China must have a more transparent system for environmental risk assessment

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 12:57am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 May, 2015, 8:31am

Assessment of the impact of new industries is a key element of environmental protection. Conducted properly, these assessments can identify issues that emerge in the planning process. This enables project developers and the authorities to resolve them before they become problems that could be difficult and perhaps expensive to deal with later. Conducted improperly, impact assessments can increase pollution risks.

This is what has happened on the mainland, according to a report from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) after its graft-busters inspected the environment protection regime late last year.

As a result of the inspection, the Ministry for Environmental Protection says it has barred or limited the work carried out by 63 risk assessment agencies and 22 assessing staff who were guilty of malpractice.

The CCDI urged reform of the environmental impact assessment reviewing system because flaws within it had increased the risk of pollution.

It said relatives and friends of some officials at the ministry had profited by running environmental risk assessment agencies. This gave them ample opportunity for corrupt gain, since all industrial projects must have environmental impact assessments, including assessments of their anti-pollution measures.

Agencies with links to local or central environmental authorities are popular with developers because their connections can help secure approval.

However, Premier Li Keqiang , who has been severely critical of bureaucratic delays to development projects, has laid some of the blame on agencies that profited from outsourcing of impact assessments. The ministry has begun cutting links with agencies affiliated with it. Making them independent may give the appearance of positive action, but it does not address the lack of openness and transparency that permits abuses and lies at the heart of flaws in the environmental review system.