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Zhou Shengxian Delivers a Work Report on Environmental Protection as Entrusted by the State Council at the Second Plenary Session of the 23rd Meeting of the Standing Committee of the 11th NPC

As entrusted by the State Council, MEP Minister Zhou Shengxian delivered a work report on environmental protection on October 25 at the 23rd meeting of the Standing Committee of the NPC. He noted that the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010) had seen significant changes in environmental awareness and practices, as well as positive progress in environmental protection work.

In his report, Zhou elaborated on the environmental achievements made during this period from the following nine dimensions.

1. Overfulfilling the pollution reduction tasks. The total amounts of chemical oxygen demand and sulfur dioxide that were discharged and emitted throughout the country in 2010 declined by 12.45% and 14.29% respectively from the 2005 levels, and the reduction tasks were overfulfilled. Moreover, during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010), some of the small-scale thermal power generation units in the country were shut down, with combined capacity up to 76.83 million kW. Inefficient production capacities were phased out, including 120 million tons of iron-making capacity, 72 million tons of steel-making capacity, 370 million tons of cement production capacity, 45 million weight boxes of plate glass capacity, and 11.3 million tons of paper-making capacity. A total of 2,832 municipal wastewater treatment plants were built up, with treatment capacity at 125 million tons/day. About 60,000 km of wastewater pipes were laid out during this period, and 77% of the municipal wastewater nationwide was able to be treated before discharged into the environment, up from 52% before. Coal-fired power generation units that were equipped with desulfurization facilities were built up, with combined capacity up to 578 million kW, and such units accounted for 86% of the total coal-fired power generation units, up from 14% before. Among the sections monitored under the national program on surface water monitoring, 51.9% saw water quality ranging from Grade I to III in 2010, up by 14.4 percentage points from the 2005 level; and 20.8% saw water quality worse than Grade V, down by 6.6 percentage points from the 2005 level. The annual average levels of sulfur dioxide and inhalable particulate matters (PM10) declined by 26.3% and 12% respectively in urban areas.

2. The efforts in promoting the change of economic development mode proved effective. The list of products prohibited from processing trade was improved, the export rebate for over 200 products with high pollution level and environmental risks were withdrawn, and no loans were granted to projects that failed to comply with energy efficiency and environmental protection requirements. The strategic environmental assessments were completed for the development of major industries in the five key regions, including the Bohai Rim and Chengdu-Chongqing region. Construction projects had to go through strict environmental reviews, which were made unavailable for energy-and resource-intensive and highly polluting projects with combined investment up to nearly 3.2 trillion yuan, by introducing measures such as “banning new projects in regions with excessive pollution” and “banning new projects in industries with excessive pollution”. Further efforts were made in the prevention and control of pollution from industrial industries, and the environmental check and post-supervision of public companies were enhanced.

3. Advancing the rehabilitation of rivers and lakes from all dimensions. A scheme was set up for the assessment of the water quality in sections sitting across provincial boundaries. 87% of the projects included in the thematic plan for prevention and control of water pollution to key river basins were completed, up by 22.8 percentage points from the level in the tenth Five-Year Plan period (2000-2005), and the total investment was up to 138.9 billion yuan. More efforts were made in conservation of drinking water sources, as much as 84.8% of the water supplied in major cities met with water quality standards, and 215 million rural populations had access to safe drinking water. 

4. Exploring a mechanism for joint prevention and control of region-wide air pollution. Such mechanism helped guarantee good environmental qualities for events including the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.

5. Mobilizing resources to address prominent environmental problems that have a bearing on the people’s well-being, such as heavy metal pollution. There were five key sectors and 138 key regions designated as the focus for preventing and controlling pollution. A special fund channeled from the Central Government was set up to prevent and control heavy metal pollution, with the focus on integrated pollution treatment, and demonstration and extension of new technologies in the key regions. 52.5 billion yuan from the Central Budget was earmarked for constructing municipal wastewater and garbage treatment facilities, together with local contributions up to over 300 billion yuan. As a result, 72.4% of the municipal solid wastes were environmentally-sound treated before discharged into the environment, up by 20 percentage points from the level at the end of the 10th Five-Year Plan period.

6. The ecological conservation and rural environmental protection were strengthened. A total of 230,000 square kilometers of areas got integrated treatment for water and soil erosion problems, and 25.29 million hectares of area was afforested, raising the forest coverage to 20.36%. There are 2,588 nature reserves of all sorts across the country, covering 14.9% of the national land territory. Also, projects were conducted for ecological restoration of marine ecology in coastal regions.

7. Progressively advancing the prevention and control of nuclear and radioactive pollution. Thirteen nuclear power generation units had been established and put into operation by the end of 2010, and 28 were under construction. These units are operating safely.

8. Constantly improving the legislation, policies, and standards for environmental protection. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress organized the amendments to the law on the prevention and control of water pollution and enacted the Law on Promotion of Circular Economy. Moreover, there were new provisions regarding environmental protection in the property law, the amendments to the Criminal Law and other relevant laws. The State Council released eight regulations regarding environmental protection including Regulations on the Environmental Impact Assessment for Planning and Regulations on the Administration of the Recovery and Disposal of Waste Electric and Electronic Products. A raft of policies was introduced on pricing of electricity generated by power generation units with desulfurization facilities, and on green credit and green securities. Pilot projects were conducted on the paid use and trading of emission rights, the eco-compensation, and environmental pollution liability insurance. The scheme of national environmental protection standards was preliminarily set up, and there are now up to 1,300 valid standards.

9. Substantially enhancing the supervision and capacity building for environmental enforcement. During the 11th Five-Year Plan period, a total of 80,000 time•units of companies were found to violate environmental regulations, among which 7,294 companies were shut down. Up to 733 environmental emergencies were responded to properly, including 49 major environmental emergencies. During this period, 10.03 billion yuan from the Central Budget went to environmental protection sector, up by 7.87 billion yuan than that in the previous five years. 7.09 billion yuan channeled from the Central Government as a special fund was targeted at reduction of major pollutants, and supports were given to standardizing 52% of the county-and district-level environmental monitoring stations nationwide.

However, despite the above-mentioned achievements, there were still some problems in the environmental protection front, said Zhou. It remains a tough task to reduce major pollutants. The major pollutants to be reduced during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) have been added from two to four kinds, and ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxides are the two new to the club. Moreover, the coverage of pollution reduction has extended from the industrial sector and urban areas to transport sector and rural areas. While the increment pollution needs to be dealt with, previous pollution also needs to be cut down, in order to achieve the goal of reducing the major pollutants by 8% to 10% from the level at the end of the 11th Five-Year Plan period. To this end, the amounts of discharged chemical oxygen demand, sulfur dioxide, ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxides are estimated to be cut down by 24%, 29%, 26% and 35% respectively from the 2010 levels. In the first half of the year, the amounts of chemical oxygen demand and sulfur dioxide continued to decline, but the discharged ammonia nitrogen dropped slightly by 0.73%, and the emission of nitrogen oxides rose by 6.17% instead. The environmental pollution was still grave. Regarding water pollution, one fifth of the surface water sections monitored under the national program saw water quality worse than Grade V, and 57% of the monitored sites in 182 cities with regular ground water monitoring programs saw poor or even extremely poor water qualities. Regarding air pollution, 17.2% of the cities throughout the country failed to meet with national Grade II air quality standards in 2010, mainly because of excessive PM10 levels. Region-wide air pollution problems were all the more serious in the Pearl River Delta, Yangtze River Delta, and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. Regarding contaminated soils, the overall soil environmental quality was not good in the country, contaminated arable lands amounted to about 150 million mu, and large plots of contaminated soils were seen in the Yangtze River Delta, Pearl River Delta, Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the central and south of Liaoning Province, southwest China and central and southern China. Stockpiled solid wastes occupied about 2 million mu of land, destroying crops. There were prominent environmental problems that had negative impact on the public health, and the pollution incidents caused by heavy metals have been on the rise in recent years. The illegal movement and dumping of hazardous wastes happened from time to time. There were about 12,000 tailings ponds throughout the country, among which 12.4% were dilapidated, dangerous, and improperly secured ponds that caused bad pollution to the adjacent waters and soils. The phenomena got increasingly serious when cities were surrounded by municipal solid wastes, and 29% of the cities nationwide had no access to environmentally sound treatment facilities for domestic garbage. More efforts were needed in ecological conservation and rural environmental protection. There was growing pressure caused by the prevention against nuclear and radiation risks. The nuclear facilities built in early days had low safety level, and some of them had degraded, while new nuclear power generation units expanded in number and scale and applied a variety of technologies. With many widely distributed radioactive sources and devices using nuclear technologies, the nuclear regulation became more difficult.

So, Zhou proposes to step up and improve six fronts for the environmental protection work in the next step.

1. Strengthening the role of environmental protection in advancing the change of economic development mode. The national plan for zoning environmental functions need to be mapped out and implemented, and red lines for ecological conservation needs to be drawn in zones with important ecological functions and ecologically sensitive and vulnerable regions. High environmental thresholds will be set for access to construction projects, the environmental impact assessment for construction projects will be intensified, and energy-and resource-intensive and highly polluting construction projects, low-level redundant projects, and projects with overcapacity will be strictly controlled. Thematic campaigns will be organized to check highly polluting sectors such as rare earths, iron and steel, leather making and lead-acid batteries, and strict environmental check will be done to public companies.

2. Making sure to hit the goals for reduction of the total amounts of major pollutants. The comprehensive working program for energy conservation and emissions reduction during the 12th Five-Year Plan period will be implemented, and efforts will continue in reducing pollution through restructuring, projects, and administration. The municipal wastewater treatment level will be upgraded, more efforts will be made to treat water pollution in key industries, efforts will continue in pollution reduction in the power industry, and the pace for desulfurization and denitrification of key industries other than the power industry will be sped up, such as the iron and steel industry and the cement industry.

3. Trying to solve prominent environmental problems that have negative impact on the public health, and substantially safeguarding their environmental rights and interests. Comprehensive measures will be taken in key regions, industries and companies tasked with the pollution control work. Construction projects to contribute to the heavy metal pollution will be banned, and heavy metal companies already causing pollution will be ordered to make corrections within a specific period of time, halt operations or restrict their production or emissions. If they failed the corrections, they will be shut down. Thematic campaigns will be organized to crack down on environmental violations of all sorts. More efforts will be made to prosecute the liabilities for environmental violations, and inappropriate interference in environmental protection by some of the local areas will be resolutely investigated and corrected.

4. Continuing stepping up the prevention and control of pollution in key river basins, regions and seawaters. The market-oriented instruments and legal and administrative instruments will be made full use of to further pollution prevention and control at the three levels, i.e., the overall decision-making for economic and social development, the integrated regional and river basins management, the control and treatment of pollution sources, from all dimensions, with joint efforts, and involving public participation.

5. Deepening the policy of offering financial rewards as incentives for pollution control in rural areas, and upgrading the ecosystem services. The strategic action plan for biodiversity conservation will be implemented from all dimensions. More efforts will be made in soil protection on the basis of the national survey on soil pollution. Regions with important ecosystem function will be preserved, and the ecosystem services will be resumed.

6. Improving the environmental policies, legislation, and standards, and improving schemes and mechanisms in support of environmental protection. The environmental economic policies will be further improved, and the eco-compensation mechanism and paid use and trading scheme of emission rights will be set up and perfected. The environmental investment and financing mechanisms will be improved, and a framework with diversified investors will be shaped.

(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)

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