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'Green' a buzzword in China in 2008
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Looking back at 2008, an eventful year that witnessed a massive snow disaster, the deadly May 12 earthquake, the success of Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, and a worldwide financial tsunami, "green" was a keyword that has run through almost every major event. 

Northwest China's Gansu Province has made an investment of more than 360 million in improving urban and rural infrastructure construction and afforestation over the past decades.

Northwest China's Gansu Province has made an investment of more than 360 million in improving urban and rural infrastructure construction and afforestation over the past decades. 

Environmental protection, energy saving, climate change - all are buzzwords in media reports, government documents, commercial advertisements, and common people's daily conversations.

With the national environmental watchdog being upgraded to cabinet status, environmental protection has been given more say in shaping the country's economic development.

Under such a framework, enterprises have adopted more active measures in greening their businesses, with some taking leadership in fighting the worsening environment and global warming.

Common people's environmental awareness has also been beefed up thanks to the efforts of not-for-profit environmental protection organizations in China.

Policy trends

2008 has been a critical year for the country to realize its bold green goals written in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), which aims to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent and major pollutants emissions by 10 percent from the 2005 levels by 2010.

But as the first two years, namely 2006 and 2007, saw only 2.14 and 3.16 percent reduction of chemical oxygen demand (COD) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) is feeling increased pressure to beef up its environmental goals.

So at the beginning of 2008, MEP released a collection of environmentally sound economic policies, including green insurance, green security and green trade, as a follow-up of the green credit policy introduced in 2007.

About 100 volunteers from Beijing Agriculture University and Minzu University of China work to ensure a clean environment around the Olympic Green. [China Daily]

About 100 volunteers from Beijing Agriculture University and Minzu University of China work to ensure a clean environment around the Olympic Green. [China Daily]

With environmental officials joining hands with economic regulators to design and implement programs, the watchdog started to proactively extend its hands into the entire economic activity chain, including production, distribution, trade and consumption, instead of the long-time practice of reacting only after a pollution problem was apparent.

Just as Pan Yue, vice minister of environmental protection, who is also the initiator of the green economic policies, has pointed out, such policies encountered obstacles as a result of local protectionism and weak legal enforcement.

The former State Environmental Protection Administration's evolution into a full-fledged MEP in March has partly solved the problem by giving the environmental watchdog a strengthened administrative role.

After taking up his new position as minister of environmental protection, setting up a law enforcement system of "iron and steel" was cited as Zhou Shengxian's top priority.

The MEP's new structure was unveiled in the latter half of 2008, with three new departments added that cover environmental quality monitoring, emissions control as well as news and education.

The move suggested an emphasis on the national control of major pollutants based on more thorough research and the precise monitoring of results.

The efforts have already paid off. Tougher environmental controls have further reduced pollution in China. The latest statistics show that emissions of COD and SO2 in the first half of 2008 dropped 2.48 and 3.96 percent respectively year on year.

In the first half of the year, the MEP requested stringent environmental standards on economic projects when the country's economy appeared at risk of overheating.

Luckily, the move has been attached with equal importance in the country's financial stimulus plan when the global economic downturn started taking its toll in China as the year drew to a close.

None of the country's 4-trillion-yuan investment package will go to the energy and resource-intensive industries or high-pollution industries, Zhang Ping, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, has vowed.

A total of 350 billion yuan, among the investment package, will be spent on improving the ecological environment and treating pollution in 2009, with a focus on improving the rural environment.

Green CSR

Environmental protection and energy conservation have also inevitably become some of the most popular buzz words for CEOs of many international and also domestic enterprises, especially in their press conferences and interviews.

They emphasize eco-friendly approaches as a business philosophy: not only focusing on improving energy efficiency of their products, but also reducing the impacts on the environment during manufacturing.

For example, Hisense and Haier, two Chinese electrical household appliance giants, have constantly promoted their "green" televisions, air conditioners, and refrigerators. In recent years, over 50 international giants, including Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Avon and GE, have added corporate social responsibility (CSR) as one of most important clauses in their corporate cultures, requiring their cooperative enterprises to go through an examination of CSR performance before signing contracts with them.

Since 1997, more than 8,000 enterprises have been examined, and many incompetent enterprises have been disqualified as suppliers.

The action has the impact of urging local enterprises to fulfill their CSR at an international level and they are willing to cooperate with government departments in environmental efforts.

Wal-Mart China has said it will cooperate with Environmental Certification Center under Ministry of Environmental Protection on drafting green store standards.

The two parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Beijing, in December 2008. The system of green certifications for supermarkets would be established through spot surveys, demonstration practices and validation.

Many Chinese enterprises have realized that energy efficiency and environmental protection are not burden but profitable business. However, it is still difficult for some of them to get rid of their obsolete development mode.

As a core force for China's "green campaign" to reduce energy consumption there is still a long and tough road ahead for every Chinese enterprise.

NGOs' green efforts

About 30 years ago, environmental protection was not personal or government priority in China but whose story says average people have been able to make a difference?

Fourteen years have passed since the first Chinese environmental NGO, Friend of Nature, was set up in 1994.

To date there are 3,539 environmental NGOs fighting for bluer skies, cleaner water and a better life for every Chinese.

On Children's Day in 2008, Chen Xiaoyi, a project manager of the Women and Environment Group under the China-Canada Cleaner Production Program, gave a brilliant gift to her child and also many others.

Through the constant efforts of Chen and her colleagues, a series of green education text books for pre-school children were published to teach them to love the nature and protect the environment.

In 2004, the Beijing-based Global Village along with other five NGOs launched the 26C campaign, asking people turn the temperature of air conditioners to no lower than 26C in summer.

In 2007, the State Council issued a circular, stipulating that the temperature of all China's air-conditioned public places should be kept at no lower than 26C in summer, and no higher than 20C in winter.

Thus a public campaign became a government compulsory regulation.

Some NGOs initiated a Plastic Bag Campaign that was also adopted by the government and since June 1, 2008 China has banned free plastic bags in stores across the country.

Due to the efforts of NGOs some of the controversial decisions by local governments have been reviewed, revised and even cancelled. In the name of the public, NGO members stand up to express people's views and protect people's rights.

(China Daily Decembe 29, 2008)

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