The Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature, on Thursday voted to adopt revisions to the Environmental Protection Law.
With 70 articles compared with 47 in the original law, the revised Environmental Protection Law, the first change to the legislation in 25 years, sets environmental protection as the country's basic policy.
The new law says that economic and social development should be coordinated with environmental protection and encourages studies on the impact environmental quality causes on public health, urging prevention and control of pollution-related diseases.
It says that the country should establish and improve an environment and health monitoring, survey and risk assessment mechanism.
The law gives harsher punishments to environmental wrongdoing, and has specific articles and provisions on tackling smog, making citizen's more aware of environmental protection and protecting whistleblowers.
It says citizens should adopt a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle and perform environmental protection duties, and nominates June 5 as Environment Day.
The public is encouraged to observe environmental protection laws and make their own efforts in this regard, including sorting their garbage for recycling.
The revised law will go into effect from Jan. 1, 2015.
Decades-long rapid economic development and a large population have left China with serious pollution problems.
A report issued in April showed that nearly 60 percent of monitored areas in China had "very poor" or "relatively poor" underground water quality last year. Another report issued jointly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources on April 17 showed that about 16.1 percent of the country's soil is polluted.
On April 11, more than 2.4 million people in Lanzhou, northwest China's Gansu Province, were affected by tap water that contained excessive levels of benzene.
China has "declared war" against pollution and pledged to fight it with the same determination the country battled poverty, according to the government work report submitted to the annual session of the National People's Congress in March.
The country's Environmental Protection Law has not been revised since it took effect in 1989.
The amendment was adopted after four readings. It is rare in China for a law or amendment to go through three readings and not be passed, highlighting the importance of the legislation in the country's pursuit of sustainable development.