Zhou Shengxian, Minister of MEP
The “Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms” (hereinafter referred to as the Decision) has raised the needs to deepen the system reform of ecological civilization building with a firm focus on the building of a beautiful China, to speed up the establishment of the system of promoting ecological progress, and to improve the systems and mechanisms of land development, resource conservation and utilization, as well as eco-environmental protection. It has also made specific arrangements for the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration. These play a vital role in further strengthening environmental protection and vigorously promoting the building of ecological civilization.
The significance of reforming the system of eco-environmental protection and administration
Environmental protection is a basic state policy of our country. Since the turn of the century, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council have placed environmental protection in a more important position, actively explored new approaches to protecting the environment and energetically promoted ecological progress, remarkable achievements thus have been made in our environmental work. However, China’s environmental situation is still grim. While the old problems have yet to be solved, new ones are increasingly emerging, showing obvious structural, compressed and complex characteristics. Environmental quality of China still falls far short of the expectations of the people. We are thus, urgently required to reform the system of eco-environmental protection and administration to fully unleash its vitality and efficiency, so as to provide institutional protection for addressing the deep-seated contradictions and problems in the environmental field.
Firstly, the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration is an urgent requirement for promoting ecological progress.
Ushering in a new era of ecological progress and building a beautiful China are both the important manifestations of our Party’s improved governing capacity and crucial parts of achieving the Dream of China for a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. To promote ecological progress, it is necessary to establish ecological awareness, develop ecological economy, maintain eco-safety, optimize eco-environment and improve the ecological civilization system. It is also necessary to incorporate ecological progress into all aspects and the whole process of advancing economic, political, cultural and social progress, and develop a green land development pattern, industrial structure, way of production and life style. Taking ecological progress as its spirit and goal, environmental protection is the main position of the building of an ecological civilization. However, due to the lack of authoritativeness and effectiveness, the current system of eco-environmental protection and administration makes it difficult to scientifically and rationally carry out top-down design and overall arrangement for promoting ecological progress and to form a joint-force to build an ecological civilization. Reform therefore is imperative. The system reform will certainly put strong impetus on the promotion of ecological progress.
Secondly, the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration is an important priority to facilitate the economic transition and upgrading.
A sound eco-environment itself is productivity, development impetus and core competence. As China’s economy is experiencing a new stage of shifting the growth model and improving the quality and performance of its growth, we can only achieve sustained and healthy growth through economic transformation and upgrading. From the perspective of ecological civilization, environmental issues are essentially the issues of economic structure, way of production and consumption pattern. The strengthening of eco-environmental protection can force economic transformation and upgrading and optimize economic development: by improving energy saving and environmental protection standards, as well as eliminating backward production capacity, we can promote the structural readjustment of existing production facilities; by raising the environmental access threshold and guiding the development of emerging industries, we can achieve the structural optimization of the increases in production capacity. By studying our current environmental supervision system, we can find out some obvious problems, such as overlapping government administration, a divorce between powers and responsibilities and fragmented supervision forces. They hinder the administrative efficiency and undermine the joint-force of supervision. Meanwhile, the role of the guiding and reverse coercion mechanisms of environmental protection has not been completely incorporated into economic transformation and upgrading. Reforming the system of eco-environmental protection and administration and adhering to the principle of “pursuing economic development in the process of environmental protection and protecting the environment in the course of economic development” will be helpful to facilitate the ecological transformation and upgrading of traditional sectors, promote the development of strategic emerging industries such as energy conservation and environmental protection, and achieve environmental, economic and social benefits all together.
Thirdly, the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration provides important support to speed up low-carbon development.
To vigorously promote low-carbon development characterized by low energy consumption, low pollution and low emission is both a new trend in the world’s sustainable development efforts and the fundamental way to actively respond to climate change. To achieve our goals of reducing the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 15% by 2020, we must accelerate the transformation of the ways energy and resources are produced and utilized, further increase the efficiency of energy and resource use, develop green and low-carbon lifestyles and consumption patterns, as well as gradually reduce the carbon intensity of our economic and social development. In this regard, we are objectively required to reform the system of eco-environmental protection and administration and comprehensively strengthen resource conservation and environmental protection, with a view to providing support to speed up low-carbon development.
Fourthly, the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration is an effective measure to solve serious environmental problems that harm people’s health.
A sound eco-environment is the most equitable public goods and the most generalized preferences for people’s livelihood and well-being. A blue sky with white clouds, clear water and green hills are the foundation of people’s livelihood and the desire of the people. Since 2013, pollution issues such as smoggy weather have burst out intensively in some regions, causing strong complaints from the people. Under the current environmental supervision system, due to the fragmentation of the main body of law enforcement and monitoring forces, as well as the lack of the function of supervising environmental law enforcement allocated to local governments and relevant departments, it is hard to fully implement environmental supervision. This compromises those policy measures for solving serious environmental issues. To promote the strategic transformation of environmental management, we need to reform the system. To concentrate our efforts to solve problems concerning people’s well being, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), heavy metals, chemicals, hazardous waste and persistent organic pollutants, with the aim of improving environmental quality, we also need to reform the system.
Fifthly, the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration is the inevitable requirement for transforming government functions.
The transformation of government functions is the core of deepening the reform of the administrative system. To transform functions, we should not only resolutely delegate all the power when and where necessary, but also manage well the matters that fall under our supervision afterwards by strengthening and enhancing government management. Environmental protection should be regarded as an important duty of governments at all levels and a basic public service that must be provided. We need to further intensify supervision in order not to incur any new problems while solving more long-standing problems. Currently, fragmented and overlapping administrative functions across our environmental protection departments at the national level are relatively obvious and there still exist some problems such as inadequate delegation of authority and insufficient supervision, resulting in the difficulty of creating a powerful joint-force to carry out strict supervision. In the grassroots level however, the functions allocated to and the tasks taken by environmental protection departments are not matched, leading to the contradiction of “letting a little pony pull a large cart”. Thereby, the transformation of government functions and the deepening of the administrative system reform inherently include the system reform of eco-environmental protection and administration.
Major tasks for reforming the system of eco-environmental protection and administration
Eco-environment is composed of a number of elements that are essential to the survival and development of human beings. With the double attributes of ecological function and economic value, they are interrelated and interacting. In an attempt to reform the system of eco-environmental protection and administration, we must take the promotion of ecological progress and the building of a beautiful China as our fundamental direction, stick to the harmonized development of the new type of industrialization, IT application, urbanization and agricultural modernization, solidly foster the concept that to protect the environment is to preserve our productivity and to improve the environment is to develop our productivity, remain committed to the principle of giving high priority to environmental protection, and continue to explore new approaches to protect environment. We must start right from the macro-strategic level, proceed from the whole process of social reproduction, and focus on the establishment of a unified model, with a geographical coverage from the mountain to the ocean and from the sky to the ground, to supervise and manage all pollutants. We must have a correct understanding of and consciously follow the characteristics of the environment and the law of nature, maintain the systemic nature, diversity and sustainability of eco-environment and strengthen the consistency and effectiveness of environmental supervision.
Firstly, we will establish an environmental management system to conduct unified supervision on all pollutant emissions and independently carry out environmental supervision and administrative law enforcement.
To protect ecological environment, we should focus on solving the problem of pollution and take environmental quality improvement as the starting point and goal. Without the decrease in pollution, the environmental quality will not go up and the people will not be satisfied. The top priority of our environmental work should be focused on solving prominent problems harmful to people’s health, such as air, water and soil pollution. We will develop an environmental management system to conduct unified supervision on all pollutant emissions and strengthen unified supervision on all pollutants discharged by all pollution sources including industrial sources, agricultural non-point sources and transportation mobile sources, as well as on pollutant-carrying media such as air, soil, surface water, groundwater and sea. The environmental protection requirements will continue to be reflected in industry, agriculture, service and all other fields, to be incorporated into every aspect of production, circulation, distribution and consumption, and to be implemented in such areas as government agencies, schools, research institutes, communities and families. We will be strict on the standards for environmental regulations and policies. We will carry out comprehensive management with a view to achieving the integration of elements, functions and means, as well as gaining full control of the pollution treatment. We will coordinate the relationship among pollution control, total emission reduction and environmental quality improvement. We will take “no-downgrade-in-environmental-quality” as a rigid constraint to ensure that both the environmental quality and eco-service functions of our regions, river basins and sea areas will not decrease.
We will implement independent but unified environmental supervision. We will improve the supervision system featuring “a unified supervision and a division of labor and responsibilities” and “inspection by related state department, supervision by local government and execution by organizations”. Supervision forces at various sectors, departments and levels will be orderly integrated to effectively carry out supervision and administrative law enforcement. The supervision of the implementation of national environmental laws, regulations and policies of relevant departments and local governments will be strengthened to correct the deficiencies, especially improper interferences of the government on environmental work. We will reinforce the team building of environmental supervision, strengthen supervision and law enforcement, and promote innovation in law enforcement mechanisms such as joint law enforcement, regional law enforcement and cross law enforcement, with a view to severely punishing illegal pollutant discharge by enterprises. In order to ensure the implementation of the unified supervision and the enhancement of the effectiveness of law enforcement, we will formulate scientific and standardized systems in such fields as pollution prevention and control, ecological protection, nuclear and radiation safety, environment impact assessment (EIA), environmental law enforcement, as well as environmental monitoring and pre-warning.
Secondly, we will establish a land-and-sea coordinated and regional interactive mechanism for ecosystem protection and restoration, as well as pollution prevention and control.
The integrity of ecosystem makes it necessary to break the regional boundaries to carry out ecological protection and restoration, as well as pollution prevention and control. We need to coordinate the land and marine protection, combine the marine environment protection with land-sourced pollution prevention and control. We need to control land-sourced pollution, improve the comprehensive capability to prevent and control marine pollution, step up efforts in protecting and restoring key ecosystems including forests, wetlands and sea, and promote the positive interaction of eco-environment protection among river basins, coastal lands and sea.
We will establish a land-and-sea coordinated and regional interactive mechanism for ecosystem protection and restoration. Regions with rich biodiversity, typical ecosystems and/or fragile ecological environment contain most of China’s important biological resources and carry important ecological service functions. We will thus set up and strictly observe an ecological “red line” in these regions and establish a regional interactive mechanism for ecosystem protection and restoration. We will strengthen inter-regional consultation, with a view to timely carrying out communication, exchanges and consultation on ecological protection and restoration. We will intensify efforts on regional joint law enforcement and conduct joint investigation and prosecution on cases involving serious violation of laws. Also, we will build a platform of environmental information sharing to achieve smooth information exchange.
We will set up a land-and-sea coordinated and regional interactive mechanism for pollution prevention and control. In terms of air pollution prevention and control, we have gradually established cooperative mechanisms for joint prevention and control in key regions, such as Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta. Based on local geographical features, economic and social development levels, pollution status, urban spatial distribution and distribution patterns of pollutants, other regions should also speed up the establishment and improvement of their regional cooperation mechanisms. We will establish regional monitoring networks and emergency response systems to deal with heavy air pollution. With respect to water pollution prevention and control, we will facilitate effective coordination between marine environmental protection and river basin pollution control. By taking each river basin as the control unit, we will set up a model for comprehensive environmental management of river basins.
Thirdly, we will perfect the operation and management system of the state-owned forest lands and promote the system reform of collective forest ownership.
State-owned forest lands are important ecological security barriers and strategic bases for forest resources cultivation. They play special roles in safeguarding our national ecological security, timber security, species and food security. We will thoroughly implement a forestry development strategy focusing on ecological progress, reform the management system of forest resources, establish and improve a system to supervise and manage state-owned forest resources and enliven the operational mechanisms of enterprises. We will reform to improve the policy supporting system, reinforce the infrastructure in the state-owned forest districts, properly manage the placement of surplus employees, promote the economic transition of the forest districts, and enhance the development vitality of these districts.
In promoting the system reform of the collective forest ownership, we have always been adhering to the system of household contractual management and vigorously promoting the development of green industries to bring prosperity to the people in the collective forest districts. At present, we have basically completed the reform tasks of clear property ownership and family contracting of collective forests and achieved the goal of “establishing rights to forestland, clarifying the ownership of trees, and putting the minds of the people at ease”. In accordance with the objectives of “growth in resources and rural incomes, a sound ecological environment and a harmonious forest district”, we will exert greater efforts in providing support to such areas as the development of under-forest economy, forestry specialized farmers’ cooperatives and forest insurance. We will promote the forest right mortgage loan, regulate and supervise the transfer of forest lands, explore the reform of the management system of forest-tree-cutting, and enhance the infrastructure development of collective forests.
Fourthly, we will perfect the environmental information disclosure system and improve the reporting system.
Environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility. We must fully activate all factors and mobilize the whole society to participate in. The concept of ecological civilization and environmental knowledge shall be extensively and meticulously publicized in textbooks, communities and factories in an effort to improve environmental awareness of the public. We will strengthen environmental information disclosure through the expansion of the scope of disclosure and the improvement of the ways information is disclosed, and ensure people’s rights to know, to participate and to supervise. We must timely release and take the initiative to publish information that involves people’s well-being and attracts great public attention, including environmental quality monitoring, EIA examination and approval of construction projects and pollutant discharge by enterprises, and information related to environmental conditions, major policies and measures, as well as environmental emergencies. For major decisions and construction projects involving public interests, we shall sufficiently hear public opinions and suggestions. We need to guide enterprises to further enhance their sense of social responsibility to truly and objectively disclose their environmental information. We will oversight them to disclose the required self-monitoring information of pollutant discharge.
We will improve the reporting system in order to encourage the citizens, legal persons and other social organizations to report on eco-environmental problems, and effectively protect the legitimate rights and interests of the informants. We will fully carry out a project to keep the environmental complaint hotlines running, properly handle letters and complaints from the people whose environmental rights have been violated, as well as intensify efforts to accept, supervise and implement public complaints. We will bring the supervision role of the public, news media and social organizations into full play, establish a social action system with the participation of all people, and promote a green, healthy and civilized lifestyle. We will strengthen public opinion guiding and actively respond to environmental issues of public concern.
Fifthly, we will improve the licensing system for pollutant discharge and exercise a control system for the total discharge of pollutants by enterprises and institutions.
The licensing system for pollutant discharge is an internationally accepted environmental management system. Although related laws such as the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Atmospheric Pollution” and the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Control of Water Pollution” have provided the principle provision of pollutant discharge permit, such specific provisions as conditions and procedures are yet to be clarified. We will improve the licensing system for pollutant discharge, regulate permitted pollutant discharges and prohibit the unlicensed, exceeding-standard or above-total-amount-limit discharges. We will implement a control system for the total discharge of pollutants by enterprises and propel the total volume control of industry-specific and regional pollutants, with a view to closely linking pollution reduction to industry optimization and adjustment and regional environmental quality improvement, as well as achieving the goal of improving production without pollution increase or improving production with pollution reduction. On the basis of a review of the pilot projects of emission rights trading, we will speed up the implementation of the paid use and trading of various types of emission allowances and enhance the building of the trading organization and supervision capacity.
Sixthly, we will implement a compensation system and an accountability system for eco-environmental damages.
The strengthening of compensation and accountability for eco-environmental damage is not only an important measure to protect environmental rights of citizens and safeguard social fairness and justice, but also the fundamental countermeasure to increase enterprises’ costs of violation and deter enterprises’ illegal behavior of discharging pollutants. We will improve the system for eco-environmental damage compensation, so as to include all damages to the eco-environment and citizens in the scope of compensation. An environmental damage appraisal and evaluation mechanism will be established to reasonably assess and measure the scope and extend of damages in an effort to provide strong support to clarify responsibilities. We will reinforce the coordination between the administrative law enforcement departments and the judicial organs and push forward environmental public interest litigations. Those polluters who discharge pollutants and cause serious environmental damages will be investigated for their criminal responsibilities according to law.