A balance between development and the environment is essential, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday.
"Providing basic environmental quality for its people is an essential public service for any government. It is necessary to improve the quality of life and provide a favorable environment with clear water, blue skies and uncontaminated soil," Li told a national conference on environmental protection in Beijing which was attended by provincial governors and ministers.
During his one-hour speech Li called for wider public participation to tackle problems with the environment.
These efforts should include greater protection for sources of drinking water, more thorough treatment of urban sewage, revising and publishing stricter air quality standards, preventing heavy metal pollution, better managing hazardous wastes and enhancing rural environmental protection to ensure food safety.
Calling the environmental protection industry a fresh economic engine, Li said that enhanced efforts to curb pollution can push the country to improve its economic structure.
"It is estimated that the output of green sectors - pollution treatment and energy saving - can exceed 10 billion yuan ($1.58 billion) during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) period," he said.
At the conference, provincial governors and heads of the country's biggest State-owned enterprises signed liability statements with the Ministry of Environmental Protection to meet their emission reduction targets between 2011 and 2015, the ministry said in a statement.
From 2011 to 2015, China plans to reduce emissions for nitrogen oxide and ammonia nitrogen by 10 percent below 2010 levels, and cut sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand by 8 percent.
According to the liability statements, a total of 1,184 sewage plants will be built in the next five years, with a combined treatment capacity of 45.7 million tons. And nitrogen oxide removal facilities will be installed for coal-fired power plants with a total installed capacity of 400 gigawatts.
Local officials and company executives will be reviewed every year to see if they are on track to reach their emission reduction targets. Those who fail will be held responsible.
Li also urged that the pollution monitoring agency should include PM 2.5 - hazardous particulate pollutants of 2.5 microns - into the new system to monitor air quality, following widespread public complaints concerning chronic haze in major cities in recent years.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection previously said new monitoring standards and air quality appraisal systems are to be published soon and will be adopted nationwide no later than 2016. Currently, China measures air quality based on PM 10 - which fails to gauge smaller particulate matters.
Luo Yi, director of the China National Environmental Monitoring Center, told Xinhua News Agency on Tuesday that major cities may adopt the new standards by 2013.
A pilot monitoring program for PM 2.5 in nine cities since 2007 - including Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangzhou - shows the particulate pollution is a challenge, Luo said.
"Using standards recommended by the World Health Organization, PM 2.5 will better measure the air quality," Luo said.