Professor Chang Miao, from the Division of Environmental Management & Policy in the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering at Beijing's Tsinghua University, has a background including extensive research on environmental management, investment & finance. To understand some of the challenges now and in future for China's environment, Tu Lei and Zhao Tingting from chinadaily.com.cn recently interviewed her, following the recent National Congress where the Communist Party of China (CPC) stressed the need for environmental protection.
Q: October's CPC congress pushed for a strong "green campaign" as part of the Scientific Outlook on Development. What do you think of the current state of green development in China?
A: The background of energy saving and environmental protection in China is that, first, things that we had to do have been too much; pollution arising from long-term rapid economic growth has surpassed environment's ability to bear it. Environmental protection has become a task we must now focus on.
Second, our rapid economic growth has been at the cost of mass consumption of energy and resources. Our country is a large manufacturing nation. In fact, the pattern of development is unsustainable. Our resources are not so rich compared to our population and output. We have to change the present pollution situation and our development pattern on energy, resources and environment. And so the scientific outlook on development (outlined at the CPC plenary committee) is a necessary choice.
Adopting these environmental protection measures, or energy saving and emission reduction measures, will also be helpful to step up the nation's international competitiveness. Environmental protection is a problem for all countries, but Western countries and Japan have implemented strict standards on it. Then as a large exporting country, we will bear heavy pressure if we do not pay attention to other problems, such as food security.
And so because of past history, the present actuality and future development, it is necessary to launch environmental protection and energy saving campaigns across all areas of society. The central government placed a lot of emphasis on this problem.
Q: Although Green GDP has been regarded as an important index for local economy, it has in fact failed. What is the great difficulty when implementing the policy?
A: Green GDP is a good idea, which can reflect the local governments' consideration of the environment and an assessment of their performance in environmental protection. The problems are, first, there are some different approaches in the research field for green GDP. Different research institutions have different statistics. No creditable or authority statistics exist. The research methods themselves still need to be studied. It is not mature in terms of research.
Second, revealing the information may put pressure on local governments, as it may reflect their efforts on environmental protection. The statistics are fairly sensitive.
It's possible to change the pattern of the green GDP, for example, by the Quantitative Examination System on Comprehensive Renovation of Urban Environment, which is promoted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The system includes many indexes.
Q: What has the government done with its environmental investment?
A: Environmental investment is a vast concept, including investment in industry pollution, urban environmental infrastructure construction and operation, ecological conservation, environment technology development, and environmental management, and each field has its own projects to deal with.
Currently, the government is pouring a lot of money into sewage treatment plants and garbage treatment plants. And each city is also active in constructing such projects.
So far in the 11th Five-Year Program period (2006-2010), the government has poured 50 percent of those funds into infrastructure, and 40 percent for industry pollution, and social funds are also encouraged.
The government's planning is good, but realizing the target is a tough job, for the investment at the later stage is larger than at the beginning.
We can take water pollution as an example. Preventing water pollution is a comprehensive and complex project, which requires planning, strict rules, economic support for enterprises, large funds, and good supervision. They are all important, and can not be separated alone.
The huge environmental investment is also promoting the growth of an environmental industry. It is great socially beneficial capital, which has been invested to the environmental industry these last few years, including the foreign capital.
Capital investment is the fundamental guarantee of and core impetus to the development of environment-friendly industry. China Environmental Investment Website (www.enviroinvest.com), founded by a strong team consisting of experienced environment and investment specialists, is an excellent platform for information sharing between demand-side and supply-side, and simultaneously a specialized consultancy provider either. It is good platform to understand environmental investment progress in China.
Q: However, although green development is said to be a priority, China is falling behind on its reduction targets in air quality and water pollution. What needs to happen to make real change possible?
A: First, the government supervision should be strict. Currently, we do not lack rules and regulations, and it is not so difficult to make such rules. The question is how to implement the rules effectively.
The relations between the environmental protection department and the polluting enterprises can be regarded as that of police and thief. Making the thief feel shameful for his behavior is important.
Second, financial and marketing tools are useful, and environmental protection departments should team up with other departments for better policies, such as green loans, green securities, and the environment tax. For example, heavy polluting enterprises are forbidden to get more loans from the banks.
Third, peoples' environmental protection awareness is also important, and their supervision may cover the government and enterprises.
Last, we should encourage academic organizations to play a sound role. Currently, we are conducting training for local government, enterprise, banking sector, etc. We try to help relevant sectors know how to deal with the environmental problem. For example, we are training enterprises, and they should have a senior manager to conduct environment protection in a professional way.
And we should learn from foreign countries' experience. They have communicated with their companies and done a great deal of research before making policies, to make regulations and policy more effective during its implementation.
(China Daily November 4, 2008)