Greenpeace backs Chinese Environment Bureau crackdown on Environmentally irresponsible development

Press release - 2005-01-26
Greenpeace China today welcomed the Chinese government State Environment Protection Administration's (SEPA) announcement that thirty large scale infrastructure projects across the nation would be halted with those responsible fined for violating Environmental laws.

SEPA's decision to stop the projects on legal grounds is a strong signal of the environment bureau's determination to take a more proactive role in China's development.

According to SEPA the project developers have ignored their responsibility to conduct proper environmental impact assessments and have failed to follow proper government procedure by obtaining permits from SEPA before starting construction. This is the first time SEPA has publicly called a halt on such a grand scale to projects under construction or near completion. The move demonstrates a new level of rigour in enforcing China's environmental laws.

Lo Sze Ping, Campaign Director of Greenpeace China welcomed the move, saying:

"SEPA's move marks a significant shift in attitude. The achievement of what the Chinese Premier has called 'scientific development' for China, with its concern for environmental and social justice, is getting closer. It is courageous of SEPA to insist that environmental considerations are not sidelined by the vested interests of these powerful developers".

The dramatic shift in SEPA's position faces stiff opposition from the companies and local government bodies behind the projects. In the face of mounting pressure , Pan Yue, the Deputy Minister of SEPA, stood firm, resolving to further what has been described as 'the environmental impact assessment storm' and to involve civil society in the process.

Mr Pan said: "Due to the vast number of projects, it is unlikely that government could monitor them all. We must mobilize NGOs and the public to engage in the environmental impact assessment and administration. Through various means such as auditing and seminars, we should empower and respect the civil society as a fundamental force in environment assessment and policy-making."

China, typically portrayed as a major environmental threat to the world's future, is currently the second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the USA and set to be the single biggest emitter within the next two decades. Nowhere is China's position as an environmental threat clearer than in the issue of climate change. In recent years China's phenomenal economic growth has created enormous demand for new electricity generation capacity. Many new coal-fired power plants have been pushed forward by local governments without full approval from central government. The growth of coal power has alarmed SEPA and even the National Development and Reform Commission (which encompasses the Energy Bureau). In 2004 an NDRC spokesman described the situation as a 'power plant frenzy' that could "cause an irrational surplus of electricity [generating capacity]…take a heavy toll on our resources and damage the environment". Of the thirty projects stopped by SEPA, 19 are coal fired power plants.

Greenpeace has identified SEPA's action as a counterpart to the Chinese central government's new drive to develop clean, safe, renewable energy. A Renewable Energy Promotion law is slated to come into effect within the next few months. The independent green NGO suggested that a new commitment to enforcing environmental standards offers hope for China to avoid some of the mistakes made by developed countries whose historical actions have caused the climate crisis. Greenpeace is supporting renewable energy development in China and believes that energy conservation and clean energy technology such as wind power has a crucial role to play in China's development as well as the country's response to climate change.

"The catastrophic effects of climate change are becoming increasingly stark, with China in the front line for some of the most devastating impacts. It is clear that tough action will be needed for China's development to be possible without wrecking the planet. SEPA is right to question the environmental impact of these coal plants. The environment bureau's firm stance is a signal that the Chinese government is getting serious about confronting environmental problems and grappling with the challenges of achieving social and economic growth without exceeding the world's capacity to support it."

For more details contact:

Li Moxuan, Media Campaigner: +86 135 0116 6821

Lo Sze Ping, Campaigns Director: +86 13911460873

Notes:

1) On November 16 2004, Greenpeace China, in exactly the spirit of Mr. Pan Yue's call for civil society involvement in environmental protection, released its investigative report to expose timber giant, Asia Pulp & Paper’s large-scale illegal logging in Yunnan province. Two days later Zhejiang Hotel Association responded by boycotting APP products. In December, the State Forestry Administration dispatched an investigation team to Yunnan. On January 7, SFA publicized the investigation results that APP is accountable to the mass forest destruction in Yunnan. Almost simultaneously SEPA called its moratorium on the thirty infrastructure projects.

2) A report released jointly by Greenpeace, the European Wind Energy Association and the Chinese Renewable Energy Industry Association suggests that by 2020 China could achieve a wind energy capacity of 170,000MW with the right policy measures. Wind Force 12, May 2004.

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