Monday, January 19, 2009

A New Road for Environmental Protection in China

As the Year of the Ox draws nigh, and the opportunity to reflect on thirty years of reform and opening presents itself, China's envirocrats have declared that change is in the air. Our friends at Green Leap Forward and China Environmental Law have both reported on recent government declarations of a renewed focus on environmental protection in the new year. But beyond these proclamations, there are some signs of a deeper shift in China's environmental policy. Last week, China's Minister for Environmental Protection, Zhou Shengxian, gave a wide-ranging and apparently consequential speech entitled "Actively Probing a New Road to Environmental Protection with Chinese Characteristics" (积极地探索有中国特色的环保新道路, in Chinese only). This post analyzes the speech, employing some occasionally awkward translations of the original Chinese, and highlights a few segments that could signal a new orientation to China's environmental policy. Or not- it's obviously too early to tell for sure. But regardless, it contains a few statements worthy of our further attention.

Zhou emphasizes that that a reformed Chinese environmental protection policy should be newly long-term in outlook, gradual, focused, and ambitious ("新道路具有长期性、阶段性、针对性和艰巨性的鲜明特点。") He is careful to expound on the "gradual" theme, saying vaguely that reform should proceed according to the different characteristics of the economic transformation process ("

Nonetheless, Zhou makes it equally clear that fundamental change is needed. Historic transformation in the field of environmental protection, Zhou states, is the embodiment of the national policy of Scientific Development ("必须坚持历史性转变的指导思想。历史性转变是环保领域全面贯彻落实科学发展观的具体体现"). In order to effect this transformation, and to give greater strategic importance to environmental protection, Zhou emphasizes integration and coordination with other policy areas, including production, land, and urban planning. Through this integration, Zhou claims a new perspective and path can be forged for environmental protection policy in China ("要坚持把环境保护摆上更加突出的战略位置,与经济社会发展统筹考虑、统一安排、同时部署;坚持环保规划先行,与产业规划、土地规划、城市规 划相协调、相统一,以环保规划优化经济社会发展;坚持更新观念、创新方法,积极推进科学化、民主化决策,着力转变不适应不符合历史性转变的思想观念.")

Zhou goes on to explicitly call for the integration of environmental protection with economic and social development, which he identifies as the best way to ward off future damage to the environment ("...
环境保护的理念和要求全面渗透到经济社会发展之中,是有效防范环境污染产生和资源环境损耗的重要防.") He advocates the formulation of an integrated "environment-economic policy" ("制定环境经济政策"), and calls for environmental protection concerns to permeate into every economic and social domain ("要将保护环境的要求体现在各领域,落实到社会组织的各方面,建立起全面覆盖经济社会发展的环境保护体系"). While at it, Zhou also addresses these economic and social ambitions to China's over-riding socioeconomic challenges ("要从我国区域发展不平衡、城乡差异大的实际出发...要把环保产业作为扩大内需的重要方面,以环境治理拉动环保产业发展,以绿色消费带动绿色生产,积极培育新的经济增长点.")

To cap it off, Zhou makes a rather dramatic appeal to the public and the Party leadership to help the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) advance its agenda ("
充分发挥环保部门综合协调作用,调动社会各方面的力量参与环境保护工作...要充分发挥社会主义制度的优越性,不断完善党委领导、政府负责、环保部门综合管理、有关部门协调配合,全社会共同参与的环境管理体系.") Indeed, Zhou employs a bit of old-fashioned revolutionary rhetoric, calling for the mobilization of all available resources for the cause of environmental protection (" 团结和动员各方面的力量.")

Zhou's speech can be read several different ways. Most optimistically, it can be seen as a sign that China's leadership is making a serious attempt to develop a true sustainable development policy, in which environmental protection concerns are effectively integrated into policymaking. Most cynically, the speech can be seen as a shameless grab for power, attention, or both by the still-young MEP. The truth, as is often said, probably lies in the middle. Only time will provide an adequate iteration of exactly where China’s environmental protection policy lies.

In the meantime, though, something else is notable about Zhou’s speech. Subtly but unmistakably, the vision Zhou articles is identified as particularly, intrinsically Chinese. Indeed, it appears almost nationalistic at times, as when he evokes the need for Party leadership and China’s revolutionary heritage. The significance of this is difficult to identify, but it’s perhaps very consequential. Does the nationalistic tone represent an attempt to generate greater “buy-in” to environmental protection policy by the Party higher-ups? A simple nod to the anniversary of Deng’s reform and opening policy? Hard to say, but, I would argue, important to ponder. Future posts will revisit this question, and as always comments on the question are welcome.


1 comment:

  1. Ecofasa turns waste to biodiesel using bacteria

    A group of Spanish developers working for a company called Ecofasa just announced a new biofuel made up from trash. This isn't a biodiesel made from used frying oil; instead, it's made from general urban waste which is treated by bacteria. The result of that bacteria? Fatty acids that can be used to produce standard biodiesel. According to the company's CEO, the process is fully biologic, competes with no feedstock and is really sustainable. However, the process doesn't yield that much actual fuel: just one liter of biodiesel from 10 kg of trash. The project is now in a development phase, but Ecofasa said that a commercially viable model could be ready in three to four years.