Xi Yanchun (host):
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the State Council’s policy briefing. This week the State Council executive meeting passed a guideline concerning environment protection during the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). To help you get a better understanding of it, we are glad to have Zhao Yingmin, the vice-minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with us today. He will give us an introduction of the environment protection plan during the 13th Five-Year Plan period. Now, Mr. Zhao.
Good morning, media friends. It’s my pleasure to be with you today and talk about the environment protection guideline during the 13th Five-Year Plan period. Thank you very much for your longtime concern and for your help in the work of environment protection.
Passed by the State Council executive meeting on Nov 15, the plan is the basis of national environment protection work during the 13th Five-Year Plan period. Now, let me briefly introduce it to you.
Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council give strong emphasis to the development of an ecological civilization and eco-environment protection. President Xi Jinping has stressed many times that clean water and green mountains are treasures and we have to protect the environment just like we protect our lives. Premier Li Keqiang has also noted that to strengthen environment protection, resolution should be made to create a path that brings economic development and also improves the environment.
China has carried out a comprehensive reform for ecological development and implemented plans to solve air, water and soil pollutions. Unprecedented efforts have been made to cope with the real challenges and promote a better environment. In 2015, the condition of air was monitored in 74 cities that were the first ones to implement the air quality standards. According to the results, the annual concentration of fine particulate matter fell 23.6 percent compared with the level in 2013; the proportion of acid rain area of national territorial area declined from the record 30 percent to 7.6 percent; the surface water quality improved as the proportion of type I and type Ⅲ area of surface water has been raised to 66 percent and the proportion of type V has dropped to 9.7 percent. But at the same time, we should also realize that the challenges are still there as there is still a gap between environmental risks and people’s expectations. Environment protection is an urgent issue that needs to be tackled to build a moderately prosperous society.
So, the target of the guideline is to improve environment quality, tackle ecological problems, and make sure that people can enjoy a better environment in 2020.
Since 2013, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has been formulating the guideline with the National Development and Reform Commission, the ministries of Education, Science and Technology, Industry and Information Technology, Finance, Land and Resources, Housing and Urban-Rural Development, Transport, Water Resources, Agriculture, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and the State Forestry Administration.
The guideline is open to online and offline public surveys, on-site reviews, seminars, written comments, and collected opinions from various parties, including local governments, departments, and scholars. I will briefly introduce the plan here.
The guideline has three parts. The first part is the overview of eco-environmental protection across the nation, guiding principles, and main objectives. According to the State Council, we will implement the most strict environment protection mechanisms to fight pollution in air, water, and soil. Meanwhile, we should enhance ecological protection and recovery, prevent ecological risks, and accelerate modernization of a national environmental governance system and ability to manage the environment in a systematic, scientific, legal, and refined way and offer better ecological products to the public.
The guideline’s basic principle is to stick with green growth, good quality, systematic measures, classified management, innovation, rule of law, accountability, and public efforts.
Our main objective is to achieve overall improvement of environmental quality by 2020. Green and low-carbon production and way of life will become the main trend, with substantial reduction in pollutants. Meanwhile, environmental risks will be effectively curbed by controlling decline of biological diversity. The ecological system will become more stable, and ecological security barriers will be in place, with material progress in the national environmental governance system and ability.
The guideline puts forward mandatory and expected targets, including 12 mandates covering days of good air quality in prefecture-level cities and above, concentration of fine particles in prefecture-level cities and above that fail to meet standards, ratio of Class-III surface water and above, ratio of Class-V surface water and below, forest coverage rate, forest stock volume, safe utilization ratio of contaminated arable land and soil, and total emission of chemical oxygen demand, nitrogen and ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide.
It is the first time that environmental quality targets are being mandated as part of a national five-year development plan.
The second part tells the main idea of the guideline from seven aspects: strengthening control of pollution sources, enhancing quality management, launching special projects for emission reduction, carrying out overall supervision for risks reduction, enhancing ecological restoration, speeding up institutional innovation and conducting a batch of major projects for eco-environment protection.
The third part puts forward measures to support the implementation, including making clear responsibilities, increasing investment, enhancing international cooperation, promoting pilot projects and conducting strict evaluation. Also, diversified investments in major projects are encouraged.
Second, five basic features of the guideline:
First, the guideline is in line with China’s general development strategies. It highlights green development, supply-side structural reform and technological innovation. Also, it echoes major national strategies, including the development strategies for the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area, Yangtze River economic zone, and “One Belt and One Road” initiative.
Second, it centers on enhancing environmental quality, urging coordinated measures of improving environmental quality, ecological protection and environmental risk control.
Third, a strict system is emphasized. Local government officials will face inspection, submission of statement of assets and liabilities and auditing when leaving a post. And enterprises will be restrained by permits and laws.
Fourth, the guideline calls for strengthening ecological conservation and restoration, increasing the supply of ecological products, and enhancing stability and services of the ecosystem.
Fifth, the guideline stresses comprehensive management for the goals of standard industrial emission, pollution prevention and risk control. It also urged strengthening control and management of pollution risks from heavy metals, dangerous discharges and toxic chemical products.
Concerning the guideline’s implementation, there will be five major tasks. The first is to publicize the guideline through making interpretations and answering related questions to motivate social forces’ participation in the eco-environment protection. The second is to define detailed tasks and their responsible departments with bounded targets to push the guideline’s implementation. The third is to define related major projects and detailed measures, establish project libraries and strengthen the project promotion mechanism with efforts to make reform policies land as soon as possible. The fourth is to improve the social supervision mechanism and organize the public’s orderly participation in the guideline’s implementation. The fifth is to carry out regular assessment and evaluation on the guideline’s implementation. At the end of 2018, the mid-term assessment will be launched and the final assessment will start at the end of 2020. All the results will be submitted to the State Council and will be open to the public.
Now I’d like to answer your questions. Thanks.
Thank you, Mr. Zhao, and now it’s time for questions. Please tell us the media outlet you represent before you ask your questions.
We have noticed that air pollution has been falling the last two years, but still very severe. Citizens are very concerned about the harm air pollution is doing to their health. What will the Ministry of Environmental Protection do as their next step to deal with air pollution?
First I would like to say that we should have confidence. Since the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan was issued by the State Council in 2013, the air quality in China has been improving. In 2015, the number of heavy smog days in the country fell 52.3 percent compared with that of 2013. In Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, it fell by 51.7 percent. It shows that our measures have been effective so far. So we should continue to firmly implement the plan.
But we have to admit that air pollution is still severe. We should pay high attention to north China’s air pollution in winter. Two measures will be highlighted. First, cut pollutant emissions by industrial enterprises, urge some heavy pollution factories to reduce productivity during the winter, promote the clean use of coal, eliminate heavy-pollution vehicles, and rigorously enforce environmental protection laws.
That is the key element in fighting air pollution. Although sometimes the slow spread of pollutants is a factor in pollution, the ultimate reason is that the pollutants emitted are too much for the environment to bear.
Second, conduct more precise forecasts on air pollution and take temporary emission-reduction measures when pollution occurs.
In addition, we should transform the industrial structure and energy consumption. Take Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei as an example. The consumption of coal in this area accounts for about half of the total in China, the capacity of steel and coking accounts for over 50 percent, and capacity for thermal power accounts for 35 percent. The high energy consumption causes heavy pollutant emissions. So the government will cut the heavy-pollution industries, control pollution sources.
This year, people may feel there have been more smog days. Meteorologists explain that is because of the El Nino and La Nina effects, which cause less wind in winter and is not beneficial to the dispersion of pollutants. But I want to say that we must rely on ourselves instead of the wind. I believe that with the joint efforts of governments, enterprises, and ordinary citizens, the air quality will get better and better. Thank you.
I’d like to ask Mr. Zhao about smog weather problems. First, we read an official newspaper report that said research showed differences in components of smog in London and in Beijing. The report triggered hot discussion among the public. What’s the opinion of the Ministry of Environmental Protection? Does it help our work on smog management?
Second, we noticed that accountability and evaluation of local officials are mentioned in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). Previously, a Beijing mayor made guarantees to the central government about smog management. Judging from the current situation, the result is far from satisfactory. It seems that the smog this winter is more serious than in previous years. Will the official be held accountable for such a situation? During the 13th Five-Year-Plan (2016-2020), will there be any specific or strict measures related to this problem?
For your first question, I cannot tell because I did not read the report. According to our knowledge, reasons for heavy pollution in different cities in China are different. Generally, our energy structure is heavily reliant on coal. But in some large cities, vehicle pollution is the major cause. Some industrial cities’ major pollution comes from industrial emissions. Therefore, the 13th Five-Year Plan proposed being more specific in policy implementation. Our ministry also increased our efforts. With more scientific research, we can have more specific diagnosis toward pollution causes in different places. This way, we can have precise management.
For your second question, the central government has a series of arrangements. You may have noticed that the central environmental protection inspectors are conducting reviews these days. In addition, we have comprehensive inspections on environmental protection and special inspections on heavy smog. We will also review irresponsible local governments. These are some of the measures we use to improve our environment. Thank you.
China News Service:
What has the Action Plan for Water Pollution Prevention and Control accomplished in the past year? What are the remaining problems in water pollution control, and what efforts will be made next? Thank you!
The action plan was unveiled in 2015, and it has made much progress in the first implementation year. The accomplishments can be summarized in six aspects.
First is signing target commitment agreements for water pollution control with 31 provincial regions. We assigned the goals set by the action plan to every province and required them to assign related tasks to its sub-cities and counties, eventually assigning tasks nationwide to 1,940 control units, where each unit would be responsible for a certain target. Moreover, we also set up a national water pollution control work mechanism, which boosts coordination work in water pollution control in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta regions.
Second is compiling a water pollution control plan for key pollution areas. It is aimed at controlling water pollution as a whole process to promote water conservation and recycling, and strengthening ecological protection and restoration.
Third is investigating and evaluating the environmental protection situation of more than 900 centralized drinking water spots at and above prefecture-level cities, guiding the cities to regulate the construction of drinking water resources. The regulation includes the designation of protection areas of drinking water sources and eliminating illegal construction and outfalls within the protection areas.
Fourth is following the water quality improvement requirements to decentralize the targets and requirements assigned in the 13th Five-Year Plan and the key water pollution projects in 2016.
Fifth is implementing the tasks of completing the environment management work in 130,000 administrative villages by 2020 and utilizing the energy-saving and emission-cut funds released by the government in 2016 to support local regions to continue their all-around environment management work in rural areas.
Sixth is printing and publishing a series of technology-related documents to guide local regions to implement the water pollution control action plan, including compiling technology guidelines on water standards and other technological documents.
At present, among the 1,922 monitoring spots nationwide, water quality at 1,351 spots, or 70.3 percent, are above Level III from January to September, a year-on-year increase of 4 percentage points. At the same time, 166 are Level V, which means the water quality is bad, and the ratio of that was 8.6 percent, a year-on-year decrease of 1.2 percentage points. According to the current situation, we estimated that as a starting year, this year proved to be a successful opening for the implementation of the water pollution action plan. And the goal set by the action plan is expected to be completed on schedule.
In terms of fighting against water pollution, great efforts were made during the 12th Five-Year Plan period and water quality has improved. However, more efforts are still required to satisfy increasing environmental needs. There are several major issues in the process of controlling water pollution from past experiences, including the imbalance of prevention work, prevalence of ecological deterioration along the drainage area, insufficient water holding capacity and stinky canals and ditches in cities and towns.
The current water environment presents three features. First, the general quality of ground water stays stable and good, but the issue of water pollution is still urgent in some areas. Second, the protection of the uncontaminated water area is urgent. Third, the pollution factor that mainly determines the concentration of water deterioration has altered, which means the top chemical molecule indicator we chose to measure the pollution level during the 12th Five-Year Plan period may need to be changed.
The 13th Five-Year Plan set the goal for 2020 and calls for continuously improving water quality. First, put more emphasis on the people’s concerns during the process of water protection. We should first ensure people drink safe water. Under such premises, we should then carry out the job of protecting water from two ends, both the contaminated water and safe water. Second, prevent pollution through applying a standard to control the scale of construction and the emission amounts of major industries and enterprises, based on local environmental conditions. Third, the 13th Five-Year Plan also stresses strengthening protection work in key areas that are most vulnerable to water deterioration. Fourth, adopt innovative measures to regulate water protection. And fifth, clarify local government and enterprises’ responsibility in water quality protection.
We are confident that the task of water protection will be completed during the 13th Five-Year Plan period and that water environmental quality be maintained at a satisfactory level with efforts made by all.
My question involves water pollution. China has made some progress in combating air pollution, but a report released by the Ministry of Environmental Protection this week showed that water quality in some areas has deteriorated. Does it mean protection of water resources was neglected?
Water quality is getting better year on year as far as the whole nation is concerned, and we did make a lot of efforts in this regard. For example, in the past five years, chemical oxygen demand (COD) and discharge amount of ammonia nitrogen dropped 12.9 percent and 13 percent, respectively. With daily processing capacity of sewage in cities and towns increasing 57 million tons, the total amount has reached 182 million tons, making China among the countries with the highest capacity for sewage processing. However, problems do exist, which do not discount the whole situation.
According to the plan, water protection includes three parts - water resource, water environment and water ecology - so we should adopt coordinated measures, with mountains, forests, farmlands and lakes all taken into consideration. In addition, we should follow the objective law of the water and take precise management measures, in order to meet the requirements of the 13th Five-Year Plan.
China Radio International:
As we know, the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan has been implemented for more than three years. According to the plan, the implementation progress of local governments will be evaluated in 2017. As it comes to the end of 2016, we would like to learn the actual implementation by local governments. Are there any problems? And what measures will be taken in the next stage to ensure the completion of tasks in the plan?
Another question about air pollution, indicating everyone is very concerned about the issue of air quality. During the three years since the implementation of the action plan, under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, local governments and related departments have achieved positive results through concerted efforts, which are reflected in the changes of environmental quality data.
The particle concentration has been sharply reduced across the country. In 2015, compared with the data in 2013, the PM10 concentrations of 338 cities above prefecture level dropped by 9.3%, and the average concentrations of PM2.5 in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta decreased by 27.4%, 20.9% and 27.7%, respectively.
In the period from January to October this year, the PM10 concentrations of 338 cities above prefecture level decreased by 9.4%, compared with the same period of 2015. And the average concentrations of PM2.5 in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta decreased by 14.5%, 14% and 14.7%, respectively.
We are very pleased to see that the PM2.5 concentration of the Pearl River Delta met the standard last year, which became the first among the three key development areas to control its average PM2.5 value below 35. This has boosted our confidence.
The number of days with good air quality has significantly increased. From January to October this year, the proportion of days with good air quality in 338 cities above prefecture level reached 81.4 percent, up 3.6 percent. Meanwhile, the number of days with heavy pollution has significantly decreased, which I have mentioned before. Although we feel that this year has more days of heavy pollution, until now, the number is actually less than the same period of last year.
Second, in terms of air pollution control, with the implementation of the action plan on curbing air pollution, we have made breakthroughs in solving the difficult and time-consuming work. Proactive efforts have been made in slashing the outdated industrial capacity of steel and coal, with the total coal consumption in key areas achieving consecutive negative growth since 2013.
The air pollution control in key industries has also proved effective, with the transformation of ultra-low emission of coal-fire power reaching 290 million kilowatts, accounting for 32 percent of the country’s total installed coal-fired power capacity, which is close to or has reached the advanced technology in the world.
The prevention and control on the pollutants emitted from motor vehicle is gradually reinforced. In three years, more than 15 million “yellow label” vehicles that do not meet exhaust emission standards and old, outmoded cars have been eliminated. Meanwhile, the gasoline and diesel meeting the national standard IV is being supplied nationwide, and the 11 provinces and cities in the eastern regions are supplied those that meet the national standard V.
The regional coordination mechanism has gradually improved. The collaboration on air pollution control in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas, the Yangtze River Delta region and Pearl River Delta region has further deepened, which has ensured that the air quality for a multiple of major activities, and government at different levels of the above regions have improved the mechanism in jointly combating heavy pollution.
In addition, the supporting policies and measures are also improving. The 22 policies and measures of the air pollution prevention action plan on curbing air pollution and the required 25 emission standards for key industries have also been adopted and implemented.
Environment monitoring and regulation capacity is constantly enhanced. All the 338 cities at the prefecture level and above have acquired the monitoring capacity of six air pollution indicators such as PM2.5, established and improved the air quality forecasting and early warning system, and carried out analysis on the pollution source of atmospheric particulate and conducted pilot work on establishing inventory system of pollution emission source.
The air pollution action plan is being implemented very smoothly, with the efforts of the entire society. We are very confident that we can reach the goals set by the action plan. But we are at an economic and social development stage where it is hard to change our industrial structure and energy structure over a short period, so the total amount of discharge of atmospheric pollutants will remain high. Therefore, our environment still faces great challenges.
I will brief you on the three characteristics of the quality of the current atmospheric environment across the country. First, the air quality is improving, but pollution is still at a high level. And smog frequently hits some areas in the winter. Second, particulate matter is the main pollution factor, mainly PM2.5 and PM10. And ozone erosion should not be ignored. Third, air quality is different among regions. The level of PM 2.5 meets the standard in the Pearl River Delta region, while PM2.5 level rises instead of dropping in some other areas.
We now face both traditional coal-burning pollution and the new ozone, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds pollution. Our air pollution prevention and control still face a serious situation, and the task ahead is still arduous. Improvement in atmospheric environment quality still needs persistent efforts from the whole society. Thank you.
That’s all for today’s policy briefing. Thank you.