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Chen Jining: Environmental Protector
Text by Chen Xiao and Wang Xuan


As China’s new Minister of Environmental Protection, Chen Jining carries the nation‘s hopes on his shoulders to reverse trends of environmental degradation in China.  CFP  April 19, 2015: An interchange on a heavily polluted day, Shanghai. CFP

Young Minister        

On March 1, 2015, before the opening of China’s annual two sessions, Chen Jining held his first press conference as the new Minister of Environmental Protection. Considering the magnitude of his new post and its heavy responsibilities, 51-year-old Chen is considered “young”. “Environmental protection requires special expertise and a mastery of world knowledge,” opines Wang Hongchen, vice dean of School of Environment and Natural Resources, Renmin University. “Basic knowledge of many subjects, such as biology, chemistry, and meteorology, is involved. Lacking knowledge in a certain field will lead to insufficient understanding of environmental issues.”

In the 1970s, China’s environmental causes first emerged. In 1977, Tsinghua University began its first student recruitment after the “cultural revolution” (1966-1976) ended, and some majored in environmental science. In 1981, when 17-year-old Chen was admitted to Tsinghua University’s School of Environment, China’s education of environmental science has already taken initial shape.

In 1988, after receiving a graduate degree in environmental science, Chen further pursued studies abroad thanks to a government sponsorship. He first studied at Brunel University London and transferred to Imperial College London the next year, where he earned a doctorate in civil engineering in 1993. During his studies in Britain, Chen participated in major research projects and exhibited impressive professional competence. By 1998, Chen’s British colleagues considered him fit for academia in any top European or North American university, but he returned to China and became deputy director and associate professor at the Environmental Engineering Department of Tsinghua University. In January 2012, he was appointed president of Tsinghua University.


War on Pollution

The first day Chen assumed office as the Minister of Environmental Protection in 2015, he asked his colleagues to offer their work list on air pollution and smog control in 2014. At a press conference during this year’s two sessions in March, Chen read the long list out loud and remarked that “China is coping with environmental challenges with concrete measures and work.”

The funds and human resources China invests in a year to fight a certain kind of pollution only comprise a tiny piece of China’s decades-long war on environment. In late 1990s, when Chen had just returned to China, the country’s major battlefield to fight pollution was water bodies. The country’s Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) and Medium and Long-term Scientific and Technological Development Plan (2006-2020), include 16 key national-level science and technology projects, among which one focuses on water pollution control and management. The 16 projects fall into five themes covering cities, rivers, lakes, policies, surveillance and early warnings. Chen acted both as the deputy chief engineer and head of an expert panel overseeing city-themed projects. Chen’s major of environmental system analysis has helped him take on these heavy responsibilities just a few years after returning to China.



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