The fact that there's a proposal to elevate the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, instead of just a Ministry of Environmental Protection shows the great importance the government attaches to the environment, says Zhang Jianyu, China program head of US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
The suggested name of the ministry implies "protecting the environment and curbing pollution" will still be the highest on the agenda of the nation's top environmental watchdog. At last, SEPA will have enough administrative authority and power to take part in policymaking, implementation and coordination of environmental affairs.
"Hopefully, SEPA's elevation won't stop at just a change in name," says Zhang, whose organization, along with the Chinese Council of International Cooperation on Environment and Development, played an instrumental role by conducting research to improve China's environmental governance.
Zhang says: "EDF's suggestions have been largely accepted. And we still stick to the following":
Enhance SEPA's capacity by increasing its budget and size to adequately meet its responsibilities of analysing data, monitoring and regulating environment work, providing technical and professional training to staff, and enforcing the law. Provide funds, through SEPA grants, to demonstrate new innovative environmental management programs in cooperation with local environmental bureaus;
Reform SEPA's institutional status and give it more responsibilities to make its policy, planning, and evaluation process more effective. SEPA especially needs to develop internal mechanisms for coordination with departments. This will help build more comprehensive policy regimes and integrated databases;
Improve multi-level governance by re-aligning local environmental management to create a direct line of authority to provincial environmental protection bureaus (EPBs). This can be achieved by authorizing provincial and regional governments to appoint local EPB directors, and ensuring that such governments fund local EPB budgets.
(China Daily March 12, 2008)