China Environment Ministry lacks bite after 2 years

Feature Story - 2010-03-29
It's amazing to think that just two years ago China didn't even have an environmental body at ministerial level. Here’s what Greenpeace thinks of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), which marked its second birthday over the weekend.

China's Ministry of Environmental Protection turned two years old in March 2010.

It's not good.

After two years on the job, Greenpeace thinks the MEP has not been given enough power to do its job.

"The Ministry of Environmental Protection still lacks real power to enforce China's environmental regulations," says Sze Pang Cheung, Greenpeace China's campaign director.

"China urgently needs a more powerful environment ministry with more political will to change the status quo."

The key problem is that the MEP has not been given the power nor the resources to control local environmental bureaus.

The MEP also lacks bite when it comes to dealing with the older more powerful ministries who are apt to put economic short-term gain ahead of environmental protection - a "develop and be damned" mentality.

MEP publishes pollution census

Back in February there were small signs that the MEP was beginning to come into its own when it published the country's first national pollution census (although that report was ordered and started in 2006 before the MEP existed).

However, the results - which counted almost six million sources of pollution from industry, homes and agriculture - was a welcome attempt to highlight the grave environmental situation.

And although it has made some effort at wresting control on a local level it is not being given the support it needs.

"Without the authority and resources for direct management of local environment bureaus, the Ministry of Environmental Protection is still struggling to enforce environmental policies and regulations," adds Sze.

MEP quiet on GE rice

Greenpeace is also disappointed that the MEP is often silent on crucial environmental issues such as the recent disclosure that genetically-engineered rice was more or less cleared for commercialization back in 2008 but the public weren't told about it until a year later.

In fact, our assessment of the MEP last year (read story here) was not much different.

It's shocking that China did not have an environmental ministry until March 2008.

It's even more shocking that despite the name it is still not acting like a ministry.