Grim environment challenge

Updated: 2014-06-05 07:34

(China Daily)

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With all the input, of both pledges and resources, into an environmental cleanup, what this country achieved in 2013 appears less than impressive.

While environmental conditions saw some improvements, the overall situation remains "grim", according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

This is within anticipation, because we are now swallowing the bitter fruit of the poisonous but prevalent development philosophy that shouted "pollute first, address it later".

GDP-minded local bureaucrats have had earfuls of warnings about the consequences of this philosophy. But it seems nothing can prevent them from giving in to the temptation of good-looking growth figures, which until today offered the best bet for those seeking promotion.

The Scientific Outlook on Development, which emphasizes environment-friendly growth, sounds good and sensible. But more often than not, it has remained on the lips of local officials, whose eyes have remained fixed on career-boosting growth figures.

The increasingly toxic air in a rapidly growing number of Chinese cities has eventually prompted reflection on the devastating side effects of the country's approach to growth. To many urban residents in China in the past year, the most impressive change regarding the environment, except for the sudden awareness of the value of clean air, has been the high-profile campaign to reduce the smog.

Serious pollution, however, extends far beyond the air we breathe. The national environmental watchdog, in its report on nationwide environmental conditions in 2013, admits that the water and soil pollution is just as bad.

So, on the heels of an action plan for air pollution prevention and control, known as the "10 rules on air", the central authorities are working on similar plans to address the water and soil contamination.

Stricter watchdog oversight and harsher punishments have also been written into the environmental protection law, which many have long complained was toothless.

But this country has never lacked action plans, solemn pledges and laws and rules. And the concern now is that the policy orientation of the central government, which is taking advantage of the economic slowdown to press ahead with restructuring, could easily lead things astray, as officials are also aware that growth should not fall below a "reasonable range".

Should the slowdown approach that bottom-line and raise questions about sustainability, the danger is the old philosophy of growth may be the fall-back position. The task of balancing decent growth while still addressing environmental concerns is challenging, but the latter cannot be ignored as it would come at too big a cost.