Environmental authorities will allow water to rehabilitate
itself naturally while capping emissions to purify the country's
waste-choked rivers and lakes, Zhou Shengxian, the top
environmental official tells China Daily.
Q: The 17th National Congress of the Communist Party
of China (CPC) placed unprecedented importance on protecting
the environment. As the minister of the State Environmental
Protection Administration (SEPA), how do you see your obligations
in the future?
A: President Hu Jintao, in his political report
to the conference, said China's economic growth comes at an
excessively high cost to our resources and the environment before
he listed other difficulties and problems hindering development. He
said the public will be made more aware of conservation and that
China must give prominence to building a resource-conserving and
environment-friendly society in its strategy for industrialization
and modernization. The country must also get every organization and
family to act accordingly.
Farmers in Linyi, Shandong
Province, make bricks from a mixture of straw and earth that will
be used to build energy-efficient houses.
Hu's report indicated that, as a basic national policy,
environmental protection has truly begun to play a key role in the
country's economic and social development. The green drive has
coincided with an unprecedented opportunity for development.
The SEPA will abide by the country's policy of the scientific
outlook on development, focusing on the control and treatment of
water, air and soil pollution and giving top priority to ensuring
the safety of driving water.
Q: Since the Sixth National Conference of
Environmental Protection in April last year, the SEPA has listed
drinking water quality as its top concern. What difficulties or
problems do environmental protection authorities face in combating
A: In recent years, various departments and
local governments have strived to control water pollution by
phasing out energy-consuming, heavy-polluting small plants. Urban
areas have sped up the construction of sewage treatment plants. And
systems for protecting drinking water source areas have been
Thanks to their efforts, China can basically ensure the quality
of its drinking water and stabilize its water quality in general,
even as it has carried out fast industrialization and
However, it needs to be on high alert because industries that
use a lot of energy and water and release a lot of pollution are
still expanding fast. Water pollution has not decreased much.
China's water quality is facing a tough challenge.
Water pollution has affected people's health and social
stability and become a bottleneck thwarting China's sound and rapid
economic and social development.
Official figures from last year showed that surface water in
China was generally moderately polluted. One third of the 744
samples of surface water taken were graded "V", or the worst
polluted. More than 40 percent of the samples taken from major
rivers fell short of water quality standards. And those sections of
rivers that passed through urban areas were almost all
In addition, China has more than 20,000 chemical factories, of
which almost half are located along the Yangtze River. There are
3,800 along the Yellow River. Accidents leave large sections of the
Q: The SEPA has proposed "letting rivers and
lakes rest in peace and rehabilitate themselves" at many key water
pollution control conferences. What should the public make of
A: Letting rivers and lakes rest in peace and
rehabilitate themselves means showing the water cycle affection,
allowing it to recover naturally.
In practice, this requires encouraging widespread water
conservation, setting economic development goals in accordance with
our resource capacity and strictly controlling pollution.
Administrative orders, as well as legal and market-based tools,
should be brought to bear, based on scientific assessments of the
Q: What are China's targets and guidelines for
treating water pollution?
A: From a long-term perspective, our target for
China's rivers is for them to resume their natural appearance. The
ecological system should maintain a virtuous circle and all rivers
should flow calmly along their natural course.
In the short term, the quality of China's key drinking water
resources should meet national standards by next year.
By 2010, 70 percent of urban sewage will be processed before
being discharged and the chemical oxygen demand will drop by 10
percent from the 2005 level.
To reach the target, the following guidelines will be in
Give priority to protecting the environment.
Ensure the quality of drinking water.
Clarify the responsibilities of environmental agencies.
Strengthen water management and coordination.
Q: What key measures will the SEPA take to
reduce water pollution and prevent the quality of the country's
water from deteriorating further?
A: The SEPA will focus on six aspects:
To control water pollution, we should first continue to strictly
limit the discharge of various pollutants. Caps will be placed on
pollutant emissions for different regions in China. All new and
existing projects should not produce more pollutants than the set
amount. Regions that fail to keep emissions within the limit will
not be allowed to start new projects unless they are
Starting in 2010, tougher emission standards will be adopted for
key drinking water resources and during the dry seasons.
Environmental agencies will improve their monitoring of
heavy-polluting industries and step up efforts to reduce industrial
Starting in 2009, all companies that discharge pollutants must
obtain environmental permits, or licenses. Otherwise, they will not
be allowed to operate.
Firms found guilty of violating environmental regulations or
that fail to meet discharge regulations will not be allowed to list
on the stock market. Listed companies should open their
environmental records to public scrutiny.
The country will speed up efforts to phase out outdated
techniques, equipment and products by the end of 2010.
Tackling rural pollution.
China will step up measures to control pollution caused by
farming. Sewage systems in rural areas must be improved. The use of
chemical fertilizers and pesticides should be gradually
Also, newly built or renovated poultry farms are required to
pass environmental assessments.
Continuing the construction of sewage treatment plants in
The government will continue to increase the sewage treatment
capacity of cities. All new sewage-processing factories must be
equipped to remove nitrogen from their emissions, and existing
factories must install such facilities before the end of 2010. The
unit charge on wastewater treatment will be adjusted to at least
0.8 yuan. Different financial arrangements are encouraged when it
comes to treating wastewater. From January to September, the daily
handling capacity for sewage in China's cities increased by 9
Protecting the sources of drinking water.
Ports involved in transporting waste, oil and other toxic and
hazardous materials are required to leave source areas for drinking
Early-warning and emergency-response systems should be set up in
source areas and at water plants.
Coordinating all water utilities.
Environmental impact assessments should be carried out for big
water-related projects. Reservoirs for regulating floods and soil
erosion should be established in source areas for rivers. Primary
forest should be protected.
Meanwhile, forestation should be pushed forward.
(China Daily November 22, 2007)