Community pressure in China is as powerful as fines for preventing industrial pollution

Using pressure from well informed communities in China is a cost-effective strategy for promoting pollution regulation, says a report released this week by the World Bank environmental organisation, New Ideas in Pollution Regulation (NIPR).

According to Pollution Charge, community pressure and abatement cost: an analysis of Chinese industries, by Dr Hua Wang, pressure from local communities, either directly on polluting plants or via formal citizen complaint, is as effective at reducing pollution as the fining of offenders.

Prosecution for violations of environmental standards has only recently been introduced in China, and even now firms are not seriously penalised for missing abatement deadlines if their pollution is not extensive, says Wang. Regulators have relied heavily on market-based incentives for controlling pollution. In 1982 China’s State Council began implementation of pollution charges, and since then billions of Yuan Renminbi (RMB) have been collected each year from hundreds of thousands of industrial polluters for air, water, solid waste, and noise pollution (US$1 = 8RMB).

Levies collected from polluters are used to finance environmental institutional development, administration and environmental projects, says Wang. Firms who decide to invest in pollution abatement can also use a maximum of 80% of their fine to subsidise the project. The pollution intensities of Chinese industries have been significantly responsive to the levy system, the implementation of which is affected considerably by community action.

“Cases are not scarce in China where citizens or citizen groups fight with plants which are seriously polluting local watersheds or air-sheds by directly using violence or lawsuit,” said Wang. “Chinese environmental authorities are also responding to a citizen complaint programme with which any citizen can write, call or visit the local office of environmental authorities for any environmental issues.”

Each year thousands of complaints are received by authorities, and as well as affecting legislation, studies have shown that they also significantly increase environmental inspections.

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