China has over the last two years implemented a range of measures to strengthen environmental protection, including tougher laws targetting polluters, shutdowns of tens of thousands of factories, dismissal of ineffective officials, and making decision-makers more accountable for environmental damage even after they have left their posts.
The government has recently been more active in promoting or rewarding officials who excel in efforts to protect the environment.
Pan Yue started his working life as a news reporter and joined the ranks of government in the mid-1990s. In 2003, he became deputy director of SEPA, and the following year took strong action against companies deemed to be harming the environment.
In what was viewed as an unprecedented move at the time, Pan put a halt to 30 major projects that were in breach of regulations, prompting a gradual reapprasial of the view that the Chinese government didn't care about pollution.
Further crackdowns followed, with punishments imposed on large companies and local governments that turned a blind eye to the despoiling of air, soil and water.
Pan has been a strong supporter of openness of information and public participation in environmental protection.
During his tenure at SEPA and the MEP, Pan initiated trial research into so-called 'green GDP' calculations, a measure that tries to reflect the true costs of economic growth that are often missing in traditional measures of GDP. That work stalled, however, as Pan’s power ebbed amid conflicting priorities.
But earlier this year, Chen Jining was appointed Minister for Environmental Protection and green GDP research resumed – with Pan again at the helm.
According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, the position of deputy Party secretary at the MEP has been vacant for 8 years and an appointment of a single deputy secretary of a ministry Party group is a rare occasion.
Chang Jiwen, deputy head of the Resources and Environmental Policy Institute at the State Council’s Development Research Centre, told the Southern Metropolis Daily the reason for filling the post after such a lengthy vacancy is that environmental protection has become more important and that the government needed more powerful cadres in charge.
“And also it could be a recognition of Pan’s record (in fighting pollution),” he added.