Beijing Water

Raise environment watchdog to ministerial level: academics

Bill Savadove, South China Morning Post

January 29, 2007

A group of academics has called for more power to be given to the State Environmental Protection Administration (Sepa) and for the creation of a new energy ministry, as the mainland tries to tackle the consequences of rapid development.

 

A joint report by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and mainland universities released at the weekend also urged the establishment of a new government body to handle regional development, state media said.

The China Modernisation Report 2007 said elevating Sepa to ministry level would allow the government to improve its response to worsening pollution. Sepa officials and the World Bank, among others, have described the difficulties environmental officials have in making local governments apply standards. A new energy ministry would help the country set policy for energy security, the report said.

China’s voracious appetite for oil and natural gas caused by rapid economic growth has raised global concern about competition for resources. Energy policy is now split between different government bodies, including the National Development and Reform Commission, or left in the hands of the country’s large oil companies.

The report said the government should also set up an office to manage regional development, given disparities between different areas. During the past decade, the mainland has launched campaigns to develop lagging western regions and revitalise old industrial areas in the northeast.

The administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao has made developing rural areas a priority.

Experts have previously floated the ideas of setting up an energy ministry and a regional development agency, but the government has yet to act. Media reports did not say if the recommendations in the report would be implemented.

Separately, the academics predicted China would become an industrial economy, as opposed to an agricultural one, by 2015, Xinhua reported, but gave few details. “By then, its social and economic indicators will reach the level of developed countries in 1960s,” the agency said.

The report claimed China had reached the industrial-economy level in the areas of life expectancy, adult literacy and higher education. But it still fell short in areas such as the service industry and proportion of urban residents. More than two-thirds of the mainland’s people are considered rural residents.

The report includes a number of familiar policies, including reducing pollution and upgrading technology to achieve this goal. Protecting forests and reducing pollution from construction sites are among the other proposals. The government should encourage recycling and create national policies for energy security and environmental safety, it said.

The report ranked the mainland 100th of 118 developing and developed countries in the study, based on 2004 data.

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