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Achieving a Better Quality of Moderate Prosperity Throughout Society

By Sun Jinlong Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2020-09-18

A sound ecological environment is the ideal basis for achieving moderate prosperity throughout society, and our ability to manage pollution successfully will have a direct bearing on the quality of that moderately prosperous society. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized that achieving moderate prosperity in all respects is contingent on the quality of the ecological environment. We must keep going and not slacken our efforts. We need to prioritize targeted, scientific, and law-based pollution control measures in order to effectively and resolutely win the battle to prevent and control pollution. We also need to promote continuous improvements to the ecological environment to ensure that the moderately prosperous society we build earns the support of the people and stands the test of time.  

I. Shoring up deficiencies in the environmental aspects of our efforts to build a moderately prosperous society 

The environment is an obvious shortcoming in our endeavor to achieve moderate prosperity throughout society. Environmental problems are also key to whether the moderately prosperous society we build earns the support of the people. The 19th National Congress of the CPC identified the prevention and control of pollution as one of the three major battles that must be won to achieve moderate prosperity throughout society. In addition, President Xi has presided over meetings of the Central Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs and attended meetings of the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection, which have set out major and targeted arrangements on preventing and controlling pollution. 

Since the 19th CPC National Congress held in 2017, all local authorities and government departments have focused on winning seven battles of great significance, including the battle against air pollution to make our skies blue again, sparing no efforts in achieving our goal and making important progress in combatting pollution, so as to visibly improve the quality of our ecological environment. In 2019, the proportion of surface water in China with excellent water quality increased by 8.9 percentage points compared with 2015, while surface water with a rating lower than Grade V decreased by 6.3 percentage points during the same period. Between 2015 and 2019, annual average concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) decreased by 23.1% in cities at and above prefecture level that fell short of national standards, and the annual average percentage of days with good or excellent air quality in 337 cities at and above the prefecture level reached 82%. Of the nine obligatory targets for environmental protection identified in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), seven targets set for completion in 2020 were fulfilled ahead of schedule, laying a solid foundation for achieving moderate prosperity throughout society. 

Securing victory in the battle against air pollution to make our skies blue again 

China is concentrating on four major areas: key regions (the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Fenwei Plain region), key pollutants (PM2.5), key times of year (autumn and winter), and key aspects (non-centralized coal burning and poorly managed and polluting small enterprises). We have strengthened supervision and designated assistance in key regions to win the battle to make our skies blue again, handling 155,900 issues in three years. Trials of using clean energy sources for winter heating in northern China now cover the whole of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas and the Fenwei Plain region. The proportion of coal-fired power plants achieving ultra-low emissions has reached 86%, with approximately 780 million tons of crude steel production capacity upgraded to achieve ultra-low emissions. We are conducting in-depth rectifications of poorly managed and polluting small enterprises, industrial furnaces and kilns, and key industries that use volatile organic compounds. We are strengthening pollution controls on diesel trucks and promoting a shift in freight transportation from highways to railways. We are reinforcing joint prevention and control of air pollution in key regions and bolstering our response to severe air pollution, so that the people benefit from noticeably more days of blue skies and white clouds. 


A boat sails along a waterway in the Xixi Wetland in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, April 1, 2020 (drone photo). Due to rapid urbanization, the wetland was once in a state of environmental decay, with its ecological functions and biodiversity suffering significant damage. Water quality dropped to Grade V, with fish and shrimp even vanishing from a few sections. Through several years of continuous remediation efforts, the wetland now meets Grade II water quality standards in its core area, and has become an important base for nationwide efforts to build an ecological civilization. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WENG XINYANG  

Securing victory in the battle against water pollution to have crystal-clear water again 

Our focus in this area is on ensuring clean water (by protecting sources of drinking water) and improving unclean water (by cleaning up dark, fetid water bodies in cities), as well as on promoting measures for collective environmental protection of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, while avoiding excessive development. Over the past three years, China has completed surveys and taken remedial action concerning 10,363 ecological and environmental issues at 2,804 drinking water sources. We have eliminated 86.7% of dark, fetid water bodies in districts of cities at the prefecture level and above. We have completed investigations on sewage outlets entering the Yangtze River and Bohai Sea, and 95% of industrial parks at the provincial and national levels in the Yangtze River Economic Belt have built centralized sewage treatment facilities. A total of 46 of the 50 state-controlled rivers flowing into the Bohai Sea met the requisite water quality standard, and the number with a rating lower than Grade V decreased from 10 to 2. Since the beginning of the 13th Five-Year Plan period, 120,000 environmental improvement projects have been completed in administrative villages. Our goal is to make China a place where people can once again enjoy clean waters and green spaces. 

Taking solid steps to keep our land clean 

There needs to be category-specific management and control over contaminated agricultural and construction land to ensure environmental risks are minimized. We need to conduct detailed investigations of soil pollution on agricultural land, create environmental quality classifications for cultivated land, and promote the safe use of contaminated cultivated land. We must also ensure that land use surveys are conducted for enterprises in key industries. Twenty-nine provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the central government have issued soil pollution risk management and remediation lists. The importation of foreign waste has been firmly prohibited, and the volume of solid waste imported nationwide has decreased 71% compared with 2016. We have screened and decided upon the "11+5" cities and regions for the No-Waste Cities pilot project. We are conducting special campaigns against environmental violations involving solid waste in the Yangtze River Economic Belt. We are deepening specific rectification activities in the waste-to-energy (WtE) industry, and 405 WtE enterprises will disclose automatic monitoring data on pollutants from this year. Investigations have been conducted of 13,994 heavy metal companies nationwide, and 261 projects to reduce heavy metal emissions have been implemented to give people peace of mind regarding where they live and what they eat. 


A view of the Miao village of Dangniu in Congjiang County, Guizhou Province, April 17, 2020. Congjiang County has vigorously improved the living environments, clearing out structures such as dangerous dwellings that have not been occupied for some time and disused grain storehouses and using the land for planting or as green space. Meanwhile, the county has made efforts to improve household sanitation and village conditions in order to ensure that the countryside is neat, clean, and sanitary. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER YANG WENBIN

Continuing ecological protection and remediation 

We have carried out the preliminary designation of red lines for environmental conservation and urged assessments and demarcations. We have launched the "Green Shield" initiative to strengthen supervision of nature reserves, which has discovered 5,740 key issues with 342 national nature reserves in three years, 3,986 of which have already been rectified, and there has been a fall in the total number of problems related to human activities in national nature reserves as well as the land area affected by these problems. We have made steady progress with 25 pilot projects for environmental protection and restoration of mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, and grasslands, and actively promoted large-scale afforestation across the country. We are steadily promoting major projects to conserve biodiversity and carrying out surveys and assessments of important regions, key species, and genetic resources. 

Strictly enforcing laws on the ecological environment 

The General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the General Office of the State Council issued the Regulations on Central Inspections of Ecological and Environmental Protection, and we completed the first round of central inspections of ecological and environmental protection in 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities directly under the central government as well as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and carried out reviews in 20 provinces and regions, which helped to solve 150,000 ecological and environmental issues of immediate concern to the people. The second round of central inspections of ecological and environmental protection has been launched in six provinces and municipalities directly under the central government and two enterprises owned by the central government, and more than 18,900 issues reported by members of the public have been heard, over 16,000 of which have already been dealt with or are close to completion. Our objective is to promote law enforcement and supervision in accordance with the law and to severely crack down on crimes that damage the environment. We have basically reformed vertical management of the monitoring, supervision, and enforcement activities carried out by environmental protection agencies below the provincial level and furthered reform of comprehensive administrative law enforcement for ecological and environmental protection. We are also carrying out a clean-up and rectification of emissions permits for fixed pollution sources. 

Faced with the sudden Covid-19 outbreak this year, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment is earnestly implementing the guiding principles of the speeches and instructions of President Xi and the policies and arrangements of the CPC Central Committee. In addition, based on the requirements of the Central Leading Group for Novel Coronavirus Prevention and Control, we are striving to complete environmental protection activities related to containing Covid-19 and strengthening environmental supervision and services, such as those concerning medical waste and treatment of medical wastewater. We have implemented two positive lists of environmental impact assessments and inspections of law enforcement, and provided targeted services to enterprises to help them resume work, thereby doing our bit to win our all-out people's war against Covid-19. 

In the course of advancing our work, we have accumulated valuable experience, which can be summarized as the "Six Musts": We must establish the conviction that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets and we must maintain environmental protection to keep our landscapes beautiful and encourage development without compromising the environment. We must uphold General Secretary Xi's core position on the CPC Central Committee and in the Party as a whole and uphold the Central Committee's authority and its centralized, unified leadership as we defend the ecological environment, which centers on improving the ecological environment, whereby Party committees and government agencies shoulder equal responsibilities in environmental protection and all officials have the responsibility for environmental protection in addition to their prescribed duties. We must uphold our people-centered philosophy to provide the people with more high-quality ecological products and mobilize the whole of society to protect the ecological environment. We must coordinate management of mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, and grassland, with the emphasis on precision and rationality as well as on legality, and coordinate high-level environmental protection with high-quality economic development. We must use the strictest system and the strictest rule of law to promote structural reform on the supply side of the system and build a system with strict prevention at the source, strict management of processes, and severe punishments. We must strengthen our work style and capacity building, strive to build a strong force for environmental protection, and promote the modernization of our systems and capacity for environmental governance. 

II. Getting to grips with difficulties and challenges in the battle to prevent and control pollution 

Although we can point to numerous achievements, we must be soberly aware of the fact that structural, fundamental, and changing pressures on environmental protection in China have not yet been mitigated. Of these, three stubborn issues stand out: firstly, China's industrial structure is still dominated by heavy industry, its energy structure is still dominated by coal, and its transport structure is still dominated by road freight; secondly, environmental pollution and ecological protection continue to face severe challenges; and thirdly, there remains a high risk of numerous and frequent ecological incidents. The recent impact of Covid-19 has significantly increased uncertainty in economic and social development, posing difficulties and challenges for preventing and controlling pollution. 

Increasing downward pressure on the economy makes it difficult to coordinate development and environmental protection. 

Amid this complex situation, in which China's economic development faces difficulties and more significant uncertainties, some regions are placing less emphasis on environmental protection, their willingness to implement protective measures has declined, and there is a greater risk of requirements being relaxed. As the containment of Covid-19 improves and companies accelerate their return to work, traditional and new types of infrastructure construction are advancing in parallel, and once suspended and dormant production capacity and product manufacturing are rapidly recovering and growing, exerting greater pressure on the ecological environment. 

Achievements in improving the ecological environment are not fully consolidated, and there is still significant pressure to complete pollution prevention and control goals. 

Prominent regional and structural pollution issues still exist, prevention and control of sources of environmental pollution need to be strengthened, and the tipping point from quantitative to qualitative changes in the ecological environment has not yet been reached. Ozone has become the definitive factor affecting the percentage of days with good or excellent air quality in some regions. In a small number of areas, improvements to the quality of the water environment have been marginal and pressures on controlling soil pollution risks are high. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, tasks such as adjustments and transformations, upgrading, and pollution prevention and control have fallen behind schedule, and it has become difficult for enterprises to secure funds to invest in pollution control projects and to spend on operating pollution control facilities. 

There are major hidden environmental risks, and our ecological and environmental security tasks are arduous. 

Many chemical enterprises are located close to water bodies and cities, sources of hazardous materials (chemicals and waste) and heavy metals pose prominent locational and structural risks, and there is a high incidence of sudden environmental events due to workplace safety and chemical transportation issues. Ecological destruction is still widespread in some regions, and decreasing biodiversity remains a prominent issue. 

There is a lack of economic and legal methods used in environmental governance, and the environmental governance system and governance capacity are in desperate need of modernization. 

Reform of the top-level system of ecological conservation in China is basically complete, but reforms are not yet fully systematic, holistic, and coordinated. Governance of the ecological environment depends largely on administrative means, but the endogenous drive of responsible entities has not been effectively stimulated, while mechanisms aimed at making such governance more market based require further work and improvement. There is insufficient investment in environmental governance, which comes from a single channel, and environmental infrastructure remains weak, with a low overall level of operations. Some enterprises and departments are not adequately conscious of the rule of law, so they lack the ability to control environmental pollution and protect the environment in accordance with the law. In addition, many places do not understand the law, so they do not obey or act in accordance with it. 

III. Striving to complete environmental goals for achieving moderate prosperity throughout society 

The year of 2020 is the final year of our push toward moderate prosperity and of the 13th Five-Year Plan period, as well as the year of reckoning for completing our current objectives concerning prevention and control of pollution. In mid-January, President Xi issued a statement fully affirming the progress and effectiveness of environmental protection and demanding a resolute victory in the battle to prevent and control pollution as well as to make new contributions to achieving moderate prosperity throughout society. From late January, when President Xi visited Yunnan, Zhejiang, Shaanxi, and Shanxi and took part in a tree planting event in the capital, he repeatedly emphasized the need to establish the idea that clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, to prioritize the environment and uphold green development, to fight to keep our skies blue, our waters clear, and our land pollution-free, and to strive for mountains that are forever green, rivers that run clear, and air that is always clean. President Xi suggested that we should make resolutely winning the battle to prevent and control pollution a national priority, implement the new development philosophy, and win a resolute victory in the battle to prevent and control pollution, so as to promote high-quality economic development and improve the environmental credentials of our moderately prosperous society. 


On May 23, 2020, community workers and volunteers visited the eastern section of the Xihuashi Nanli residential community in Beijing's Dongcheng District where they held an activity to inform residents about waste sorting. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER PENG ZIYANG  

Maintaining our strategic resolve and resolutely implementing the new development philosophy 

We must be committed to green, high-quality development, adhere to the law when managing environmental pollution and protecting the ecological environment, and stand firm on bottom lines concerning environmental protection. We must utilize the transformative effect environmental protection has on optimizing and upgrading the industrial structure and improving development methods, promote environmentally friendly development and lifestyles, and encourage high-quality development through the construction of traditional and new types of infrastructure. We need to promote ecological conservation and environmental protection in key areas and support and serve the implementation of major national strategies. Specifically, we need to adapt to the new situation of ongoing containment of Covid-19; ensure stability of employment, the financial sector, foreign trade, foreign investment, investment and expectations; maintain security in employment, basic living needs, operations of market entities, food and energy, stable industrial and supply chains, and the smooth functioning of primary-level governments; continuously optimize environmental impact assessment approvals and supervision of law enforcement; and provide targeted services to enterprises so they can return to operations. 

Highlighting the "three pollution controls" and advancing the fight to keep our skies blue, waters clear, and land pollution-free 

We need targeted, scientific, and law-based environmental governance, to ensure forceful, orderly, and effective completion of pollution prevention and control tasks. We will win a decisive victory in the battle to keep our skies blue by prioritizing the treatment of volatile organic compounds, stepping up prevention and control of ozone pollution in summer and autumn, and striving to turn days with light pollution into days with good or excellent air quality. We will focus on the battle to keep our waters clear by continuing to protect and restore the Yangtze River, improving the overall environment of the Bohai region, safeguarding water sources, dealing with dark and fetid bodies of water in urban areas, and controlling agricultural and rural pollution. We will advance the battle to keep our land pollution-free by strengthening land pollution control and remediation as well as preventing and controlling solid waste pollution. We need to pay special attention to environmental protection work related to containing Covid-19 and achieve full coverage of medical institutions and facilities with environmental supervision and services as well as collection and treatment or disposal of all medical waste and medical wastewater. 

Boosting supervision measures and eco-system protection and remediation 

We need to continue to optimize assessments and the delineation of red lines for ecological protection. We will carry out remote sensing surveys and assessments of changes in China's ecological environment between 2015 and 2020, continue to implement the "Green Shield" initiative to strengthen supervision of nature reserves, and accelerate improvements to biosecurity management. We will make every effort to prepare for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. We will also promote demonstrations and innovations of ecological conservation and explore ways to turn the ecological advantages of clear waters and lush mountains into economic advantages. 

Raising awareness of dangers to effectively prevent and ameliorate environmental risks 

We must remain on full alert for high-risk materials, such as hazardous waste, tailings ponds, and hazardous chemicals, and step up investigations and the elimination of hidden dangers as part of the "five clarifications," namely, the clarification of details, situations, problems, responsibilities, and measures. We must ensure there are reserves of emergency supplies and teams of emergency personnel, and we need to put in place emergency responders that are on call 24/7, 365 days a year, so as to ensure rapid, scientific, and appropriate responses to environmental emergencies. We need to strengthen coordinating mechanisms in key areas, such as ecological security, biosecurity, and nuclear radiation security, and continue to prevent and resolve issues concerning environmental projects in people's "backyards," in order to resolutely safeguard ecological and environmental security. 

Boosting reform and innovation to improve ecological and environmental governance 

We will implement the guidance on establishing a modern environmental governance system as well as the list of environmental protection responsibilities for relevant departments of the CPC Central Committee and the central government and evaluate the effectiveness of pollution prevention and control efforts. We will continue with the second round of routine and targeted central government environmental inspections. We will accelerate the establishment of a comprehensive administrative law enforcement system for ecological and environmental protection and achieve full coverage of emission permits for fixed pollution sources. We will encourage changes to the legal system in areas such as biosecurity and protection of the Yangtze River. We will also improve law enforcement concerning the ecological environment, strengthen links between environmental administrative law enforcement and criminal justice, and crack down on environmental violations and criminal acts of great concern to the public. 

Sun Jinlong is Vice Minister of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People's Republic of China and Secretary of the Ministry's CPC Leadership Group. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 11, 2020)