Sichuan tackles environmental problems

By Wendy Min Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/2 20:19:14

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The first step to solving any problem is to admit it. Finding an issue, highlighting it and ensuring that drastic steps are taken takes courage. Too often, one will turn a blind eye since the truth hurts and solving problems is a hassle. As a developing country, China's fast economic growth has come at a great environmental cost. With smoggy days that exceed World Health Organization standards, serious water pollution that affects the lives of millions of citizens and 16 percent of soil exceeding state pollution limits, environmental problems lead to costs in health and the economy. No one is blind to these issues, which makes the steps taken by Sichuan in raising environmental protection and pinpointing cases of pollution and environmental degradation something that should be followed by all.

Since 2016, Sichuan has conducted investigations into 21 cities and publicly published 8,924 cases relating to environmental negligence. Some will say that this is a stupid move since dirty laundry must remain hidden and by exposing these problems, the officials in Sichuan are harming themselves in the eyes of the Central Government. However, if officials continue to hide the truth and lie and leave pollution untreated, this will only have a lasting and irreversible effect on the motherland and future generations. Many officials only like to report on the positives to the Central Government. This mentality and action is detrimental and an insult to the plans and goals initiated by the Party. Sichuan is serious and took a different approach.

From the latest "panda" solar panel plant to investments made in green energy and continuous cooperation with the international community, President Xi Jinping has on countless occasions voiced China's commitment to reducing pollution and ensuring a sustainable and healthy economic and social development. His visit to Sichuan four years ago and his emphasis on such green developments launched the Sichuan war on pollution and environmental degradation. Whether it is air, water or soil pollution, officials and respective departments were given the task of conducting in-field investigations to really figure out the problem. Issuing a notice to factories will only encourage lying, thus many places were checked secretly and randomly with frequent monitoring. Since July 14, 80.5 percent of all 8,924 cases of environmental issues have been resolved. How wonderful would it be if every province in China followed suit?

This is no easy task for a country of 1.3 billion people. Factories and businesses create jobs even if they are contributors to pollution. Sichuan is home to hydroelectric power plants as well as factories. Shutting polluters down and slowing production will not only result in unemployment but also slow economic growth. Take the example of porcelain manufacturing bases in Sichuan. More than 120,000 people are employed in the industry and it contributes millions of dollars to the economy every year. Too often short-term goals of achieving low unemployment rates and fast GDP remain the top priority for local officials. The longer-term investments made on the environment are overlooked.

What kind of GDP does China really need? Double digit skyrocketing growth at the expense of the environment or one-digit steady growth? I would pick a green GDP over a smoggy one any day. No doubt, many in the West would gloat about China's "slowing growth" and come up with their latest "China failure, bubble burst, crash" theories but what they fail to understand that a slow green GDP is exactly what China needs at this particular stage since improvements in the environment are also improvements in productivity. President Xi is serious about a coordinated regional growth and green development strategy. Green development is prominent in the 13th five-year plan (2016 - 2020). "Green mountains and clean water are as good as gold and silver," and for China, a self-sufficient green economy is more urgent than ever.

So in the end is Sichuan seeing any positive signs? Despite the slowing economic growth and increasing workload for officials there, the province's Department of Environmental Protection reported that 21 cities in Sichuan have seen 80 percent of good days with sufficiently low air pollution. Although the benefits are not immediate, the green policies are nevertheless showing signs of improvement.

China cares about her image and there is no greater image for China than a green nation. Like most citizens in China, we wish for a greener tomorrow even if it means highlighting our own mistakes today.

The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia, educated in China, Australia and France. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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