A welcome shift towards putting the environment first
Hopefully, after years of neglect and false hopes, this means China’s notorious land, water and air pollution will get the priority it deserves if the quality of life is to truly rank higher than headline growth figures
Striking the right balance between tourism-related development and the environment is a universal planning problem, especially near the sea. The magnetic attraction between coastal playgrounds and tourists can turn toxic when business investors and officials are tempted to put profit and economic growth before protection of the environment.
A widely cited example, thanks to President Xi Jinping’s shift of emphasis from headline growth to the environment and fairness, is the coastal island province of Hainan, a favourite with mainland tourists over the winter for its beaches and mountains.
The island has seen so much development along its coast in recent years, according to Xinhua, that environment ministry inspectors had concluded that it was “destroying the ecology for the sake of money” and tailoring government plans to suit property developers. Provincial authorities have now decided to shift priorities, with 12 of the island’s 19 regions set to dump economic targets and protect beaches and tropical rainforests instead of wooing investors.
This follows a report by the environment ministry that inspectors had found serious breaches of environmental standards involving severe damage to the coastline ecosystem, illegal reclamation and unauthorised tourism projects in eight of 10 protected conservation areas. Sewage systems had also not kept up with property projects and inspectors had been inundated with complaints about waste and rubbish being discharged directly into rivers and the sea.
According to Xinhua, local authorities including the provincial ocean and fisheries bureau and the municipal government of tourist hotspot Sanya were found to have neglected their duties in looking after the environment.
Beijing has given the provincial authorities 30 days to come up with a plan to address the problems and release it to the public. Hopefully, after years of neglect and false hopes, this means the mainland’s notorious land, water and air pollution will get the priority it deserves if the quality of life is to truly rank higher than headline growth figures.