China Says Environment Losing Out to Development
BEIJING -- China must integrate environmental conservation into its development plans, officials said on Tuesday, as the environment ministry said pollution across the country was getting worse.
The comments came as the United Nations marked International Biodiversity Day with the signing of five joint grant agreements with the European Union and the Chinese government.
"We should firmly forbid those projects which damage the environment or cause pollution in the construction process," said Wang Xiaoqing, a vice minister at China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).
"Biodiversity should be regarded as a key performance indicator," he said at the signing ceremony for the grants.
China has been struggling to change its priorities from growth at all costs to more sustainable development, driven in part by worries that environmental degradation could compromise the economic rise on which the ruling Communist Party has staked its legitimacy.
But central government efforts have been stymied by a culture of breakneck growth and by local officials who stand to gain from investments in industry in their regions.
SEPA, the environment ministry, said despite efforts to alter priorities, the situation was not improving.
Although air quality in some cities was better, in other places "foul air emissions are beyond acceptable limits", SEPA Vice Minister Pan Yue said in a quarterly assessment posted on the ministry's Web site (www.zhb.gov.cn).
Worsening air and water pollution and frequent use of food additives and pesticides made cancer the top killer in China last year, state media reported last week, citing health experts.
Water quality in the Songhua River in the northeast, site of a major chemical spill in 2005, as well as the Huaihe River, which runs north of the Yangtze, had deteriorated, the report said.
The Yangtze basin one of the most polluted rivers in the world because of decades of heavy industrialisation, damming and influxes of sediment from land conversion.
The UN grant agreements signed included a plan to integrate environmental assessments into mining and tourism development plans in Sichuan province and a project focusing on biodiversity conservation in Yunnan province.
Critics say plans to dam Yunnan's Nu River with a chain of hydropower stations would tear apart the region's fragile environmental fabric, but Wu declined to comment on the dam.
Officials warned that biodiversity losses globally would compound the threat of climate change.
"There is a double link between biodiversity and climate change," said the European Union's Michael Pulch.
"Biodiversity is threatened by climate change, and at the same time, biodiversity is a precious resource to reduce and mitigate the effects of climate change."