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A path to environmental harmony

An informed public will help China tackle the competing needs of economic growth and ecological protection, writes Ma Jun. Through “orderly participation”, he says, the people can be trusted to choose a healthy development model.

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Elevating the realisation of a harmonious society to the status of an over-arching strategic goal, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party approved the Decisions by the CCP Central Committee on the Major Issues of Building Harmonious Socialist Society on Oct. 11, 2006. The document identified “strengthening environmental management and protection and promoting harmony between man and nature” as an important part of building a harmonious society, and called on China to “accelerate the construction of  a resource-efficient, environmentally friendly society though an emphasis on solving environmental issues that damage public health and affect sustainable development”. To achieve this strategic vision, the document also requires systematic guarantees of social equality and justice, calling for the “expansion at all levels of citizens’ orderly participation in governance”. This is of profound significance for future public participation in environmental protection.

As the Decisions by the CCP Central Committee points out, China’s society is facing a number of problems that affect social harmony. Of these, increasing pressure on the environment and natural resources is one of the most prominent. Industrialisation and urbanisation have led to increasing emissions of pollutants, with the release of poisonous and harmful substances outstripping the environment’s ability to cope. China’s limited resources are being rapidly consumed. Environmental pollution is endangering public health, with one-third of the urban population breathing heavily polluted air; 300 million rural residents drinking unsafe water; and one-fifth of China’s major cities failing to meet the country’s minimum standards for drinking water.

Some believe this is a normal feature of a certain stage of development, even claiming that the environment must be sacrificed for our own interests. But the environment and our own welfare are inseparable. Pollution, exhaustion of resources and destructive development are harming our interests and already causing problems that affect social stability. Since 2002, the number of complaints made to the environmental authorities has been increasing by 30% annually, reaching over 600,000 in 2004, while the number of mass incidents of social unrest caused by environmental pollution has increased by an average of 29% a year. It is clear that a lack of harmony between man and environment affects social stability and the construction of a harmonious society. ­­

An ever-increasing number of people are coming to realise that the environmental problems facing China result from an imbalance between economic growth and environmental protection, while our policy-making favours economic expansion over the environment. This has led central government to put forward a scientific view of development designed to change the current GDP-centred model of growth and realise balanced sustainable development. But in practice, local governments have failed to find that balance, with the economy still trumping the environment. For example, legally binding targets for cutting power consumption and pollution have been set, but statistics for the first half of 2006 show that both continue to increase.

Clearly, relying purely on policy and targets to achieve balance is inadequate, as is merely holding the ideal of sustainable development. Because policy-makers favour development, we need to understand that development projects provide direct, short-term financial benefit for certain authorities and individuals, while environmental protection prevents long-term harm and protects the interests of weaker groups. Environmental law enforcement is weak, and ignoring it incurs lower costs than observing it. If we want to change this situation, we need to put new systems in place that will allow a broader range of interest groups to participate in the policy-making process.

The Decisions by the CCP Central Committee describes the importance of systems of public participation in building a harmonious society. The document says: “Social equality and justice are basic requirements for a harmonious society, and the system must ensure them,” and goes on to call for “expansion at all levels of citizens’ orderly participation in politics, ensuring the people’s legal management of national affairs, the economy, culture and social affairs. Promotion of rational and democratic policy-making, strengthening open government, ensuring citizens’ rights to be informed, to participate, to express themselves and to supervise.”

The orderly participation proposed in the document brings together government, business and the public, and can create a consensus for the participation of all sections of society in environmental protection. Environmental protection requires public participation – informed participation by all groups, protecting their own environmental interests – which ultimately will protect the environment overall. This participation must take place in an orderly fashion and on a legal basis; our society lacks a historical tradition of public participation, and there is a lack of experience in organising and promoting it. As the Decisions by the CCP Central Committee points out, we are currently experiencing “unprecedented social reform, bringing great vitality to China’s growth, but also a range of conflicts and problems”. China’s society lacks resilience, and social disorder is of no help in either solving environmental problems or achieving sustainable development.

This emergence of the “orderly participation” model is by no means sudden; it builds on real advances in public participation made in recent years. Particularly worth mentioning are the valuable lessons public participation in the environmental field has provided. With the Environmental Impact Assessment Law’s establishment of the principle that “the state encourages organisations, experts and the public to participate in appropriate ways in environmental impact assessments” and the detailed requirements for openness of information put forth in the State Environmental Protection Administration’s Provisional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessments, the policy and legal foundation for public participation in the field of environmental protection is already in place. Moreover, the preliminary implementation of public hearings during assessments and the beneficial participation trials by environmental groups in environmental legislation and impact assessments demonstrate that the public are willing to participate in the management of environmental affairs in a legal, rational and orderly manner.

However, the implementation of public participation in the environmental field over recent years shows us that due to various limitations, conditions are not yet ripe for full public participation. But, we can start with the open publication of environmental information. This is a precondition for public participation. If the public do not have this information and are unable to acquire data on environmental issues, how are they to judge when their participation is needed? How can they participate effectively? Policies and laws on the publication of environmental information are improving. Under the guidance of the State Council’s Outline for Promoting the Implementation of Rule of Law, and in accordance with Environmental Protection Agency regulations, there have been notable advances in the openness of environmental information -- and China’s society is ready for even more.

The Decisions by the CCP Central Committee made specific stipulations on openness of information, particularly environmental information. To build a service-orientated government and strengthen social management and public services, the document emphasises the need to “promote open government, accelerate the building of e-government, promote IT [information technology] in public services, promptly publish public information, create conditions beneficial for public life and participation in economic and social activities.” It also calls for widening the channels by which the public can express their opinions, providing a range of platforms for communication, and bringing the pursuit of the public interest within systematic and legal channels. On improving environmental-protection law and management, it specifically requires “improving environmental testing and regular publication of information on the state of the environment”.

Public participation is realised by giving the public the right to be informed, the right to participate and the right to legal relief – that is, allowing interest groups to be informed about the environmental and social impact of policy decisions, to pass on their concerns to the policy-makers, and to seek legal relief when their right to participate is denied. Some worry that widespread participation could slow the policy-making process, increase costs and affect economic growth. But, in fact, the flow of information, equal dialogue and compromise-seeking all help to internalise the external costs of growth and create a fair-market environment. Public participation will change the cost-benefit analysis of projects, hindering exploitative development and benefiting projects which conserve power and resources -- thereby promoting the development of the service industry and therefore a change in the model of economic growth.

Given China’s current social and economic circumstances, we must balance the vastly different needs of economic growth and environmental protection. But who will make the choices? How will those choices be made? In accordance with the Decisions by the CCP Central Committee’s requirement for greater public participation, we should make use of the public’s environmental knowledge and create a new environmental management system that gives all interest groups an equal opportunity to express their opinions and pursue their interests. We should trust that an informed public will not choose a growth model that will seriously damage their own health and safety and ruin the environment and resources that their children and grandchildren will rely on. Their orderly participation is the only way to ensure a balance between economic growth and environmental protection.

 

Ma Jun’s book China’s Water Crisis (1999) was described in Time magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World” as China’s “first great environmental call to arms”. He is the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and an environmental consultant for Sinosphere Corporation.

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评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

个人环境意识是关键!!

在中国,大众的环保参与度很低,归根结底这不是政府的和群体的原因,而是个人的问题,不论这个人的官位多高,有多富裕。

目前的中国人中,能亲身体验到生活在污染的环境中和不受污染的环境中的区别的人占全中国人口的比例是少之又少。

如果你习惯了污染的环境,你能有动力和想象力去改变你的环境吗?

固然,有钱有势的人姑且可生活在较好的环境中“逃避”污染的折磨,但他们不是生活在真空中,他们的生活或多或少还是受着污染的影响。

所以,我认为,那些口号式的环保呼吁和宣传最终是解决不了问题的。

只有中国的大众从他们的生活和意识的转变才能让中国的环境所有改善。

这其中,最重要的就是要让中国人真真正正地感受到好的环境的生活是大不一样的,只有在那样的情况下,人才会主动去改变他们的生活环境。

所以,最终这是一个社会问题,同时也将会是一个民族的问题。

Fostering individual environmental awareness

In China, public participation in environmental protection is at a low level. The major reason lies not with the government or the collective, but with the individuals themselves, no matter whether they are rich or of high rank. Currently, there is a quite a small perecentage of the Chinese population that can tell the difference between living in a polluted environment or in a clean one. If you are used to living in the polluted environment, will you still have the drive or imagination to change the environment that you live in? It is true that those who have money and power can live in a better environment and keep away from the dangers of environmental pollution. Yet they are not living in a vacuum, pollution somehow affects their lives. Therefore, I believe that those slogans and publicity for environmental protection cannot solve the pollution in the end. Only the public and the whole society of China, willing to change their lifestyles and conceptions of life can improve the environment of China. The most important thing is to let the Chinese people personally feel the big difference between living in a polluted and an unpolluted environment. Only in this situation, will the people be willing to take the initiative to change the living environment for the better. Environmental protection is not only a social problem but also a national problem.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

有高精尖环保技术,只是没有发挥作用。

保护环境,根本不用指责任何人。就看现在,是怎么样做,做得怎么样。有那些应该做到而没有做到。对于环境保护的高精尖技术,进行支持、确认,做得也有欠缺嘛。

Advanced techniques are there, but they don't take effect

To conserve the environment, you don't have to blame anyone at all. You just look at how things now can be done and are being done. There are those things that should be done and have not been. If we support and affirm the advanced techniques of environmental conservation, then we can apply them without shortcomings.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国的情况

在中国,普通人民对于环境保护的参与,其实并不亚于任何国家。

China's situation

In China, the participation of ordinary people in environmental protection is not inferior to that in any other country's.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

有序参与

我虽然很想同意二号评论的说法“不用指责任何人”来保护环境,但我不同意。某些工厂、公司、发电站等经常作为我们环境的主要破坏者。我即便确认马军提到的概念“有序参与”很明智,我也认为文雅的对话在污染者垄断权力的情况下不可能发挥太大的作用。

Orderly participation?

I wish I could agree with Comment #2 that "you don't have to blame anyone at all" to conserve the environment. I can't. Specific factories, companies, power plants etc. are often disproportionately responsible for the environmental damage we live with. While I endorse Ma Jun's concept of orderly participation as a wise one, I wonder if polite dialogue can make a difference in situations where the polluters have all the power.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

环境参与和保护

实际上我想说的是,在中国环保的个人参与水平是非常低的。在中国没有对孩子和年青人的环境教育。我们需要教育孩子,让他们知道我们为什么要保护环境,这样做的好处是什么,甚至组织去了解和“参观”污染物,你说对吗?

participation and protection

Actually what i wanna say is, the individual participation in environmental protection in China is very poor, and there is no education to the kids or the adults when they are young, we need to teach the kids why we need to preserve the invironment, what is the benifit, and even orgnizing some tour to show the pollutant, right?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国缺的就是好的环保教育!!!

我同意上面的建议,环境教育太重要了。我们不得不承认,西方,特别是欧洲国家,的环境教育,无论是学校和家庭,都是值得中国去学习的。环境教育和环境意识是一个相辅相成的关系,双管齐下就能形成环保的社会大气候,促成环保大改善。

真的希望中国的教育机构能尽快引入较多的环境教育,为中国的环保事业作出应有的贡献。

Good environment education not available in China!

I agree with the comment above: environment education is very important. We have to recognize that China could learn a lot from western countries, especially Eurpean ones, in environment education, in both schools and families.

Environment education could help increase the public awareness to environment issues, and it works vice versa. Efforts to be made simultaneously in both directions will help create an atmosphere for environment protection.

I really hope that educational institutions in China will introduce environment protection education, in a bid to make due contrubution to the cause in the country.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

积极参与

中国需要更多公众正面积极的的参与,而不是消极逃避的态度

positive participation

China needs positive public participation rather than negative.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

环保是热点

进入21世纪,环保问题成了人们关注的热点。随着社会的进步,人们对生活质量提出了更高的要求,希望“天更蓝、树更绿、水更清、城更美”,成为人们的共同心声。江总书记在建党80周年讲话中强调指出:“要促进人和自然的协调与和谐,使人们在优美的生态环境中工作和生活。坚持实施可持续发展战略,正确处理经济发展同人口、资源、环境的关系。”充分体现了党中央、国务院对环保工作的高度重视。

Conservation is a hot topic

Proceed into 21 century; conservation issue has become a hot topic of concern to the public. In line with current development plans, we have a higher demand in improving quality of life, we wish that ‘sky is more blue then previously, plants are greener, water is clearer, and the city is more beautiful’, this become kind of sharing among each other. Jiang Zemin in his speech during the 80th Anniversary of the formation of party emphasized and pointed out: ‘To anticipate and maintain harmony with our Mother Nature, we will be able to live and work in such a nice ecosystem. To remain the implementation of continuous development strategy, handling economic development with proper manner, as well as population, resources, environment and relationship. It is to reflect the Central Government and State Council are highly value on the conservation work to be carried out."