BEIJING, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Although progress has been made in the past year, China's environment, especially water, air and soil, faces serious challenges, according to a report on Thursday.
Officials called for improvements to the legal system, a more environmentally friendly development outlook and better institutions to protect the worsening environment.
At a press conference ahead of the World Environment Day on Thursday, vice minister of environmental protection Li Ganjie quoted the report as saying that although China's environment has improved in general, water quality is "not optimistic" and air quality in cities is "serious".
In China's top 10 river valleys in 2013, about 9 percent of the water sections was class V; the worst level. Of 4,778 monitoring sites for groundwater almost 60 percent were poor or extremely poor.
Water quality offshore is not good either, according to the report, with 18.6 percent of offshore water areas only reaching class IV. Water quality in the East China Sea and in four of China's nine biggest bays was extremely poor.
As for air quality in cities, only three of the 74 monitored cities met the national standard for good air in 2013. Accumulation of air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide led to acid rain which mostly affected areas along the Yangtze River, especially the southern side of the middle and lower reaches, around 10.6 percent of the nation's land.
Soil pollution and land degradation are also serious, according to Li, who added that the arable land reduced by 80,200 hectares in 2013, and a total of 295 million hectares, or 30.7 percent of China's land area, suffering soil erosion.
Although conditions remain grim, the situation improved last year with more acknowledgement and focus on the problems brought by decades of rapid growth.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian said emissions of major pollutants have dropped in the past year. For example, chemical oxygen demand (COD) emissions reduced by 2.9 percent, while emissions of sulfur dioxide dropped by 3.5 percent, but compared to 2012, the percentage of class V water quality in the 10 major river basins dropped by only 1.2 percentage points.
As for air quality in cities, a five-year action plan in 2013 put forward 35 integrated measures. The plan stipulated cuts in coal use and the density of inhalable particulate matter, as well as the closure of polluting enterprises. Three metropolitan areas have regulations for addressing air pollution and joint mechanisms have been established.
The environment watchdog has improved supervision in rural areas, especially in groundwater restoration.
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A better legal system, stricter supervision and focus on environmental protection, even if economic growth will be affected in the short term, have been promised.
The top legislature in April approved the revised law on environmental protection, which stipulates that environmental protection is a basic policy of the country, and prioritizes protection over economic development.
Zhou Shengxian wants to improve the legal system to establish more strict supervision of environment issues, and address pollution of water, air and soil through legal means.
Li Ganjie told the press conference that the ministry sees water, air and soil pollution as its major tasks for the coming years, adding that action plans will address water and soil pollution as soon as possible.Better handling of interplay between economic development and environmental protection, are also needed. Li believes the two are not contradictory, as long as an environmentally friendly outlook is held.
A pleasing environment and ecosystem are quality assets of a place that can help attract advanced production factors, especially in high-tech industries, Li said.
Although economic development and GDP growth may be affected by stricter environmental protection in the short term, it is conducive to the quality and sustainable economic and social development in the long term, he added.