China’s ecological protection picks up steam

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During an inspection tour of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northwest China, President Xi Jinping visited Wuzhong, where the Yellow River flows through the city’s center, on June 8.

“[Xi’s] visiting the same river four times in one year indicates the importance of the ecological protection of the Yellow River for our country,” a commentary by Xinhua News Agency said.

Since 2012, the Central Government has put more emphasis on protecting the environment, which has been damaged by rapid economic development. The revised Environmental Protection Law that took effect in early 2015 provides stricter rules for environmental protection supervision and harsher punishment for any deeds that harm the ecological environment.

Huang Runqiu, Minister of Ecology and Environment, announced during the Third Session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) in May that seven of the nine binding targets set for evaluating environmental protection work in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) had been achieved by the end of 2019. Huang’s words were backed up by a report issued by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) on June 2, which showed that China saw a steadily improving environment in 2019.

A national strategy

The Yellow River, the second longest river in the country, is the cradle of China’s civilization. The 5,464-km-long waterway spans nine provinces and autonomous regions, supplies water to more than 60 cities, feeds about 12 percent of China’s population and supports 14 percent of the national GDP. It is on the priority list of ecological protection.

Since the 1990s, the river has faced ecological challenges such as flow cutoff, contamination and silt buildup that might lead to floods. Given the fragile environment along the river, the government put forward a series of new measures to strengthen ecological protection and boost high-quality development.

After stressing the importance of the river’s ecological protection last August in Lanzhou, capital city of Gansu Province in northwest China, Xi set ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River Basin as a major national strategy at a symposium in Henan Province in central China on September 15, 2019.

In May, amid the slowdown of the economy and uncertainties brought on by the novel coronavirus outbreak, Xi visited the Yellow River in Shanxi Province in north China. After the annual sessions of the 13th NPC and the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) concluded in Beijing in late May, the president visited the Yellow River again in Ningxia.

Intensive measures have been taken to enhance ecological protection and control along the river this year. In late May, drawing on the experience of mapping sewage outlets along the Bohai Sea and the Yangtze last year to control sewage discharge, the MEE launched a similar campaign to improve the environment along the banks of the Yellow River.

On June 5, World Environment Day, the Supreme People’s Court issued a guideline on improving legal services to protect the Yellow River Basin’s environment and promote development, directing courts along the river to provide stronger legal protection to its environment and ecology and mete out harsher punishment to polluters. According to statistics from the top court, 246 judicial teams specializing in environmental cases have been established in the courts.

In addition, the country has built more than 400 wetland nature reserves and national parks in the river basin. Ma Chaohong, a protector at a Yellow River wetland nature reserve in Luoyang, Henan, has been observing birds at the reserve through telescope for two decades. When the reserve was set up in 1995, there were only about 40 species in the reserve. Now, the number has increased to over 250, with more than 100,000 birds nesting in the reserve.

“I was born on the bank of the river,” Ma told Henan TV. “Since the 1990s, with more human activity and industrial projects along the river, the environment was greatly contaminated. But in recent years, with intensive protection measures, I would say the scene now more or less mirrors the image of my childhood memories.”

Thanks to efforts in conserving water sources and controlling soil erosion, the environment along the Yellow River in Gansu Province has been improved significantly, according to Ouyang Jian, a member of the 13th National Committee of the CPPCC and Chairman of the CPPCC Gansu Provincial Committee.

At the same time, he admitted that the ecological environment in the Yellow River Basin is still fragile and suggested setting up an ecological compensation mechanism, along with a special national fund for ecological protection and high-quality development of the Yellow River.

On May 9, the Ministry of Finance, together with three other ministries, issued a plan to pilot ecological compensation in nine provinces and regions in the river basin.

Under an ecological compensation mechanism, beneficiaries and polluters in the river basin should provide compensation for victims and protectors.

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