R: The Law of the People's Republic of China on Environmental Impact Assessment has been around for some time. Why does the government feel the need to formulate the Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment of Plans? Can you tell us the background and significance of the move?
Wu: The Law on Environmental Impact Assessment (Law on EIA) taking effect as of Sep. 1, 2003 is a landmark in China's environmental legislation. It not only improved the EIA system for construction projects, but also paved way for the system of EIA of plans in China.
However, we gradually find out in practice that the Law on EIA fails to clarify the department for review and approval of EIA of plans. There are no detailed review procedures, nor are explicit definitions on the rights and obligations of the parties involved, such as the department for preparing the plan, the department for approval, environmental department and the public. A mandatory mechanism to form restrictions among plan development, approval and EIA of plans is not strong enough. All this has dented the implementing effect of EIA of plans and requires specific provisions by formulating administrative regulations.
The State Council issued the Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment of Plans on Aug. 17, 2009, which will take effect as of Oct. 1. This move represents a major progress in China's environmental legislation, marking a new stage that environmental protection has entered in terms of macro decision making. The Regulations provide that EIA of plans should focus on the overall impact of ecosystems in regional or river basin scale in order to prevent environmental problems from unreasonable distribution of production and resources at the source of decision making. It is an effective tool to implement the environmental protection guideline that gives priority to pollution prevention. The Regulations also make coordination of economic, social and environmental benefits a key point in promoting EIA of plans. This will help balanced and sustainable development of economy, society and the environment at system and mechanism level and it is an important measure to foster the building of ecological civilization and explore a new path to environmental protection with Chinese characteristics. The Regulations take human health and long-term environmental impact as the basic point of departure for promoting EIA of plans. It is useful for better solving environmental problems concerning people's well being at source and safeguarding people's environmental rights and interests. The Regulations provide a platform to implement human-centered approach and build a harmonious socialist society.
R: Compared with the Law on EIA, what are the aspects that have been refined in the Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment of Plans?
Wu: The Regulations identify the implementing rules for EIA of plans based on the principle of the Law on EIA and achieved some breakthrough. For instance, it clarifies the three principles of objectivity, openness and impartiality and the three aspects of assessment, namely the overall impact on ecosystems in related regions and river basins, the long-term impact on the environment and human health and the relationship among economic, social and environmental benefits and the relationship between immediate interest and long-term interest. The Regulations define the party responsible for EIA of plans and preparation of EIA documents, document preparation, public participation and implementation procedures. It also specifies the approval authority for EIA of special plans, related procedures and legal effect. It sets up accountability system and restraint systems like regional ban on EIA. Therefore, the Regulations further identify requirements of the work, responsibility, rights and obligations of related parties and standardize procedures. It enhances the feasibility and practicability of EIA system and helps to promote the implementation of EIA of plans and bring the important role of EIA of plans in preventing and curbing adverse environmental impact at source of decision making into full play. Hence, it will foster the building of a resource-efficient and environment-friendly society.
R: What are the new circumstances and tasks facing EIA of plans?
Wu: EIA of plans is one of the environmental management systems that are most closely connected with socioeconomic development. This characteristic is particularly strong in EIA of plans. Therefore, we need to have in-depth analysis and correctly understand the challenges to EIA of plans from economic, social and environmental perspectives. From economic perspective, we still face the tough problem of irrational economic structure. Restructuring the economy and promoting emission reduction is the primary task of EIA of plans in order to meet the demand of developing green economy and a low-carbon economy. We will enhance EIA on plans for industrial and regional development and make environment and resources two mandatory targets to facilitate adjustment of economic structure and transformation of development mode and move the country to a green and low-carbon path. On the one hand, we should make the size and distribution of regional or industrial development identified in the plans accommodate environmental carrying capacity so as to curb redundant projects and indiscriminate investment. On the other hand, we will make it clear in the plans the way to phase out backward production capacity and the type of projects that are prohibited or restricted, so that high pollution and energy-intensive projects and companies will step down from the market and leave limited environmental capacity to eco-friendly sectors. In the meantime, we will promote greening of development zones and circular economy through EIA of plans. In terms of social aspect, a large number of conflicts and disputes arising from environmental problems have become an important factor affecting social stability. To demonstrate the principle of human-centered approach and better safeguard people's environmental rights and interest is the point of departure of EIA of plans. We should promote EIA of plans and enhance the coordination of various plans with a view to reducing environmental problems resulted from inappropriate planning and maintaining social stability. From environmental perspective, we still have a long way to go to promote all-round decision making on environment and development. It is an essential part of EIA of plans to make scientific plan for the twelfth Five-Year Plan and promote integration of environmental protection and major development strategies. EIA of plans will help combine the state policy of environmental protection and major strategic plans of the twelfth Five-Year Plan including regional development and industrial rejuvenation plans. It will serve as a strong systematic guarantee for making comprehensive decisions on environment and development and promoting the establishment of macro environmental protection system that fits into China's national conditions. We will take the long-term impact of plans on human health as one of the basic areas for EIA analysis, estimation and assessment. While preparing documents for EIA of plans, we should strictly implement the requirement on public participation and make EIA of plans a major platform to guarantee public environmental rights and interest. Additionally, we will conduct serious investigation of reports on violation of the Regulations or any major adverse environmental impact arising from the implementation of the plans.
R: What has been done recently to promote EIA of plans? How does MEP plan to further the work after the Regulation is issued?
Wu: MEP has done the following to promote EIA of plans since the implementation of Law on Environmental Impact Assessment:
First, it has steadily promoted the building of institutions and systems. A set of regulatory documents were developed including Scope for Plans Required to Have Environmental Impact Statements (on trial), Scope of Plans Required to Prepare Environmental Impact Notice (on trial) and Measures on Review of Environmental Impact Statement of Special Plans. Local regulations and special documents were issued in 14 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) such as Shanghai, Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu and Sichuan and a number of cities including Dalian, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Qingdao and Nanjing.
Second, EIA of plans have played a proactive role to support major national macro decision-making. EIA was conducted on some strategic plans and provided important basis for plan approval and decision-making. These plans included 7 reconstruction plans in Wenchuan quake-hit area such as General Plan for Post Disaster Reconstruction and Special Plan for Productivity Distribution and Industrial Adjustment, National Plan for 50 billion kg Increment of Grain Production, Plan for the Development of Coastal Economic Belt of Liaoning Province, Plan for the Development of Coastal Area of Jiangsu Province, General Plan for the Development of Hengqin, etc.
Third, pilot work was extended intensively. 23 pilot areas for EIA of plans were launched nationwide, which covered three types of plans, namely plan for typical administrative region, plan for key industry and special plans. Marked achievement was made in institutional development, personnel training and methodology improvement. By setting up typical examples, we successfully promoted EIA of plans across the country.
Fourth, we continued to strengthen management of key areas. EIA of plans proceeded with order in such areas as urban railway transit, speedway, coal mine development, port and hydropower cascade development of river basins.
Since the promulgation of the Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment of Plans, we will focus on the following tasks:
First, we will make more effort to promote and carry out the Regulations. All forces will be mobilized to publicize the Regulations and related systems. Training courses will be provided for different levels, industry and departments to enhance management skills. We will strengthen communications with development and reform committee and departments involved in development, water resources and transport in a bid to work out review measures for EIA statements in different areas, hence enhancing the feasibility of the Regulations.
Second, we will put more emphasis on EIA for the development of key industries and regions. EIA of plans for key industries will be launched and regulatory documents will be unveiled as appropriate. Management of overcapacity sectors like iron & steel and cement will be stepped up through EIA of plans and in-depth review will be conducted to see whether the size and distribution of productivity set in industrial development plan are reasonable. This will be the premise for accepting EIA documents for energy-intensive projects within the region. We will facilitate EIA of industrial plans, particularly focusing on papermaking and chemical industries that have a big impact on water environment to strictly control the discharge of toxic and hazardous substances according to the requirement of rehabilitating rivers and lakes. The effectiveness of EIA of development plans for mineral resources will be strengthened to prevent adverse impact arising from plan implementation on such important eco function zones as regional nature reserves and scenic spots. Thus, maintaining the service functions of important eco systems. We will also pay attention to EIA of plans for transportation infrastructures, ensuring that the road network and port distribution coordinate with regional eco safety pattern, eco function zones and ecological landscape. We will strive to improve EIA of urban planning. We will make use of EIA of plans to get involved in overall urban planning and preparation of related development plans at an early stage and interact with them during the whole process, so that we will be able to safeguard environmental quality of human settlement, optimize the pattern of urban eco safety and lead cities to healthy development from the perspective of the layout of urban development. Strict standard will be set for EIA of plans for development zones and industrial parks by identifying environmental measures of development zones and environmental threshold of introduced projects. We will advance EIA of plans for development of major regions that concern the overall social and economic development, promote rational distribution of important productivity and linkage of regional industries and work for the establishment of a spatial industrial layout system which is conducive to the country's ecological security.
Third, we will step up the force of EIA of plans. Departments responsible for plan preparation, plan approval and environmental protection are expected to perform their duties by strengthening joint supervision and inspection of the implementation of the Regulations. We will bring the directional role of EIA of plans into play and improve the linkage system between EIA of plans and EIA of projects. EIA of projects included in the plans will be suspended for some key industries which fail to go through EIA of plans according to law. Pilot work of follow-up assessment of environmental impact will start to ensure countermeasures brought forward in the course of EIA of plans are fully implemented.
Fourth, we will embark on strategic EIA for the five regions. Strategic EIA of will continue with the focus on the development of key industries in the Bohai Sea Rim, west bank of the Taiwan Strait, Beibu Bay, Chengdu-Chongqing region and the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River by coordinating related work in the 15 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) involved. Phased result will be presented by the end of this year, which will serve the need of developing strategies and plans for 12th Five-Year Plan period.
Fifth, we will constantly expand the connotation of EIA of plans. Prospective study will be carried out on issues of emission reduction and low-carbon production to meet the need of post-financial crisis and follow the international trend of developing low-carbon economy. We will have exploration on assessment of biodiversity in EIA of plans for the development of biodiversity sensitive regions to keep an eye on the cumulative effect of plan implementation on biodiversity.
(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)