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Environmental Protection in China by Qu Geping



  China's reform and opening to the outside world have promoted its efforts in environmental protection. Its gross national product (GNP) increased by an average of 9.5% a year in real terms in the past ten years. Under such a rapid economic development, the environmental conditions in China have remained stable and not deteriorated as a result of the implementation of a series of effective measure and policies. The discharge volume of waste water and solid matters for every 10,000 yuan in industrial output value has been reduced. In 1990, 9% more discharged industrial waste water. According to statistics for 1991, the total discharge of waste water was treated up to the stated-set standard compared with 1985: the utilization rate of industrial solid waste was up 3%, and the purification of waste steam also made good headway. The comprehensive conditions of the urban environment have also been improved. While the consumption of coal has been increasing greatly in some major cities of China, the dust and floating particles in the air have been reduced to some extent. The water conditions in some cities have been improved. The water quality of the country's main rivers and coastal waters have basically remained satisfactory.

  The afforestation drive on the plains and in the coastal areas has achieved rapid progress. Especially, the greening project in north, northwest and northeast China, regarded as the "No. 1 ecological project in the world", has been completed on over 9.4 million hectares by 1991, forming a "green great wall" in China. The country now boasts the largest man-made forests in the world. It has built more than 600 nature reserves in various forms, covering a total area of over 30 million hectares, which have helped protect rare animals and plants or those on the verge of extinction. According to statistics, China has constructed over 2,000 big and small pilot ecological agricultural bases for accumulating experience in improving land productivity and for finding a path of agricultural development that suits ecological requirements.

  In the process of development, China includes environmental protection in its basic state policy by promoting simultaneous planning, implementation and development of economic construction, urban and rural progress and environmental improvement, to achieve economic, social and environmental benefits at the same time. It includes environmental protection in its overall and long-term plan for national economic and social development. It has formulated and implemented three major policies of strengthening environment management, stressing prevention and putting the pollution-treating responsibility on those who cause pollution and those who start development projects.

  China has promulgated and implemented laws and regulations on environmental protection in a timely manner, and set up and improved its environmental administration system for governments at all levels. A management network for environmental protection which covers the central, provincial, municipal and county levels has come into being, involving over 65,500 people. The strengthening of supervision and management of environmental protection has largely made up for the shortage of funds.

  A system has also been established for scientific research in environmental protection and environmental supervision and inspection, including 148 scientific research institutes administered by environmental administrative organs at provincial and municipal levels and 2,039 environmental supervision stations at provincial, municipal and county levels. Positive efforts have also been made to develop international cooperation and exchanges in the field so as to gradually form an environmental protection system suitable to Chinese conditions.


  Like many other developing countries, China has scored great achievements and ac cumulated successful experience in environmental protection. However, there still exists many problems and the situation remains serious. China hopes to achieve wide-ranging international cooperation to deal with the problems involved, and to work out ways to promote a coordinated improvement of the environment and economy, and make further efforts for environmental protection.

  1. The Deterioration of Natural Ecological Conditions.

  China is a developing country with a huge population which is still growing by 16 million each year. That has exerted great pressure on the environmental protection and development in China.

  Each year, there is an average of 300,000 hectares of farmland damaged by soil erosion, desertification and salinisation, and another 1.3 million hectares of grassland degenerate as well. China now has a total of 86.6 million hectares of degenerated grassland. This has posed great difficulties for its agricultural development. A glaring problem is the shortage of forest resources. The forest coverage in China is only 13%. The habitat for rare and nearly extinct animals and plants is decreasing and the species population is going down. The water resources are plenty, but unevenly distributed in the country. Many regions are short of water for farmland irrigation and their agricultural development has been affected. Statistics from related departments show that China has nearly 300 cities which are short of water, and 50 of them are facing a very serious water shortage that affects industrial production and local people's life.

  2. Arduous Tasks in Pollution Control.

  The air quality of large and medium-sized cities in China is poor and often fail s to reach the national standards and falls far short of the standards stipulate d by the World Health Organization. The pollution is mainly caused by carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide from coal burning. The pollution of China's waters is mainly caused by the discharge of industrial waste water was 354.4 billion tons, and 24.9 billion tons of this was from industrial production. Of this amount, some 80% was poured into rivers without treatment. The volume of industrial solid waste disposal and garbage has kept increasing and the rate of treatment and utilization is very low. China has now accumulated a total of 6.75 billion tons of garbage, occupying 56,000 hectares of land. The garbage also contains large quantities of heavy metals and poisonous and harmful materials. Noise pollution is also very serious in many cities.

  In order to prevent and control environmental pollution, China invested about 0. 7% of its GNP in related projects, during the 7th Five-Year Plan period (1985-19 90). It should be pointed out here that China has done its best in the effort as its per capita income is still very low. However, such an amount of investment is far below what is needed in pollution prevention, and control. Furthermore, the low starting point of its industrialisation, restricted by its level in science and technology, and slow-progress in technical upgrading, have increased the difficulty of its pollution control efforts.

  3. It is Difficult to Replace Coal as the Main Energy Source.

  China is a country that uses coal as its main energy source, Its total consumption of energy is ranking among the highest in the world, but at the same time, its per capita consumption of energy is comparatively low and its energy production is far behind the need in national economic development and in people's life. With the development of the national economy, China is expected to face a bigger challenge of energy shortage at the end of this century. Even if it carries out successfully the policies for energy saving and air pollution control, and for reducing coal consumption in the energy structure, it is still difficult at present for China to effectively curb further deterioration of air pollution since it is unable to allocate enough funds and find appropriate advanced and new technologies to deal with the problem.

  4. Unreasonable Prick Structure leads to Waste of Resources.

  The traditional idea that natural resources are inexhaustible is still deep-root ed. This has made the prices of raw materials such as coal, natural gas and water extremely low in China, resulting in a big waste and a low rate of utilization of resources and energy. Meanwhile, it is also a serious problem that China's current economic accounting system has neglected the basic value of resources. China has now begun to recognize these problems and has planned to carry out practical reforms to set up an improved accounting system that places resources in their due position in overall national economic accounting, and to readjust the prices of resources, so that natural resources are developed and utilized more rationally.

  5. Backwardness of Science and Technology.

  China is comparatively less developed in science and technology. On one hand, our overall backwardness in industrial and technological development has brought about high rate of energy and material consumption, serious pollution and low economic efficiency in the process of industrial production and we have a very hard task of technical upgrading and updating of the old enterprise. And on the other hand, our technologies for pollution control and environmental protection are a weak link. Some of the appropriate technologies have yet to be mastered or to be utilized on a large scale. Comprehensive and further research on global environmental issues is also required. So China is willing to further enhance its international cooperation and exchanges in scientific research, technological development and professional training, especially in the fields of acid rain control, climate changes, treatment of poisonous wastes, pollution supervision and environmental monitoring and protection.



  China will continue to face two arduous tasks: economic development and environmental protection during the next eight years. The Chinese Government has set a target for environmental protection for the year 2000. By that year, China will have basically controlled environmental pollution, made major progress in improving the environmental conditions in its major cities, and put a check to the deterioration of the ecological environment. It will achieve a coordinated improvement of the environment, towards its long-term goals of establishing a successful ecological evolution, and making the cities clean, beautiful and quiet.

  To realise these targets, we will work out a series of technical and economic policies conducive to coordinated social and economic development and environmental improvement while strengthening the various current measures and policies on environmental management, with the aim to deal with environmental problems in the process of development.

  China will formulate and carry out correct industrial policies and strictly control the development of industrial enterprises which operate with a high consumption of energy, a big waste of resources and serious pollution. This will reduce pollutants and damage to the environment. The country will rely on scientific an d technological progress choosing technologies suitable to Chinese conditions, to prevent industrial pollution economically and efficiently, arrange industrial production with full consideration for the requirements in environmental protection in accordance with the reasonable supply and efficient utilization of resources, and deal with industrial pollution effectively, moving from concentrated projects to widespread social efforts.

  In agriculture, we will strengthen land management and comprehensive regional development, promote the construction of ecological/agricultural projects and protect land resources, and rationally protect and use water resources. We must support and promote the coordinated development of rural industries with correct orientation and appropriate planning.

  The whole society will be mobilised to continue to strictly control the growth o f population, raise the cultural level and enhance the sense of environmental protection among the people.

  In the field of urban construction, we will reform and improve urban infrastructures, carry out programmes for a comprehensive improvement of the urban environment, promote urban and rural construction, and set up a reasonable urban construction system in accordance with the requirements of urban planning and environmental protection.

  We will continue to strengthen the management of energy resources on the basis of the principles of giving equal importance to both energy development and saving; adopt rational prices for resources, push forward technical upgrading for energy saving, improve the energy consumption structure and distribution; rely on technical progress to upgrade energy production and utilization, and develop clean energy.

  In the field of natural resource, we will promote efforts to strengthen energy management and environmental protection in their development and utilization; reform the current pricing system for natural resources; give resources their due place in national economic accounting, and encourage the reproduction of natural resources with increased financial inputs so as to gradually set up a new economic compensation mechanism for resource regeneration to ensure that sufficient natural resources are always available for human utilization. We will strengthen the protection and management for resources of species, maintain biological diversity and step up the construction of areas for natural reserves.

  China will go all out to support the development and application of scientific and technological research findings in environmental protection.

  It will maintain a certain amount of investment for environmental protection to guarantee funding for the efforts involved in the work.

  The country will further strengthen environmental monitoring, constantly improve various management systems, laws and regulations on environmental protection, set up an environmental protection network and raise the level of environmental management.

  The next ten years will be an important period for China to realize its strategic goal of socialist modernization, and also a critical period for environmental protection. How to achieve a coordinated and continuous improvement of both the economy and the environment while taking account of both immediate and long-term interests and the interests of both the whole and individual units, will have a direct bearing on the realization of the modernization programme.




  China as a developing country has to bear dual pressure from economic development and environmental pollution. The only way to achieve sustained economic and social development is to give, in the process of development, appropriate consideration to preventing pollution and coordinating environmental protection with development. Therefore, it is of vital importance to study and correctly evaluate the impact of environmental pollution on economic development for the purpose of making correct judgement of the seriousness of pollution and adopting measures for environmental protection.

  1. Harmful Effects Resulting from Environmental Pollution.

  Due to insufficient understanding of the environmental issues for a long period of time in history, many problems concerning environmental pollution in China remained untackled and the situation is still very serious in spite of the great efforts that have been made in this regard. Because of water contamination, the shortage of water supply for urban dwellers and industry in some cities has become worse, posing a threat to drinking water sources. Due to air pollution, the quality of atmospheric environment in some cities has gone down, with acid rainfalls in some regions inflicting losses to agriculture and forestry. The pollution of solid residues and the expansion of residue disposal areas have caused degeneration of the soil quality in some regions as well as a doubly pollution of the water and air. Pollution of water, air and solid residues has affected people's health. Many research finding s have shown that environmental pollution has become a major factor for a growing number of lung cancer, respiratory organ diseases and other illnesses.

  2. Economic Losses Caused by Environmental Pollution.

  Through learning from experience of the developed countries, some Chinese expert s have developed in recent years some methods for calculating the economic losses caused by environmental pollution and made an estimate of the losses for the whole country. The results have shown that the annual economic losses caused by water contamination amount to 40 billion yarn; air pollution, about 30 billion yuan; solid residue and pesticide, 25 billion yuan; totalling around 95 billion yuan which equal to 6.75% of the GNP. The losses are mainly manifested as follows : about 32% in human health; 32% in agriculture, forestry, animal-husbandry and forestry; 30% in industrial and building materials; and 6% in other areas. According to the reports of UNEP, the economic losses caused by environmental pollution in developed countries such as USA and Japan, occupy 3% to 5% of their respective GNP. This demonstrates that environmental pollution in China is obviously more serious than in the developed countries. Therefore a percentage of GNP higher than that in the developed countries regarding losses caused by environmental pollution conforms to the actual situation.

  3. Economic Losses Caused by Environmental Pollution May Further Increase.

  At present China is still confronted with a serious environmental situation. Our overall estimate is that improvement has been made in some areas, while the general situation continues to deteriorate and the prospects will be a cause for concern. Nevertheless, the five-year period from 1986 to 1990 was one in which we made remarkable achievements in environmental protection. With the efforts made by governments at all levels and the high rate of economic growth, the deterioration was curbed but not brought under control. Comparing the situation in 1990 with that in 1984, volume of discharged waste water increased by 8%, of which petroleum pollutants increased by 6.6%; the volume of SO2 discharged into the atmosphere increased by 14.7% and industrial solid residues increased by 25.2%. According to the state environment plan for the coming ten years, the discharge volume of waste water, SO2 and harmful solid residues, will continue to grow. That is to say, its is not possible to get environmental pollution under control before the end of the century. In the meantime, China's national economy will develop in big strides. Thus, the opportunity cost of the environmental resources will increase markedly. Even if the percentage of the economic losses caused by environmental pollution in the GNP remains unchanged, such economic losses in a year during the 8th Five-Year plan will amount to 135 billion yuan. The total sum for the five-year period will reach 657 billion yuan. Such a huge economic loss will not only seriously hinder social and economic development, but also affect the improvement of the people's living standards.

  4. Efforts Made to Avoid Losses Caused by Environmental Pollution.

  The Chinese Government attaches great importance to environmental protection and considers it as a basic state policy for social and economic development. Thanks to the implementation of a series of rules, regulations and measures for environmental protection, environmental pollution did not further deteriorate with an ever-growing scale of production and a substantial increase in output value. This in fact has reprsented a success in avoiding huge losses deriving from environmental pollution

  It should be pointed out that the state has managed to allocate a certain amount of funds for environmental protection efforts although the economic strength of the country is not yet strong and there are still serious financial difficulties. During the period of the 7th Five-Year Plan, total investment for environmental protection in the country amounted to 47.7 billion yuan, an increase of 180% over the 17 billion yuan in the 6th Five-Year Plan period, and was equivalent to 0.7% of the GNP in the corresponding period. Research in China and abroad has shown that a unit of investment (in environmental protection), may avoid an economic loss which is several times more than the amount of investment, or at least, no less than the amount of investment. If one calculates according to this ratio, the input of funds for environmental protection in the 7th Five-Year Plan period saved economic losses caused by environmental pollution, equivalent to tens of billion or several hundred billion yuan. This is not only a great achievement gained in the field of environmental protection, but also an important contribution to social and economic development in China.

  5. Promote International Cooperation and Reduce the Losses Caused by Environment al Pollution.

  China has already formulated the 8th Five-Year Plan and the Ten-Year Programme for Environmental Protection and defined relevant objectives, tasks and measures. In order to achieve the environmental objectives for the 8th Five-year Plan period and before the end of the century to reduce the loss caused by pollution, we plan to increase the input. However, China is a developing country, not strong in economic strength, relatively backward in science and technology and tight in finance. It will be a long period of time before the state can spend much money on the protection and improvement of the environment. Hence we should not set very high environmental objectives. At the same time we hope to speed up our pace in controlling pollution in China, through international cooperation and utilization of foreign investments in order to reduce economic losses caused by pollution as much as possible. China has already received support in this regard from the international community, especially from the World Bank, and has started a number of fruitful environmental projects which have played an important role in improving environment and reducing losses caused by pollution in some cities. We wish to expand the cooperation in the coming ten years. China's progress in environmental protection will also contribute to the cause of environmental protection in the world as a whole.

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