中国与世界,环境危机大家谈

china and the world discuss the environment

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The environment needs public participation

Pan Yue

Readinch

China’s environmental challenge will only be met through public participation in decision-making, says Pan Yue. Enhanced transparency and legal reform can help strengthen a society facing acute pressure on resources.

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In China, environmental protection is an increasingly pressing issue. Not only are pollution and ecological degradation becoming ever more serious, but also people are more and more unsatisfied about the situation. The speed with which we are polluting the environment far outstrips our efforts to clean it up. Why is this? China has a large population but few resources, and our production and consumption methods are too out of date. But at the root of the problem lies a more significant cause -- the lack of public participation in China.

The initial motivation for the world environmental protection movement came from the public, without their participation it would not exist.

In 1962, the US marine biologist Rachel Carson published her landmark book, Silent Spring, which focused on the environmental and human costs of pesticide use. This was a starting point in the development of environmental protection. On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took part in environmental demonstrations across the US. “Earth Day” is still celebrated on that date, and was a major event in the development of modern environmental participation.

Take Japan as an example; although the country faces a greater pressure on resources than China, it is a world leader in protecting the environment. Visitors to Japan in recent years are invariably impressed by the country’s clean environment. But Japan also experienced the serious social consequences of pollution midway through the last century, when it underwent large-scale industrialisation. In the 1960s, Japanese victims of pollution first brought lawsuits against the companies responsible for environmental degradation. Japan’s media began to investigate and report on environmental accidents. In many places, grass-roots environmental groups were founded to combat polluting industries. By 1970, 45% of Japanese citizens opposed economic development that did not take environmental protection into account, overwhelming the 33% who polled in favour of unrestricted economic growth. Electoral support for Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) declined from 58% to 48% as a result.

Broad public participation forced both the LDP and the Diet to take notice of the environmental and social effects of pollution. In 1967, Japan issued the Basic Law for Environmental Pollution Control, and enacted the Law for the Compensation of Pollution-Related Health Injuries in 1973. A series of other environmental rules and regulations were put into place in the following years. In particular, the Basic Law for the Recycling–based Society employs the concept of “environmental culture” to promote public awareness of environmental protection and its moral value. The law promotes the use of new energy sources and compulsory limits on the consumption of natural resources. It not only regulates waste output but also encourages recycling and the safe disposal of non-recyclable waste. In the past 10 years, Japan has become a recycling-based society which strikes a balance between environmental protection and economic growth. Their example can show us that resolving the problems of pollution needs both governmental and citizen engagement, and that public participation and a democratic legal system are important factors in environmental protection.

In China, the major problem is that environmental protection laws are not strictly observed and implemented due to a lack of democratic legal mechanisms for public participation. As early as 1978, the government stated clearly that where serious pollution is occurring, if no measures are put in place to improve this for a long time, it will be established who is personally responsible, and the enterprise in question will be shut down. Financial penalties are also to be applied and legal action taken in serious cases. But in the past 20 years, how many polluters -- businesspeople or officials -- have ever been penalised? How many government policies that have caused pollution and ecological damage have ever been corrected? And to what extent are we following the sustainable development strategy that was put forward in 1992?

Guided by a traditional model of development, many in government and business are devoted to short-term profit, and officials are solely motivated by the prospect of an increase in GDP. None of them pay adequate attention to environmental protection. Frequently we hear people say that Chinese living standards are too low and that the most urgent thing is to develop the economy. They hold that environmental protection should be an issue of secondary importance. But in fact, China is the last country that can hold this view. The country has too many people and few natural resources; China does not have the capacity to take on this burden. The sustainable development model is the only model of development for China. We must set in place a series of practical policies and regulations, call on citizens to participate in the environmental protection movement and strengthen our democratic and legal systems. Otherwise, sustainable development will become a mere slogan.

But how can we promote public participation in environmental protection?

First of all, we must understand clearly that public participation is the right and interest of the people endowed by law. The government has the obligation to respond to and to protect this right. Public participation is not a charitable measure offered to the public by the government. Nor is it the old model of a mass movement driven by the government. During wartime, the Party needed to mobilise the masses to fight for their rights. But nowadays, the Party has an administrative role, to govern the country by means of the law. Any country governed by law has to recognise and protect the rights of the people. Involving public participation in environmental protection should be an aspect by which to evaluate political performance; and should be based on the principles of the Party serving the public and the administration serving the people. It is a useful trial for the construction of socialist democracy and a demonstration of the advantages of the socialist system.

Secondly, environmental information must be made freely available. Disclosure is a tool for environmental management. We should recognise the public’s right to be informed about and to criticise environmental issues. By increasing the transparency of environmental information, the force of public opinion can put pressure on those who destroy the environment. In 1998, 35 countries from Europe and central Asia signed the Aarhus Convention in Demark, which ensure the public’s right to be informed about environmental issues. Now 40 countries have joined the Convention. China’s government has made many efforts to promote the disclosure of environmental information, including the publication of an annual environment report, a monthly report on the water quality of major rivers and a daily report on air quality. The mass media are also working hard on reporting environmental incidents. But the problem remains that it is very difficult for individuals to obtain environmental information from businesses or government. Where should the public turn for such information? Who can provide it? There is a lack of communication between the government and the public. Regulations on the disclosure of environmental information are the way to ensure the public’s right to be informed.

Thirdly, we must democratise decision-making on environmental issues. China’s Environmental Protection Law of 1989 states: “All units and individuals shall have the obligation to protect the environment and shall have the right to report on or file charges against units or individuals that cause pollution or damage to the environment.” The Law on Evaluation of Environmental Effects, implemented on September 1 2003, is of great significance. It stipulates that before approving any project that may affect the environment, the authorities must hold consultative meetings and public hearings to collect opinions from relevant organisations, experts and the public. The “environment interests” of Chinese citizens have, for the first time, been enshrined in law. The people have the right to know, to understand and to supervise public policy related to their environment. It also means that anyone preventing people from taking part in the decision-making process is breaking the law. But despite this, details of the conditions and procedures for public participation have not yet been clearly stipulated. That is to say, faced with a specific problem, the public still does not know how to participate. For example, some of the plans for China’s dam projects have raised many people’s concerns. But the expression of this concern is has been limited to a few articles published on the internet and meetings among experts. The public cannot find a way to participate. In the end, they have to turn their worries and complaints into legal appeals. We must, therefore, produce clear procedures for public participation in decision-making about large environmental projects.  

The fourth key is public-interest environment litigation. This would mean that all citizens, communities, and government offices could bring a lawsuit to the national judiciary in their own name, on behalf of the wider public. Our current environmental law states that only the victims of environmental incidents have the right to bring such a lawsuit, and the case is regarded as a civil action. Since environmental rights do not only relate to individuals but also are the concern of wider society, they should be regarded as in the public interest, as they are in European and US environmental law. Because environmental lawsuits often involve very technical issues, those countries have put measures in place that help reduce the cost of environmental lawsuits for the public, and can help with technical knowledge. In order to strengthen China’s environmental law, we must enlarge the scope of those who can bring environmental lawsuits to include government environmental bodies, environmental protection organisations and the public.

Finally, we must strengthen our cooperation with environmental NGOs. The majority of China’s environmental NGOs, except for a very small number who take an extreme western environmentalist line without considering the country’s special characteristics, are positive and healthy, especially the youth groups who are volunteering for the environment. They love their country and are eager to make a contribution to society. They are promoting conservation out of concern for the environment. The government should give direction and support to these organisations. For example, the government can provide groups with professional training; build platforms for communication with the public; organise activities that involve environmental groups and public figures; and make arrangements to collect opinions on particular policies.

China’s increasing public environmental awareness, especially among the younger generation, is a reflection of the progress of our socialist democracy and political civilisation. It is the success of the concept of sustainable scientific development, and the hope for the future of the Chinese nation. This requires us to recognise and support the public’s right to be informed, to supervise and to take part in decision-making on environmental issues. Chinese people who have a sense of responsibility should actively participate in the cause of environmental protection and facilitate its development. The environmental cause is the most selfless cause promoted by the most selfless people. It needs more and more selfless people to make a contribution.


Pan Yue is deputy director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). Part of a new generation of outspoken Chinese senior officials, Pan has given rise to a tide of environmental debate, attracting enormous attention and controversy. This is an edited extract of Pan's essay Environmental Protection and Public Participation (2004).

Also by Pan Yue on chinadialogue: “The rich consume and the poor suffer the pollution”

Homepage photo by Mark Hobbs

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好文!

中央领导如果忙里"偷闲"花上几分钟认真的读读再好不过,也许中国的环境会有好转.如何切实有效的进行环保是很重要的.文章里的建议很中肯,也是改善环境之根本之道.

Great writing!

If China's top leaders were to take a few minutes out of their schedules to read this article, China's environment would probably change for the better. These practical suggestions for environmental protection are very important. The ideas put forward in this essay are very pertinent and key to improving the environment.


一针见血!

这一文章点出了中国在环保方面的两大重要问题:

1,“虽然公众参与环境监督的权利在法律上得到肯定,但在“参与”的具体条件、具体方式、具体程序上还缺少明确细致的法律规定。从而,公众不知道如何参与!”何等令人担忧的状况。我们每天都在呼吁公众加大的环保意识,但即便公众意识提高了,想表达意愿时,却没有渠道,试想,公众的反应会是怎样的?!

2,“中国现行的环境诉讼法律规定中,唯有直接受害人才有权提起民事诉讼。”

必要的制度的缺乏自然会极大地打击了公众参与的信心,以及环境监督的质量。

潘岳指出了这些要害问题,试问中国目前在解决这些问题方面是否有计划或进展?

同时,中外对话是否可以发表一些西方国家在这些方面的法制和环境监督机制的情况,以供发展中国家参考。

Incisive

This article mentioned two important problems of China environment protection:

first, “The “environment interests” of Chinese citizens have, for the first time, been enshrined in law. But despite this, details of the conditions and procedures for public participation have not yet been clearly stipulated. That is to say, faced with a specific problem, the public still does not know how to participate.” This situation makes us worried. We are calling for increasing the understanding of environment protection. But even if public consciousness increases, there is no way for them to express their will. When this happens, what reaction will the public have?!

Second, “Our current environmental law states that only the victims of environmental incidents have the right to bring such a lawsuit”.

The lack of necessary regulations will decrease the confidence of public to attend environment protection and destroy the quality of environment inspection.

Pan Yue indicated the crucial problems. I am wondering if there is any plan or development for problem-solving in China.

Is it possible for Chinadialogue to publish some environment laws and inspection regulations which is using in western countries for the reference of developing countries?


社会的参与

感谢作者所发表的文章, 我确实有同感, 阅读了这篇文章, 另我在各方面都获得鼓舞。最终的问题也是答案 – 为什么我们需要环保? 坦白的说, 是为了我们自己。那末, 我们又是谁呢? 我们是社会的一份子。

Community partcipation

I completely agree - thanks to the author for writing this here, after reading this article, it cheers me in lots of ways. The brave question is answered: "Why we need conservation?" Frankly speaking, for the sake of ourselves. Then who are we? We are from the public.


不仅仅是领导人

第一个评论所说“中国的高层领导们应该花时间阅读一下“潘岳”提出的这些强烈的、有信服力的论点”。但是这片文章最强烈的呼吁不是单单关于领导人的。当今世界领导人的行政方向。如果公民需要环境改善,那么领导人会切实去做(努力并求得到信任)。如果公众不需要环境改善,那么领导人会保持被动行事。问题在于如何取信于公众,无论是在中国、印度、巴西,这都能起到很大的作用。

安东尼 巴内特

Not just the leaders

Comment No 1 says China's top leaders should take a few minutes to read this stong and convincing argument by Pan Yue. But strongest thrust of the article is that it is not a matter for the leaders. In today's world leaders follow. If citizens demand environmental reform, then the leaders will 'make it happen' (and try and claim the credit). If the public does not demand it, then the leaders will remain passive. The problem is how to convince the public, whether in China, India or Brazil, that they can make a difference.
Anthony Barnett


回复:好文!

你不知道潘岳就是中央领导吗?不过只有一个领导支持作用不大,需要大部分领导都支持,大部分民众都支持,环境才真正有希望。

Re: Great Writing

Don't you know that Pan Yue is a leader in the Chinese central government? But only one leader's support won't have a big effect. Only with the necessary support of a large portion of leaders and the general public will there truly be hope for the environment.


国家领导人又能怎样?

他们听不到真言,下面的只说好话,只知道应付。说实话,这些年国家在环境方面投入不少,为何收效甚微?国人当中相当一部分人心中只认“钱"字,且都是些有权的人,一些几千万甚至上亿的项目很多都打了水漂,这样意义何在?这些人在严重阻碍环境的发展。现在已经不是原来的“发展就是一切”了!多为自己的后代想想.
好的国家领导人就应该“多听民言”,从根本上找出真正能解决问题的途径,而不是传达传达精神,空喊口号,那是形式,说白了就是“隔靴搔痒”,没什么意义。
也许等中国环境真的有所改善的时候,中国人民才能真正的“当家做主”,而现在,还差得很远。

What can leaders do?

They cannot hear the truth. Their subordinates, reporting only for the sake of reporting, tell them nothing more than good news. As a matter of fact, material investments have been made for environment issues. But why is there little tangible result? A large proportion of our people are "money-oriented", among which power is also concentrated. Due to their presence, many projects of huge value end in vain. What's the point in all of these? They are huge obstacles for the improvement of the environment. It is no longer the time when "development means everything"! Think more about our future generations.

A qualified leader should be a good listener to public opinions, trying to find out the fundamental solutions that really work, rather than mechanically passing down hollow words of no real meanings and "beating the air".

When the Chinese environment improves, we are likely to see the true leadership of public opinions in China. But now, we still have a long way to go.


公众参与或生态(Gaian)民主

潘岳说中国人需要参与到环保运动当中来,还说中国的民主和法制需要健全。他还援引了其它工业化国家的发展作为例证。然而,这些工业化国家当中有相当多数都感到环境问题没有得到应有的重视。在某种程度上说,我们的环境的确是得到了净化,因为那些肮脏的重工业都被转移到了中国。这促使我们对生态时代(亦称"Gaian民主")的民主含义进行反思。其含义将远比潘岳所说的那类公众参与要丰富得多。

生态民主(Gaian democracy)来源于系统性分析我们的生态、经济和政治体系后得出的一系列主张。我认为在马克思主义的语辞中最为接近的表述就是分析生态危机时代不同成分间的辩证关系——生物的和物质的生产体系间的矛盾关系。可以认为这个矛盾促进着向新的社会生态体系的和平演变,这个新体系在公民共同的生态观和道德观下运作。它的实现需要一个由领导层推动的参与性的社会过程,领导们需要通过更多的帮助和鼓励来推动,而非命令和控制。他们要帮助积极参与者去思考、学习,并鼓励他们共同参与生态社会的重构设计。这将比参与“对经济施加环境约束”的含义要丰富得多。

大多数生态设计理念主要关注如何节省能源和邻近住所的资源——例如建筑设计、园林、降低运输需求、建立与地质及周边情况相符合的可再生能源系统。这是不可能在集权模式下详细规划的,却是可以在民主的气氛下逐渐演生的,如果公民拥有共同的目标和想法并且一起学习如何实现它们就可以通过一个网络化的方式得以实现。在这一过程当中,需要特别关注的是保证弱势群体的需要得到满足和保护。

(对类似观点的讨论参见Roy Madron和John Jopling的"Gaian Democracy",Schumacher Society/Green Books, 2003)

Brian Davey

Public Participation or Ecological (Gaian) Democracy

Pan Yue argues that Chinese citizens need to be able to participate in the environmental protection movement and that China's democratic and legal systems need to be strengthen. He cites developments in other industrialised countries as a precedent. However, in these other countries many feel that the environment as an issue is still not given the priority that it deserves. To some degree indeed our environment has been cleaned up because the heavy and dirty industries have been shifted to China. That leads some people to feel that we need a fundamental re-think of what democracy means in an ecological age - what some would call "Gaian democracy". This would go a lot further than the kind of public participation that Pan Yue advocates.

Gaian democracy is based on a number of propositions which derived from a systems analysis of our ecological and economic and political systems. I suppose the nearest Marxist jargon would be to write about the dialectical interrelationships between elements in an era of ecological crisis - the contradictory relationship between the biological and the material production systems. This contradiction can be thought of as impelling a peaceful evolution towards a new socio-ecological system which functions because the citizens share ecological and moral purposes. A participative social process is needed for this to occur initiated by leaders who do not command or control so much as facilitate and inspire. They would assist active citizens to think, learn and act together in reconfigurative processes of ecological and social design - this would be much more than participating "to set environmental restraints on the economy".

Most ecological design thinking is essentially about saving energy and resources close to home - in the design of buildings, in gardens, in reducing the need for transport, in the installation of renewable energy systems that match local topology and circumstances. That cannot be planned in detail centrally but it can evolve democratically and in a networked way if citizens share purposes and ideas and learn together how to bring it about. In this process a special effort will be needed to ensure that the needs of vulnerable people are included and protected.

(Ideas like these are discussed in Roy Madron and John Jopling's "Gaian Democracy" Schumacher Society/Green Books, 2003)

Brian Davey


领导的力量非常重要

在中国,领导的力量还是非常重要。真想要公众参与的话,领导发动比群众自发要有效得多,也快得多。中国这么大,情况很复杂,想要各地各个阶层的群众都自发参与,那太难了。不过现在的情况可能是中央政府关于环保的权利太分散了,哪个机构都做不到一呼百应。

The strong arm of leadership

In China, power resides heavily with the government. It would be far more effective and quick if the leadership were to motivate the masses. China is a large and complicated country, and it would be impossible for people of every social strata to initiate participation themselves. Moreover, the current situation may well be that powers over environmental protection are too scattered within the central government, so that no individual government organisation could actually make a call and get enough responses.


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