The policy environment and administrative systems that apply to resources and the environment

As a developing country with a global awareness, China began to follow international environmental and resource issues back in the 1960s, as well as the global thinking and the movements associated with these issues. In 1972, China sent a delegation to the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and began to make sure the countiy’s environmental problems were on its own national agenda. Starting in the 1980s, China began to build environmental and resources systems at a faster pace. By benefiting from international experience with respect to the cooperative framework on international resources and the environment, China began to take a more proactive stance with respect to global resources and the environment. By now, China has formulated a fairly complete policy framework in this regard.

The administrative system that pertains to resources and the environment

At the central-government level, as well as the local-government level, China has formed fairly systematic and complete institutional structures to administer policies relating to resources and the environment. At the central-government level, the top-level structure for work relating to resources and the environment is as follows.

First, the Communist Party of China is the ruling party in the country, and as such, it has established a ‘Central Leading Group for Comprehensive Deepening of Reform.’ This is charged with the general design, overarching coordination, and promotion of relevant policies, as well as for encouraging their actual implementation. Under this are six task forces. Among these, the ‘ [tjask force on reform of the economic structure and development of an institutional structure that is ecologically oriented’ is responsible for all reforms relating to resources, the environment, and the ecosystem. Second, at the State Council level, the State Council and a number of ministries are responsible for administrative work of a concrete and specific nature as it relates to resources and the environment. This level includes the Ministiy of Land and Resources, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the National Development and Reform Commission, the State Forestry Administration, and other functional departments. Third, the National People’s Congress is China’s legislative body, and as such, it has established a ‘Commission on Environmental Protection and the Protection of Resources.’ This is responsible for legislation relating to resources and the environment, as well as for deliberating on the government's administrative regulations, decisions, and orders in this area. Fourth, the People’s Political Consultative Conference of China has established a ‘Commission on Population, Resources, and the Environment,’ which carries out surveys and research into major issues relating to the country’s population, resources, environment, and sustainable development. This work is strategic, comprehensive, holistic, and forward-thinking. It results in opinions and recommendations to the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council that serve as reference material for policy determination. The material is supplied via various channels and comes in a variety of forms.

From the standpoint of administrative work, the most important departments in charge of resources and the environment at the central-government level are the Ministiy of Land and Resources, the Ministiy of Environmental Protection, the State Forestry Administration, and the National Development and Reform Commission (see Box 4.3). Many functions of other ministries are also closely related to resources and the environment, including those of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministiy of Commerce, and the Ministiy of Finance, as well as others such as the organization in charge of China’s drainage basins. The structure of environmental management systems at the local (provincial) level basically mimics the systems that have been set up at the central-government level.

Box 4.3 The evolution through time of four ministries and commissions in charge of resource management

Ministry of Land and Resources

On March 10, 1998, the Third Plenary Session of the first meeting of the Ninth National People’s Congress voted to adopt the Decision on the State Council’s Institutional Reform Plan. By this action, the Ministiy of Laud and Resources was created by combining four entities, the Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources, the State Administration of Lands, the State Oceanic Administration, and the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. The latter two remained national-level divisions within the new ministry.

The main functions of the new ministry included the planning for, administration of, and protection and rational use of China’s natural resources, including land resources, mineral resources, and marine resources.

Ministry of Environmental Protection

In October 1974, the ‘Leading Group for Environmental Protection’ within the State Council was formally established. It was charged with the following primary responsibilities: formulating plans, policies, and regulations with respect to environmental protection, reviewing and approving the national program for environmental protection, and organizing, coordinating, and investigating the environmental protection work of all regions and all ministries.

In May 1982, the 23rd meeting of the Standing Committee of the Fifth National People’s Congress decided to merge a number of entities into a new ‘Ministry of Urban and Rural Environmental Protection.’ The merged entities were the State Construction Committee, the State Administration of Urban Construction, the General Administration of Construction, the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping, and the Office of the State Council’s Environmental Protection Leading Group. An environmental protection division was set up under this new Ministry called the Environmental Protection Agency.

In May 1984, the State Council established an Environmental Protection Commission. The deputy premier of the country served concurrently as head of this commission. The institution’s offices were set up in the Ministry of Urban and Rural Environmental Protection, and the functions of the Environmental Protection Coimnission were performed de facto by the Environmental Protection Agency. In December 1984, the Environmental Protection Agency was renamed the ‘National Environmental Protection Bureau. ’ This still reported to the ministry of urban and rural environmental protection, but at the same time, it also performed functions of the Environmental Protection Commission of the State Council. Its main responsibilities were to plan, coordinate, supervise, and carry out guidance work with respect to nationwide environmental protection.

In July 1988, environmental protection work was separated out from the Ministry of urban and rural environmental protection, and set up independently, under the State Council. It was renamed the National Environmental Protection Bureau. This entity was explicitly given authority to handle overall environmental protection. Now directly attached to the State Council, it also became the office responsible for performing the functions of the Environmental Protection Commission of the State Council.

In June 1998, the National Environmental Protection Bureau was upgraded in status to become a ‘National Environmental Protection Administration.’ It continued to be directly under the supervision of the State

Council, but now with primary responsibility for environmental protection work. The old Environmental Protection Commission was abolished.

In July 2008, the National Environmental Protection Administration was again upgraded to become a ministry, with the name becoming the Ministry of Environmental Protection. This then became an integral part of the State Council.

State Forestry Administration

In October 1949, the Central People’s government set up a ‘Ministry of Forestry and Laud Reclamation.’ In November 1951, the Ministry of Forestry and Land Reclamation was renamed the ‘Ministry of Forestry of the Central People’s Government.’ Its former land reclamation functions were transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. In November 1954, the Ministry of the Forestry of the Central People’s Government was renamed the ‘Ministry of Forestry of the People’s Republic of China.’

In February 1958, the fifth session of the First National People’s Congress decided to merge the Ministry of Forestry with the Ministry of the Forestry Industry, which had been established in 1956. The new agency retained the name of the Ministry of Forestry. In May 1970, three entities were merged to form a new Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, namely, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Forestry, and the Ministry of Fisheries (aquatic products).

In April 1978, the State Forestry Administration was established. In Feb- maty 1979, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry was abolished and the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Forestry were established. In March 1998, the first session of the Ninth National People’s Congress passed the ‘Institutional Reform Program’ of the State Council. At that point, the Ministry of Forestry was changed to the State Forestry Administration and placed directly under the State Council.

National Development and Reform Commission

The predecessor of the National Development and Reform Commission can be traced back to the National Planning Commission, which was established in 1952. As China transitioned away from having a planned-economy institutional structure to having a socialist market-economy structure, the functions of the National Planning Commission kept changing.

In 1988, the National Planning Conmrission changed its name to the National Development and Planning Commission. Its responsibilities were broadened to include the national economy in its entirety, with energies focused on formulating development strategies and carrying out macroeconomic management.

In 2003, some of the functions of the former National Economic and Trade Commission and of the former State Covtncil’s Economic System

Reform Office were assigned to the National Development and Planning Commission. That organization was then reorganized to become the ‘National Development and Reform Commission.’

In 2008, the National Development and Reform Commission relinquished its former functions relating to the industrial sector as well as its management of the bureau in charge of the sale of tobacco in China (National Tobacco Monopoly Bureau). These two functions were then transferred to a newly established Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.


These institutional refoims of the government have noticeably helped integrate and strengthen functions that relate to natural resources and environmental management. They have improved the effectiveness of government. However, some outstanding challenges remain. Looking horizontally across government ministries, many functions and authorities are too fragmented with respect to resources, the environment, ecosystems, and the responsibility for overall planning. There is also considerable overlap of functions among different ministries and commissions, which makes coordination difficult and is not conducive to the ability to have a unified planning framework. Looking vertically at different layers of government, many resource and environmental problems have commonalities and exist across jurisdictions, but local governments tend to focus on their own interests. Local governments disregard the rights and interests of the situation at large, which leads to conflict between national and local levels of government.

After the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee, the Central Committee established a task force called the ‘Task Force on Reform of the Economic Structure and Development of an Institutional Structure that is Ecologically Oriented.’ This was helpful in improving the ability to conduct top-level designing of resource and environmental systems. The Central Cormnittee also put forth two highly significant reforms. The first was to subject all environmental institutions under the provincial level to a vertical management system in terms of monitoring, supervising, and enforcing their activities. This was done to overcome the tendency to lean toward ‘localism’ in local government. Second, a central environmental protection inspection system was created to oversee the performance of provincial governments in environmental protection. The inspection teams were composed of representatives from various national ministries, including the Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Cormnittee of the National People’s Congress, the Cormnittee on population, resources, and the environment of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and relevant departments of the Ministry of housing and urban and rural development. It is hoped that the problems mentioned earlier, the inability to coordinate on a vertical and horizontal basis, will be redrtced as these reforms are pushed forward.

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