The drive for economic growth is clashing with efforts to safeguard the environment, the government warned yesterday.
"The conflict between the environment and development is becoming ever more prominent," said Environmental Protection in China (1996-2005), a white paper which contains an overview of environment protection work over the last decade.
Despite government efforts, the environmental picture is not improving, and is, in fact, worsening, and "allows for no optimism," said Zhu Guangyao, deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), at a news conference to release the white paper.
The damage to the environment is costing the government roughly 10 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, or about US$220 billion, Zhu said in response to a question, adding that it was a rough figure.
China's GDP for 2005 was US$2.26 trillion.
He acknowledged that some local officials were not implementing the central government's guidelines properly.
"Some local governments are reluctant to implement, or are even working against, environmental laws," he said.
This is because some officials are accustomed to being judged on growth above all else and are fearful of the economic impact of tighter environmental controls, he said.
Song Zheng, a researcher with the Chinese Society for Sustainable Development, agreed.
"Attracting investment still tops the agenda for many government officials, and GDP growth is still the only major criterion to appraise an official," Song said.
Wang Rusong, from the Ecological Society of China, said that some environmental officials are caught between "the devil and the deep sea."
"They will be removed if they don't perform their duty," he said. "But if they stop a project approved by local officials, I'm afraid they will be removed from their posts, too."
But fortunately, "the State Council considers environment protection one of the 'brakes' in China's economic macro-control policies. It will play a more prominent role in the approval process," said Zhu.
Projects will be cancelled if they over-use land resources or affect the eco-environment negatively, said Zhu.
Stricter assessment of construction projects, Zhu said, is just one of the measures to achieve the goals highlighted in the white paper.
The main tasks for environment authorities in the next five years are:
Controlling water pollution with a focus on safe drinking water.
Urban environmental protection, especially controlling pollutants in cities.
Reduction of sulphur dioxide discharge.
Cut down soil pollution.
The main targets set in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10): To reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 per cent and cut down the total amount of major pollutants discharged by 10 per cent while still maintaining an average 7.5 per cent GDP growth.
Agencies, Xinhua contributed to the story
(China Daily 06/06/2006 page1)