China has been giving importance to environmental protection since 2012, implementing stricter laws and actively participating in global environmental governance.
Experts said this is in line with China's need for economic restructuring.
China has strengthened efforts to preserve the ecological balance since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012 with new energy development and anti-smog regulations, Ning Jizhe, head of China's National Bureau of Statistics, told a press conference on Tuesday.
"Among the 338 monitored cities, 24.9 percent achieved the air quality standard in 2016, 3.3 percentage points higher than in 2015 … Water samples from 73.4 percent of the monitoring points achieved national first or second level in 2016, four percentage points higher than in 2012," Ning said.
"Ecological protection has been given priority since 2012 because it affects people's health, sustainable development and the welfare of the next generation. China's pollution problem could no longer be ignored," Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, told the Global Times.
Ma said regulators have taken unprecedented measures to protect the environment since 2012 because the public has been demanding clean air and water.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the sixth group study session of the Political Bureau of the 18th CPC Central Committee in 2013 that "the 18th National Congress of the CPC listed ecological progress along with economic, political, cultural and social progress as the five goals in the overall plan for the cause of Chinese socialism."
Xi also noted that "our efforts for ecological and environmental protection will benefit future generations. We must be aware that it is an urgent and challenging task to protect the environment and control pollution."
"China has achieved some progress on environmental protection, including the passing of new laws, enhancing law enforcement, and conducting nationwide inspections to get local governments involved," Ma said, adding that the public has benefited from these measures.
China's revised Environmental Protection Law, considered the toughest in history, took effect in January 2015. It slaps additional daily fines on companies or factories that fail to correct violations, and provides for penalties on local officials who fail to fulfill their duties.
China has also drafted other laws related to environmental protection, including the Air Pollution Control Law, the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law, China's Environmental Impact Assessment Law and the Nuclear Security Law.
Ma added that regulators have encouraged greater public involvement in environmental protection since 2012. This includes exposing environmental protection violators.
A draft regulation on the environmental information disclosure of enterprises and public institutions states that those who provide bogus data or refuse to release data in accordance with regulations could be fined up to 30,000 yuan, the Xinhua News Agency reported in September.
Stressing the need for environmental protection and low-carbon development is consistent with China's ongoing economic restructuring and clean energy campaign to help lift some remote areas from poverty, Yang Fuqiang, senior adviser on climate and energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Global Times.
Aside from tackling domestic environmental issues, China has also been involved in global environmental governance, which includes faithfully implementing the Paris Agreement after the U.S. withdrawal.
Environmental protection will continue to be given priority, with additional measures expected in the next five years after the 19th CPC National Congress, scheduled to begin on October 18, experts said. [Special coverage]