Communist Party delegate Cai Cengma, center, in traditional Mongolian ethnic minority dress, walks with other delegates to the Great Hall of the People, where the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress is held in Beijing.

Alexander F. Yuan, Associated Press

China orders 'social risk' reviews for big projects

  • Article by: KEITH BRADSHER
  • New York Times
  • November 12, 2012 - 7:52 PM


BEIJING - China's Cabinet has ordered that all major industrial projects must pass a "social risk assessment" before they begin, a move intended to curtail the large and increasingly violent environmental protests of the past year, which forced the suspension or cancellation of chemical plants, coal-fired power plants and a giant copper smelter.

The announcement came Monday during a news conference held in conjunction with the 18th Communist Party Congress, at which several senior officials addressed social issues ahead of the once-in-a decade transition of power in the Chinese leadership.

"No major projects can be launched without social risk evaluations," Zhou Shengxian, the environment minister, said. "By doing so, I hope we can reduce the number of mass incidents in the future."

The national government has said on several occasions that it was studying ways to conduct social risk evaluations, and the current Five-Year Plan through 2015 calls for a mechanism to be created to make such assessments.

Some local and provincial governments already have procedures for assessing whether a community will reject a planned project, separate from environmental risk assessments.

But Zhou is the first to say that the Cabinet, formally known as the State Council, has actually ordered that no more major projects be started without a social risk assessment, said Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, one of the best-known environmental groups in Beijing.

Zhou also noted that effective Sept. 1, all government agencies in China had been ordered to make public all environmental impact assessments by posting them on the Internet, together with a description of what the government planned to do about the assessments. The decision was announced at the time, but it received limited attention.

Many environmental officials in China want the introduction of social risk assessments because protests against industrial projects often involve broader issues than just the environment and may extend to such questions as whether the land for the project was lawfully obtained with proper compensation for its previous owners, Ma said.

Powerful interests often have stakes in projects, and they have far more influence than local environmental officials. But when projects set off rioting, environmental regulators tend to be blamed for having allowed construction to begin.

"The environmental agencies feel they have been put under too much pressure, beyond the authority they've got," Ma said.

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