Who guards the green guards?
Updated: 2013-02-21 10:07
By Wu Wenchong and Jiang Xueqing (China Daily)
More than 50 key hydropower projects are listed in the country's Five-Year Plan for energy development (2011-2015), released by the State Council, China's cabinet, on Jan 23.
One of those is the controversial Xiaonanhai hydropower project in Chongqing, southwest China, which may have a serious impact on the future of rare fish - including the Paddlefish from the Polyodontidae family, the Largemouth Bronze Gudgeon (Coreius guichenoti), and the Chinese suckerfish (Myxocyprinus asiaticus) - that use the Yangtze River as a route to their annual spawning grounds.
In 2000, a crucial conservation zone on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River was built to ease the ecological impact of the Three Gorges Dam project, but it has twice been reduced in size to provide more space for the dams, practically destroying the original purpose of the zone.
Experts perceived the release of the energy plan as a green light for the hydropower projects, although the results of the EIAs have yet to be made public.
The situation corresponds to a problem pinpointed by Chai Fahe, deputy head of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences. In a paper published in 2000, Chai commented that China's EIA system is always "in a passive position".
"The assessment always takes place after a development plan has somehow gained government approval, which means the EIA system can only work to come up with catch-up plans to control the potential environmental risks," wrote Chai.
Although the EIA system now covers assessment of the planning of development projects, the situation is still basically unchanged, according to Xia.
"In China, lawsuits about environmental issues all focus on individual projects. A regional plan has never been subject to a lawsuit, something that is normal in the West," he said. "Planning that takes environmental issues into account should be the first line of defense, rather than environmental impact assessment."
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