BEIJING — China has made environmental protection and restoration a top priority in its development plan for the Yangtze River economic belt, a senior official said on Sept 11 while discussing the national plan to boost the economy along China’s longest river.
The development of the economic belt will follow a green path, with the strictest environmental protection and water resources management measures, according to an official from the leading group of the Yangtze River economic belt development.
The official said China aimed to markedly improve the environment of the economic belt by 2020, with over 75 percent of the region’s water meeting Grade III standard or above and forest coverage reaching 43 percent.
China classifies water quality into six levels, from level I, which is suitable for drinking after minimal treatment, to level VI, which is severely contaminated.
By 2030, the region’s aquatic environment and ecosystem will be much improved, the official said.
Environmental protection and green development are “of paramount importance” in the development of the economic belt, and the program should not be used as an excuse for unfettered construction, said the official.
Revered as the nation’s “Mother River,” the Yangtze traverses eastern, central and western China and joins the prospering coastal regions with the less developed inland. It is one of the busiest inland rivers in the world for freight traffic.
China made it a national strategy to develop the Yangtze River economic belt in 2014. The move is expected to boost concerted development in riverside regions and provide new growth stimuli for China’s slowing economy.
The Yangtze River Economic Belt involves nine provinces and two municipalities that cover roughly one-fifth of China’s land, accommodates a population of 600 million and generates more than 40 percent of the country’s GDP.
The economic belt boasts huge potential, but its development has been constrained by grim environmental conditions, clogged river traffic, regional imbalances and outdated industries, the official said.
To better protect the environment along the Yangtze, administrative boundaries must be removed, and the market should be given a bigger role, the official said.
A “negative list” will be rolled out across the economic belt, banning certain industries from the region.
Limits will be put on water and environmental pollution, the official underscored, which will clearly define acceptable levels of pollutants.
A cross-regional, inter-department emergency response system will be set up to handle environmental incidents, while compensation will be given to encourage local governments to preserve the environment.
China’s top leaders have, on many occasions, said that environmental protection will play a large part in the development of the Yangtze River economic belt, noting that economic activity should not damage the environment.
In addition to environmental protection, the official also unveiled other targets, including improving the river’s traffic capacity, promoting innovation and industrial upgrading, boosting urbanization, advancing opening up and establishing a modern market economy.
The Yangtze will be developed into a “golden waterway” by 2030, with unhampered traffic flow on the river. A low-carbon, integrated transport system will connect roads, railways and air routes by 2020, said the official.
About 60 percent of the total freight volume on China’s inland rivers travels along the Yangtze, which saw cargo traffic rise to 2.18 billion tons in 2015, up 45 percent from 2010, according to government data.
Waterway restoration will be conducted on the Yangtze and its tributaries to improve navigation on the waterway, the official said.
Ships will have to pass certain standards, construction of ports and wharves will be strictly regulated, while port and shipping firms will be encouraged to merge or share resources along the river.
In terms of innovation, the official said, spending on research and development will account for 2.5 percent of the economic belt’s GDP by 2020, and it will be home to a group of world-class companies and industries.
Three “poles of economic growth” will be formed along the river, including the delta, city clusters along the central course and the Chengdu-Chongqing economic zone, located in the upper reaches.
Urbanization rate of the region’s population will be 60 percent by 2020, while the quality and efficiency of its economy will be substantially improved.
By 2030, an innovative, modern industrial system will be fully incorporated and integrated along the river, making the economic belt a “strategic support” for national economic and social development, the official said.