China’s parliament focuses on environmental protection

Many proposals stress controls on air and soil pollution and call for legislative safeguards for an ecological civilization

China’s parliamentary season — the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) — has opened in Beijing with a distinctly environmental flavour. Of the first three proposals submitted to the CPPCC, two concerned environmental protection. Many of the early proposals from non-Communist parties have also focused on topics including smog and soil pollution.

The NPC is a legislative body and its motions legally binding, while the CPPCC is advisory only. Each year, organisations and individuals make suggestions for new laws, hoping the members of each body will take up their cause and pass them on to the country’s decision makers.

This year’s wave of environment-focused proposals comes amid growing anger about the state of the country’s air, water and land. CPPCC member and former NBA basketball star Yao Ming said: “It’s not just the sky I don’t dare look at, I don’t even dare to look at the ground now. In my opinion, Beijing air quality took a dramatic change for the worst after the Olympics. We need to think a bit more in the long term. We need to think about this problem ahead of time, and not just think of dealing with it when everything is covered by sand.” 

The third proposal made to the CPPCC this year, submitted by the China National Democratic Construction Association, concerned the "strengthening of national controls on air pollution". According to Shanghai Securities News, it recommends revisions to China’s existing air pollution laws, including the gradual incorporation of PM2.5 emissions into national mandatory targets, the adoption of effective measures to reduce traffic pollution and boost public transparency.

More environmental proposals are on their way. Former vice environment minister Zhang Lijun revealed that CPPCC members from the Ministry of Environmental Protection will submit two proposals during the parliamentary sitting, according to China Securities Journal. Again, one of these is to revise existing laws on air pollution.

The current Law on the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution was drawn up in 1987. Even though it was revised in 1995 and again in 2000, it has still been difficult to adapt to the regional requirements and the past few years have seen repeated calls for this outdated piece of legislation to be revamped. However, because of resistance from industrial sectors, limitations to the revision of laws schedule, and the relatively low degree of public participation, this has not happened.

Attention is also being given to green agriculture and prevention of soil pollution. In their proposal on "strengthening the development of green agriculture", political party the Jiu San Society pointed out that at least 16% of China’s cultivated land suffers heavy-metal pollution, wrote the Economic Information Daily. The situation is serious in areas bordering large cities and industrial and mining zones. Around 50% of Guangzhou’s farmland is polluted by heavy metals including cadmium, arsenic and mercury. In Liaoning province, cultivated land around certain lead and zinc mines has concentrations of cadmium and lead that exceed legal limits by at least 60%.

The authors of this proposal argue that it is necessary to overhaul China’s agriculatural development model and take measures to build a low-consumption, low emissions and efficient industry.

The Zhigong Party, a legally recognised non-Communist political party, also focused on green agriculture. Southern Metropolis Daily quoted their proposal calling for the establishment of a sound agricultural environment protection law and the removal of economic evaluation and rankings of China’s main grain-producing regions from the “top 100 counties” list.

Local governments in some key grain-producing areas single-mindedly pursue GDP, importing heavily polluting industries that have already been phased out in eastern coastal regions, the party said. There is a serious contradiction between the utilitarian mindset of many regions which empahise the immediate economic benefits of raising GDP and the urgency for the long-term protection of the agricultural environment, they added.

Other non-Communist parties also submitted proposals calling for environmental management and ecological protection, including the Chinese Peasants and Workers’ Democratic Party, which called for a vigorous response to dealing with smog, wrote The Securities Times