China takes up challenge to improve environment

By Peishan Yu
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, March 29, 2016
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Spring outing, Chinese style [By Gu Peili /]

Recently, as a friend and I were discussing our passion for travelling, I invited her to visit me in Shanghai.

To my surprise, her answer wasn't an immediate yes, but a hesitant nod accompanied by questions: Isn't air pollution really severe there, though? Do I have to wear a face mask every day? While there seems to be a general consensus about the environmental crisis in China, highlighted by media attention on periodic "airpocalypses" in Beijing, little is known about the efforts that China has put into saving its environment from rampant degradation.

When government policies and private sector efforts add up, the result is an amazing combination of economic growth, better environment and improved standards of living.

Historically, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection lacked the necessary power to investigate, supervise and initiate policies.

However, in recent years, sweeping changes have been adopted by China's national legislature, giving the ministry stronger enforcement power, such as the right to detain persistent violators for up to 15 days.

Environmental objectives are also being included as part of bureaucratic assessments, which used to be primarily based on economic performance. Just last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced China's plan to launch a national emission trading system in 2017 that will cover industry sectors such as iron and steel, power generation, chemicals, building materials, paper-making and nonferrous metals. Under this system, the government sets a target emissions level and issues emissions permits to companies.

These permits can be bought and sold, which will encourage companies to reduce emissions and increase low-carbon technologies.

Urbanization drive

In developing countries, where saving has traditionally been favored over spending, the process of urbanization must take place in order to transform the nation to one of mass consumers, because city residents generally earn more and spend more. This is exactly what China is going through.

In the last several decades, hundreds of millions of Chinese have moved to cities in search of jobs.

Urban dwellers now make up 53.7 percent of the population, while developed countries are about 80 percent urban. The government seems convinced that by increasing that figure to 60 percent by 2020 and relocating roughly 100 million rural Chinese into cities, they can fuel domestic spending.

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