Committee set up as a standing consulting institution in the State Environmental Protection Administration, whose major task is to organize research over special subjects at home and broad, to offer suggestions on the strategy, planning, as well as plans, laws and regulations on environmental protection, and to carry out discussion and consultation on important programs and decisions. Members of the two committees are experts of great achievements and influence in their research fields. Their involvement will surely help the State Environmental Protection Administration with its scientific and democratic decision-making and greatly promote China's environmental protection cause. They are think tanks for the administration, whose opinions on strategic, overall and guiding issues will be taken into full consideration. The supporting role of science and technology in important decision-making should be highly valued, and no decisions should be made without investigation and research, without scientific argumentation and without in-depth group discussions.


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