Environmental protection is China's fourth most important social issue, after healthcare, employment and the income gap, a survey jointly conducted by China Environment Awareness Program (CEAP) and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) found yesterday.
More than 10 percent of respondents said environmental pollution is the country's most pressing social problem.
The survey gathered responses from more than 3,000 people from 20 provinces over a year.
The CEAP was created in 2006 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It is now run by the China international center for economic and technical exchanges under the Ministry of Commerce, and the education and communications center under the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
"There has been a distinct increase in public awareness of environmental protection, but the government should further encourage the public to take a more active role," Jia Feng, a Ministry of Environmental Protection official who heads the CEAP program, said.
The public is most aware of environmental protection measures and concepts relating to daily life, Jia said. According to the survey, 66 percent of people had heard of trash sorting, while 50 percent had heard of reducing use of plastic bags and 52 percent had heard of organic food.
People are less aware of more abstract concerns, with only 28 percent saying they were aware of the concept of biodiversity and 41 percent familiar with greenhouse gas emissions' threat to the environment.
Most people participate in activities that not only protect the environment but also are helpful to their health and pocketbooks. They are less likely to engage in expensive or inconvenient, but environmentally friendly, activities, CASS researcher Li Wei said.
Accordingly, 90 percent of respondents said they saved water, electricity and gas - the most common environmental protection measure taken by the public. But 84 percent said they would not refrain from sending paper cards during festivals, and 53 percent said they would not refrain from smoking in public.
Last year was a landmark year for environmental protection, as the country restructured its economy to create a greener industrial system, the survey said.
In its 11th Five-Year Plan, the government set goals of reducing energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent and major pollutant discharges by 10 percent by 2010.
But most people said the government should pay more attention to the rural environment, where dwindling access to arable land and safe drinking water are top issues.