Elizabeth Economy: Real Effort Needed to Save Environment

, senior fellow and director of Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, writes on urgent reforms needed to prevent further environmental disasters in China. Excerpted from China Daily:

Effective environmental protection rests on a partnership among local environmental protection officials, NGOs, the media, the public in general and – under the best circumstances – companies that are motivated to avoid harming the environment. China has all the actors in place, but none of them is fully empowered to do the right thing. A few small reforms would make all the difference.

First, local environmental protection bureaus are often understaffed and their employees underpaid. Indeed, according to Zhou Shengxian, only about 25 percent of the country’s more than 660 cities are even capable of monitoring water quality once a month to check for pollutants.

One way of enabling them to do so would be to place local environmental protection bureaus under the auspices of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) rather than local governments. This would allow for more capacity building and the establishment of uniform training and standards throughout the country. This may help reduce corruption, too, which causes roughly half of environmental funds to be spent on other things. Of course, this would mean substantially increasing the government’s environment budget, which at 1.3 percent of GDP is woefully small for the task at hand.

See also a linked opinion piece by Su Yang, senior research fellow with the Development Research Center of the State Council, on involving the public to rein in enterprises.

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