China sets up environment ministry with more powers

It will help prevent systemic destruction of country's ecology, says environment minister

The formation of the new Ministry of Ecological Environment, which has sweeping powers to curb pollution, is a major step to protect the environment and will help prevent systemic destruction of China's ecology, said environment minister Li Ganjie yesterday.

The new ministry will replace the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which Mr Li currently heads, and take over major environmental protection responsibilities, including climate change and emissions reduction policies, agricultural pollution and marine conservation, among others. These are currently scattered across various government agencies and ministries.

Mr Li said the new ministry will be able to coordinate policies and efforts to protect all aspects of China's environment, from its forests, lakes and rivers, to its grasslands and fields.

"If those who plant trees only bother about trees, if those who administer water resources only bother about water, and if those who protect the fields only bother about fields - it is easy to overlook other areas (of the environment), and the ecology will inevitably be systematically destroyed," he said.

Mr Li was speaking at a press conference on fighting pollution held on the sidelines of this year's National People's Congress (NPC) meetings. Fighting pollution is one of three "critical battles" outlined by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the others being reducing poverty and tackling financial risks.

Earlier yesterday, the NPC passed plans by the State Council, China's Cabinet, to set up the new ministry. The plans were part of a wide-ranging Cabinet reshuffle.

Mr Li said the reforms to the environment ministry fully reflect Mr Xi's thoughts on building an "ecological civilisation", adding that one aspect will see China take a more active part in global governance to build a clean and beautiful world.

Responding to a question on whether China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) threatened participating countries' environment, Mr Li said this would not happen as BRI will be sustainable only if it is "green".

On a question about China's ban on foreign waste imports last July, he said processing such waste domestically was creating severe pollution and harm to the environment. "All countries must deal with their own generation of hazardous waste, reduce this on their own, and process this on their own; only with this understanding... can we build a clean and beautiful world," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 18, 2018, with the headline 'China sets up environment ministry with more powers'. Print Edition | Subscribe