News / Asia

Environmental Activism Takes Hold in China

Environmental Activism Takes Hold in China
Environmental Activism Takes Hold in China
China's authoritarian leaders show few signs this year that they are ready for political activism.  But there are indications they are increasingly aware and willing to listen to public demands when it comes to the environment.

As protests gain in frequency and boldness in China, the country is experiencing its own “Not in my Backyard” revolution.  Protests such as this one that occurred last December in the southern city of Haimen are not uncommon.

Haimen residents took to the streets to protest the construction of a coal-fired power plant and, after an intense stand off, the project was suspended.

Protests about a paper mill wastewater pipeline in Qidong, and rallies on Hainan island, in Shifang and in Ningbo this year have all followed similar scripts. As public dissatisfaction grew and spilled out onto the streets, officials eventually caved in.

Kevin Tu, a China energy and climate analyst, says the government is becoming more transparent as public demands grow.

“The Chinese government including both the central government and the local officials are very concerned about social stability. When the concern is about the environment that's not related to any sensitive political issue, they will be pressurized to respond,” Tu said.

A little more than a decade ago, there was very little concern in China about water quality, food safety and pollution. But that has changed.

Alvin Lin is with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing.

“Definitely you are seeing a growing consciousness about what is the environmental impact and what is the health impact of such development and how we can sort of balance development with these concerns,” Lin said.

And, it’s not always boisterous rallies that attract government attention.

Earlier this year, demands from residents in Beijing for clearer reports on the capital’s frequently smog-choked air started to grow.

When that debate intensified last winter, He Xiaoxia’s Green Beagle Institute, an environmental group in Beijing was one of several organizations that got involved.

“We had some people who started a movement called ‘My Test of the Motherland’s Air Quality’ that allowed citizens to use a simple machine to measure air quality and publish their results in a diary online. That way they could share their results and feelings with others and call on the government to take action,” Xioxia said.

Now, following widespread concern and complaints about air quality across China, local officials have begun releasing air particulate figures in many of the country's major provincial capitals and cities.

China's new leadership has also announced a new regulation that major projects must undergo social risk assessments before construction begins.

Analysts say what is crucial, though, is not just carrying out the assessments, but what officials do in response -- especially when local residents reject projects that could be a rich source of revenue for local governments.

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Comment Sorting
by: Enviro Equipment, Inc. from: North Carolina
December 21, 2012 2:44 PM
Concern for the environment is definitely becoming an issue in China as we've seen the number of inquiries we receive from China-based companies jump from a half-dozen every year to a half-dozen every month. Granted, this isn't exactly a scientific polling method but seeing as how we sell equipment used for testing of air, water and soil, this sudden increase has got to mean some kind of environmental awareness is happening in mainland China

by: Wangchuk from: NYC
December 21, 2012 9:54 AM
The Chinese Central Govt has many environmental regulations but rarely enforces them. Consequently, the local govts tend to ignore the law and pollute the environment. They do so for 2 reasons: 1) there is little enforcement, and 2) the local govt is hard-pressed by the Party to increase GDP every year and if they fail, local officials are punished. There is little incentive for local officals to comply w/ strict environmental regulations. Pollution in China increases every year b/c the Party cares more about GDP growth at any cost than they do the environment.

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