Lo­cal of­fi­cials need more en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The en­vi­ron­men­tal in­spec­tion teams sent by the cen­tral au­thor­i­ties to over­see the anti-pol­lu­tion ef­forts of the lo­cal gov­ern­ments in Tian­jin and five prov­inces, in­clud­ing An­hui, Shanxi and Liaon­ing, have de­scribed the sit­u­a­tions they found as “shock­ing”. In Tian­jin, where petro­chem­i­cal in­dus­tries thrive, air pol­lu­tion wors­ened in the first quar­ter of this year, with the in­ten­sity of PM2.5 — par­tic­u­late mat­ter with di­am­e­ter smaller than 2.5 mi­crom­e­ters that can pen­e­trate deep into peo­ple’s lungs — in­creas­ing by 28 per­cent year-on-year.

In An­hui prov­ince, 740,000 square me­ters of wet­land sur­round­ing its big­gest lake, Chaohu, have been turned into an in­dus­trial waste dump, and the wors­en­ing wa­ter qual­ity re­sulted in more than 30 per­cent of the lake be­ing cov­ered in al­gae last year.

The in­spec­tion teams also found some lo­cal of­fi­cials forged en­vi­ron­men­tal data, and, when pol­lu­tion prob­lems were ex­posed, merely gave the vi­o­la­tors a slap on the wrist.

The in­spec­tors at­trib­uted the prob­lems to the weak en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness of lo­cal of­fi­cials, who don’t ap­pre­ci­ate its im­por­tance and tend to pay lip ser­vice to the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s call for strength­ened en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion while fa­vor­ing lo­cal eco­nomic growth no mat­ter the cost to the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, the cen­tral en­vi­ron­men­tal in­spec­tion teams have so far vis­ited 23 prov­inces, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and au­tonomous re­gions since the start of 2016. Fines of 880 mil­lion yuan ($129 mil­lion) have been im­posed and more than 1,000 peo­ple de­tained for cases re­lated to pol­lu­tion. Tens of thou­sands of of­fi­cials have also been held ac­count­able for their in­ac­tion or dere­lic­tion of duty with re­gard to en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

This shows that de­spite the cen­tral lead­er­ship’s call for green and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, the en­vi­ron­men­tal sit­u­a­tion in many places con­tin­ues to de­te­ri­o­rate.

The dire and wors­en­ing pol­lu­tion in many parts of the coun­try shows that stricter mea­sures are needed to tar­get vi­o­la­tors of the en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and of­fi­cials who fail in their duty to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, greater ef­forts are also needed to up­grade the growth model of lo­cal economies, too many of which still rely on tra­di­tional pol­lut­ing in­dus­tries.

As Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has said, green moun­tains and clear wa­ter are more valu­able than moun­tains of gold and sil­ver. To drive home this mes­sage, more heads need to roll, so that lo­cal of­fi­cials take se­ri­ously their duty to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and pro­mote more sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.

To build an eco­log­i­cal civ­i­liza­tion, lo­cal of­fi­cials must pur­sue eco­nomic growth that is in­no­va­tive, co­or­di­nated and more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly.

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