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Chinese Minister Makes Call to Go Green

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A top Chinese minister has a word of warning for the newly rich.

"It is a disgraceful lifestyle to drive a BMW but have only dirty water to drink," said Zhou Shengxian, minister of environmental protection.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Zhou said he is concerned about a lack of respect for the environment as the country carries out its economic stimulus plan, which Beijing introduced last November to temper the impact of the global financial crisis.

To coincide with World Environment Day on Friday, Zhou announced he is leading his 200-odd staff into all-out warfare, including a publicity plan to promote green modernization and ensure environmental well-being for the country's 1.3 billion people in a 30-trillion yuan economy.

Fact-finding teams from the Ministry of Environmental Protection recently visited some 40 cities and discovered defects in the 4-trillion yuan stimulus package, which is funding investment in many new infrastructure projects and factories.

Of particular concern, he said, is: environmental protection not being highlighted in the overall plan; new industrial operations causing additional environmental problems in China's central and western frontier regions; national environmental protection policies being affected; environmental management by companies becoming more relaxed, and corporate investment in pollution control seeing a marked decline.

Zhou pledged the ministry will use the most stringent measures to ensure the country's green development, especially using its power in the approval and review of new projects.

From November to the end of February, the ministry rejected or suspended approval of 14 polluting and high energy-consuming projects with development budgets totaling 104 billion yuan.

On top of that, ministry officials told China Daily on Thursday that due partly to government policing of investment projects, China is fully capable of meeting its goals in the emission control of sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand, a main index of water pollution. The target is to cut emissions by 10 percent of the nation's 2005 level, in line with the goals for the country's 2006-2010 development program.

Controlling those two emissions had only been possible when developed countries' per capita GDP reached the US$20,000 level. It is a feat for China to achieve the same when its per capital GDP is only around US$3,000, he said.

This is because the country has come to realize that no economic policy can be successful if not matched by sound environmental policy, Zhou said.

Convinced that China can "use the crisis as an opportunity to adjust its industrial structure," Zhou also said he and his staff would keep an eye out for local governments attempting to ignore environmental protection in their investment initiatives.

(China Daily June 5, 2009)