Environmental awareness

Updated: 2012-10-29 07:25

(China Daily)

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The rapid rise in the number of environmental protests points to two conflicting tendencies: citizens' awakening environmental awareness and some local authorities' obsession with economic growth, even if it comes at the cost of the environment.

The statistics released by an environmental expert at a lecture hosted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Friday show that the number of protests triggered by environmental concerns has been increasing by 29 percent annually since the late 1990s. The latest one was in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang province, where people protested against the proposed expansion of a petrochemical plant late last week.

Given the central authorities' repeated emphasis on changing the country's development mode and the sustainability of the country's economic growth, as well as citizens' strong reservations about environmentally risky industrial projects, local governments need to change their mentality about growth.

Too many local governments are still preoccupied with gross domestic product, the concern residents have demonstrated about the downsides of this preoccupation should serve as a reminder that the quality of growth is more important than quantity.

The conflicts that have arisen between residents and local governments, some of which have even developed into riots, show that some local leaders still need to acquaint themselves with the notion that residents' right to a healthy environment must be adequately respected.

Once residents take to the streets or resort to other extreme actions in order to make their voices heard, local leaders should first reflect on how they have failed them, instead of accusing the citizens of damaging social stability.

Leaders of Shifang, Southwest China's Sichuan province, recalled that the riot in July could have been avoided had the local government made more transparent the entire process for the planning of the copper plant and had more communication with residents.

To prevent such incidents, governments at all levels need to increase their governing transparency and show proper concern for people's interests when drawing up their development plans.

By doing this they will be able to play their part in the necessary transformation of the economic growth mode.

(China Daily 10/29/2012 page8)