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White Paper: Improvements in Environment and Foreign Cooperations by Victoria Cole, June 24, 2015 Adjust font size:

The Chinese government released a white paper on June 8th, entitled "Progress in China's Human Rights in 2014", highlighting the progress of human rights protection in the legal system as well as economic and social development.

“Right to a Clean and Healthy Environment”

"In 2014 the Chinese government gave the country's major environmental problems high priority, making considerable efforts to safeguard the people's right to a clean and healthy environment, and further exploring a new way to make ecological progress with Chinese characteristics."

As indicated in the white paper's introduction of the section, the environment, and people's health as result, has been a major topic for years now in China. The recovery and protection of the environment and natural resources will take time, but the Chinese government has certainly made their efforts a priority in protecting its citizens and China. Much progress was made in the legal system regarding environmental and eco-system protection. The paper had this to say:

"China made a comprehensive amendment to the Environmental Protection Law, by which governments at all levels and all enterprises are required to shoulder more responsibilities, the citizens' right to a clean and healthy environment and their duties regarding the protection of the environment are clearly defined, and a series of new mechanisms concerning closing down or distraining facilities (causing environmental pollution), total quantity control of major pollutant emissions, fines accumulating by the day, production restriction and halts, detention, environmental public interests litigation, regional joint defense against and control of pollution, and public participation are included."

Many 2014 figures on ecological construction were also reported in the white paper. Of those, highlights include: "some 6.027 million ha of trees were planted all around China", the State "newly designated 23 counties as pilot areas for forest conservation" and "built 11 new nature reserves totaling 140,000 ha." "By the end of 2014 there were 2,729 nature reserves in China, including 428 national ones."

The white paper enthusiastically reported on the results of energy conservation and emission reduction in 2014. As stated in the paper, "China made an enormous adjustment to its industrial structure, accomplishing the year's goal of abolishing outdated production capacities in 15 key industries like steel and cement, and over fulfilling the targets for scrapping yellow-labeled and outdated vehicles whose emissions were above the national standards."

The report said that "a goal-oriented responsibility and assessment system for air protection was gradually put in place." In terms of air emissions, "the chemical oxygen demand, and the discharges of ammonia nitrogen, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide continued to decrease…" Finally, "clean energy sources such as hydroelectricity, wind energy, nuclear energy and natural gas, rose to 16.9 percent of all energy consumption in China during the year."

The paper also stattd that measures were taken so that "punishments for activities violating environmental laws were intensified." This was seen in 2014 as 840,000 enterprises were inspected and 8,373 cases were settled, as stated in the paper. According to the paper, "China actively explored a trans-regional and trans-river joint prevention and coordination mechanism, gradually established trans-regional joint planning, monitoring, forecasting, prevention and control systems for air and water quality in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta areas, and improved the relevant information-sharing mechanism."

The paper elaborated on the special tribunal that the Supreme People's Court established to "hear cases related to the environment and natural resources, and stipulated a practical environmental public interest litigation system covering jurisdiction, judicial procedure, liability, compensation scope and lawsuit costs, so as to fully safeguard the right of public interest litigation of the institutions and related civil organizations as stipulated by the law" and on "ten typical administrative cases concerning environmental protection" that can be used to aid in future cases. Many environmental cases were also opened and closed in 2014, as indicated by the paper. Considering the progress the government has made and is still making in environmental law, the influx of cases over the last year is definitely good for experience and further exploration into areas of efficiency, regulation and education.

In line with the call of government to increase citizen involvement, particularly with topics of environmental protection, the paper says this:

"The amended Environmental Protection Law stipulates that: The environmental departments should disclose information about the environment and improve their procedures, so as to facilitate the public's participation in and supervision of environmental protection; the environmental NGOs which have registered with the civil affairs authorities at municipalities which contain districts or above, which are engaged in environmental protection for the public interest and have no law violation records for five consecutive years are eligible to file environmental public interest lawsuits to the people's courts, and the latter should accept and hear all lawsuits filed by eligible NGOs."

As such, the government is placing much emphasis on increasing communication and awareness or such topics. "Since January 1, 2014 the national air quality real-time announcement website has released 150,000 pieces of information on the air quality in cities." Even the Ministry of Environmental Protection had set up a hotline for environmental complaints, and "by the end of 2014 the hotline had handled 1,463 complaints from the public, and settled all of them on time." Not only was the hotline efficient in its intended goal, the paper also mentions the ministry "publish[ed] the names of reported offending enterprises, their problems and the handling of their problems in the China Environment News and the website of the ministry every month", only further deterring actions with negative environmental effects, but also further encouraging citizens to be more aware, knowledgeable and perceptive of such issues.

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