China sets up new ministries to oversee environment, natural resources

The move will bring together regulatory duties once scattered across many agencies to better combat pollution.
The move will bring together regulatory duties once scattered across many agencies to better combat pollution.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China will set up two ministries to oversee the protection of its natural resources, and ecology and environment.

The move will bring together regulatory duties once scattered across many agencies to better combat pollution, according to a plan unveiled on Tuesday (March 13) by a top Chinese official.

The two ministries - the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Ecological Environment - are part of a proposed reshuffle of government departments presented to China's Parliament, the National People's Congress, by state councillor Wang Yong.

The changes effectively upgrade the existing Ministry of Environmental Protection, replacing it with the Ministry of Ecological Environment.

This new ministry will tackle problems such as climate change and greenhouse emissions, which were previously under the National Development and Reform Commission.

It will also tackle sea, river and groundwater pollution, nuclear and radiation safety, formulate and implement policies, plans and standards on the ecology and environment, and monitor and enforce them, Mr Wang said.

He told almost 3,000 delegates at the Great Hall of the People that the new ministry will "ensure the preservation of the country's ecology, and build a beautiful China".

Safeguarding the environment is a key goal for Beijing, with Chinese President Xi Jinping pledging to build a "beautiful China" with blue skies and clean air during the 19th Party Congress last year.

While the country is the world's largest polluter, it has also remained committed to the Paris climate change accord even as the United States has said it would withdraw.

Meanwhile, the new Ministry of Natural Resources will oversee the management of China's grasslands, forests, wetlands, water and maritime resources, and urban and township planning. These tasks were once the responsibilities of various ministries or agencies.

It will look to develop and protect these natural resources, and establish a system for paid use of them.

The ministry will also be in charge of Beijing's reforestation push to help combat desertification - a scourge which puts the country's precious little arable land at risk.

Mr Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a non-governmental organisation, said the structural changes highlighted the urgency with which China's natural resources had to be protected.

"The changes will strengthen environmental protection and regulation, but it will also be an internal challenge to integrate all these new responsibilities into the two new ministries," he said.