November 27th, 2007 11:54 EST
Chinese government unveils environmental protection plan
The Chinese government will invest 1.35 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) each year for the next three years in environmental protection.
The State Council, China's cabinet, publicized a belated five-year environmental protection plan for 2006 to 2010 on Monday.
"Most of the investment will go to treating water pollution," said Zou Shoumin, director of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, who took part in drafting the plan.
He estimated the government would spend 640 billion yuan (85.33billion U.S. dollars) on treating water pollution, 600 billion yuan (80 billion dollars) on air pollution and 210 billion yuan (28 billion dollars) on solid waste.
In 2005, China spent 238.8 billion yuan (31.8 billion dollars) on environmental protection, accounting for 1.31 percent of that year's GDP, according to a government white paper.
The plan, only adopted by the State Council in September, sets out guidelines, major tasks and measures for the government to tackle pollution.
As part of the plan, China aims to cut its chemical oxygen demand (COD), a major index of water pollution, in 2010 by 10 percent from 2005 and sulfur dioxide emissions also by 10 percent.
By 2010, the plan says, 75 percent of China's large cities will enjoy more than 292 days of good air quality (air quality level IIor better) every year. In 2005, the percentage was 69.4.
China's air quality level II is equal to a pollution reading of between 51 and 100.
The country issued a five-year environment plan for 2001 to 2005 but the targets set were not met.
According to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), sulfur dioxide emissions in 2005 increased by 27.8 percent over that in 2000 instead of dropping while the COD fell 2.1 percent from 2000 rather than 10 percent.
Water pollution has been worsening. Twenty-six percent of surface water can not be used for any purpose, 62 percent is not suitable for fish and 90 percent of the rivers running through cities are polluted.
"The country failed to meet the target of reducing sulfur dioxide emissions, mainly because of the unexpected increase in energy demand between 2000 and 2005," Zou said.
The energy consumption in 2005 increased by 55.2 percent from 2000 but the newly-built thermal plants did not adopt facilities to reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions while the projects to update the old ones with eco-friendly technologies did not go well, he said, adding the papermaking industry had also caused serious pollution.
"Some local governments have favored economic growth much more than environmental protection and the environment watchdog also lacks strong power to supervise them," he said.
The State Council said in its statement on the new plan that it will set up an assessment mechanism to monitor the local governments.
Every half year, the State Council will publicize a report of major pollutant discharges in all provinces and regions and launch national checkups on how local governments implement the plan in 2008 and 2010, the statement said.
"The results will be key to assessing the performance of local governments," it said.