China's drive for economic growth is in direct conflict with efforts to safeguard the environment, the government warned on Monday, and degradation is worsening despite official efforts to curb pollution.
BEIJING China's drive for economic growth is in direct conflict with efforts to safeguard the environment, the government warned on Monday, and degradation is worsening despite official efforts to curb pollution.
A paper released by the cabinet on World Environment Day came amid rising public concern about smoggy skies and toxic spills that are poisoning rivers and drinking water, despite government pledges to clean up in time for the 2008 Olympics.
"The conflict between environment and development is becoming ever more prominent," the paper said.
The conflict is obvious in urban centres such as Beijing, where 1,000 new vehicles take to the road each day. To mark World Environment Day, about 250,000 people pledged to take up a local initiative to leave their cars at home.
But in the city of more than 16 million, there was little discernible impact on the capital's smoggy skies and the evening rush hour was as congested as ever.
Auto emissions would only get worse, the China Daily said in an editorial, warning that even better fuel standards would have limited impact in the face of car ownership that is likely to double in the next decade.
Economic growth was also straining resources, the cabinet paper warned.
"Relative shortage of resources, fragile ecology and insufficient environmental capacity are becoming critical problems hindering China's development."
DUST STORMS, TOXIC SPILL
The ruling Communist Party has promised to balance economic development with environmental safeguards, after a year in which sandstorms coated the capital in dust and a chemical spill poisoned a major river, thrusting its record on pollution into the global spotlight.
But economic growth has been averaging about 10 percent annually, far greater than the 7.5 percent growth rates on which the government's targets for pollution reduction are based.
"If the economy is growing too rapidly, environmental resources will be faced with tremendous pressures and therefore such development is not sustainable," Zhu Guangyao, vice-minister at the State Environmental Protection Administration, said.
Considerations of land and other resources would play a more prominent role in the approval process for large-scale projects, Zhu told a news conference. Such projects have sometimes led to riots over environmental pollution in recent years.
Zhu said implementing central government guidelines would also be a challenge for local officials, who are accustomed to being judged on growth above all else and are fearful of the economic impact of tighter environmental controls.
"Local environmental NGOs do not dare criticise local governments for their unscientific decisions," Zhu said. "Some local governments are reluctant to implement or are even working against environmental laws."
In Shanghai, China's richest city, the local environment bureau was quoted as saying that companies that pollute would find it harder to get loans because their green credentials would be linked to their creditworthiness.
But China's enforcement is still dogged by under-funding and a lack of resources, a senior SEPA official was quoted as saying on the ministry's Web site (www.zhb.gov.cn).
"Investment in ecological protection is inadequate," the official said. "We need to adopt more vigorous measures."
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard)