China is to elevate the status of State Environmental Protection Administration to a ministry, which is among the major 27 ministries and commissions of the Cabinet, said Hua Jianmin, secretary-general of the State Council, on Tuesday.
"Environmental protection is the fundamental policy of our country, and is crucial to the existence and development of the Chinese nation," Hua, also a State Councilor, said in an explanation of a government reshuffle plan at the ongoing parliamentary session.
China will face the severe challenge of environmental protection for a long time to come, with the arduous task of reducing pollutants, he noted.
The new ministry aims "to step up environmental improvement and ecological protection and accelerate the building of a resource-saving and environment-friendly society," said Hua.
He added the ministry is responsible for drafting and implementing programs, policies and standards concerning environmental protection, working out environmental functions in different regions, supervising pollution prevention and treatment, and tackling major environmental issues.
The change is welcomed by deputies to the National People's Congress.
"It is really exciting," said Huang Xihua, vice director of the environmental protection bureau of Huizhou, Guangdong Province.
"The environmental protection work of China will have more room for improvement," she said.
"This elevation shows the government has become more concerned with environmental protection," said Wei Fusheng, academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Environmental protection has been highlighted in recent years, as China's economic miracle has brought in its wake severe challenges to the environment.
In 2006, China missed the pollution control goals of cutting two main pollutants by two percent.
In 2007, for the first time in recent years, the country reported a fall in both chemical oxygen demand, a main index of water pollution, and the total emission of sulphur dioxide, a main air pollutant, because of tightened pollution control.
(Xinhua News Agency March 11, 2008)