China govt cancels green festival as public consciousness on environment grows

The cancellation of events linked with 'Earth Day' by the Chinese authorities underlines nervousness about growing public activism on the environment  

Chinese authorities last week ordered the last-minute cancellation of an environmental festival in Beijing that was planned to mark Earth Day, a global event aimed at raising awareness of climate change and the Paris summit at the end of the year. 

China’s best-known environmental group, Friends of Nature, asked people not to turn up to its Beijing Earth Day Environmental Protection Festival after Beijing police said the event was not permitted to go ahead and that the "online impact" of the event be toned down.

According to Friends of Nature campaigner Guo Jinghui, the police said the event “did not meet application requirements; and application was not made ten days in advance,” but the environmental group said it was “a bit surprised" at the decision, as preparations had already been made and invitations sent out.

Never before did the group have to submit an application 10 days in advance for any similar events, said Zhao Hong, one of the main organisers of the event.

The event had originally been organised by companies including outdoor clothing firm Patagonia, which had contacted around 12 leading environmental groups, including Friends of Nature, and obtained sponsorship from over 20 firms.

The event had been intended to help the public learn about environmental groups, how to get involved, and how to pressure companies to live up to their social responsibility to be green, Zhao said. 

Guo Jinghui said that “this was a public event, where games and activities would have been used to encourage people to get involved." Friends of Nature’s ‘Qing River game’ would have taught the public about the environmental and historical changes seen in Beijing’s own waterways, and then encouraged attendees to think about their own lifestyles and how they could do something to help beautify Beijing and improve the environment.
Zhao added that although the event did not go ahead, she said she hoped the authorities would communicate more with the public on environmental issues.
Public awareness of the possibilities of participating in environmental protection is increasing.
This year’s new environmental protection law and a recently released action plan for prevention of water pollution both include clauses on public participation, and the Chinese leadership is aware that engagement with its citizens is likely needed if China is to tackle its environmental problems.
But an initial ban on discussion of the hugely successful ‘Under the Dome’ documentary on smog, and the cancellation of the ‘Earth Day’ events suggests that rights granted on paper may differ markedly from those enjoyed in reality.
A demonstration earlier this month in Guangdong against plans for a coal-fired power station drew up to 10,000 people, according to a report, underlining growing unease about air quality and planning decisions made by local officials. 
Meanwhile, the independence of civil society in China looks increasingly uncertain if a proposed new law regulating non-governmental organisations, particularly those with foreign links, takes effect.
China began an investigation into the operations of NGOs last year, to prepare for tighter regulations, as part of a security drive ordered by a new national panel headed by President Xi Jinping.