(Photo: China Daily)
Editor's Note: Thanks to years of efforts, China has made some remarkable achievements in the field of environmental protection. But can it overcome the remaining challenges? In the second of a series of commentaries, a senior journalist of China Daily tries to find the answer:
Chinese people complain a lot about environmental deterioration nowadays. Surprisingly, when doing so, they claim to miss "the good old days when the skies were blue and the rivers clean", as if environmental degradation began just a few years ago.
I can't forget how difficult it was to breathe at times in my hometown of Xi'an 50 years ago, because about half a million coal-fueled stoves were used for cooking and heating. I can't forget how unbearable it was 40 years ago in Shanghai when foul odors from a nearby chemical plant pervaded my university campus all year round. Nor can I forget what Beijing residents had to endure 30 years ago when frequent, severe sandstorms hit the city. Few, if any, complained then because we thought it was what it was.
As for environmental protection, well, it was a rarely heard term then. Environmental pollution is not new only that more people complain about it today because of rising public awareness about the environment and the governments' education policy.
Party and government leaders are leading the fight against environmental degradation. Billions of trees have been planted since Tree Planting Day in 1979, curbing desertification in North China and reducing sandstorms in Beijing and other parts of northern China. In fact, a recent World Bank report said forest cover has been declining globally, except for East Asia, thanks to the notable expansion of forests in China.
In 1983, environmental protection was included as a basic State policy along with opening-up and family planning. Since then many laws and regulations have been enacted, supervision strengthened and violators punished. Environmental protection has become such a big issue that at the 2018 session of the National People's Congress, 403, or 9.08 percent, of the delegates' motions were related to it. Echoing the concerns of the delegates and the public, the State Council's government work report said pollution reduction was one of the three battles that must be won in the next few years－the other two being preventing major risks and alleviating poverty.
Money matters a lot when it comes to environmental and ecological protection. Since the money for environmental protection comes from different levels of governments and enterprises, NGOs and even individuals, the exact amount China spends on the environment project is not known. But a safe figure would be about 2 trillion yuan ($295 billion) a year, with an annual increase of nearly 200 billion yuan.
More chapters on environmental protection have been added to primary and high school textbooks, and teachers are organizing activities on the UN Environment Day and Earth Day to increase children's environmental awareness. No wonder when about a dozen cities including Shanghai and Beijing introduced garbage classification about two years ago, many children taught their parents and grandparents how to sort dry and wet waste. So when this eco-friendly generation grows up, we can expect to see an even greener China.
But since one country alone cannot win the fight against climate change, China has been deeply involved in global eco-friendly projects. As recognized by UN institutions, China has, ahead of schedule, met the targets set by the UN to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The Chinese government and people attach great importance to global cooperation on environmental protection, as they know China has benefited from imported scientific knowledge and technology and personnel exchanges. In fact, environmental NGOs were the first to be allowed to operate in China in the 1980s; they are still making valuable contributions to China's fight against climate change.
William Lindesay, an Englishman who used to be my colleague in China Daily, has been engaged in environmental protection along the Great Wall for 30 years. Living with his family at the foot of the Great Wall in Beijing, he organizes regular activities to collect garbage from and along the wall, and delivers lectures on the environment to the Chinese people and foreigners along the wall. We should salute Lindesay and foreign friends like him who have been working to improve our environment.
Yet I won't complain about people's complaints about the deteriorating environment, because I believe their complaints will prompt the government to intensify efforts to make China even greener and more beautiful.
The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.