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Environmental protection requires education, common sense: experts


15:06, July 16, 2013

BEIJING, July 15 (Xinhua) -- The suspension of a series of industrial projects illustrates the need to educate the public when it comes to protecting the environment, experts have said.

Over the past few years the public has vetoed projects due to their potential threat to the environment. Some have even resorted to protests.

The latest case came on Saturday as the Longwan Industrial Park project, a planned nuclear fuel processing facility, in Heshan City of south China's Guangdong Province was canceled.

Local residents opposed the project after it was made public by the local government earlier this month.

The scheme has met the same fate as paraxylene (PX) producing projects. Since 2007, PX projects planned in Xiamen, Dalian, and Kunming have been shut down after residents took to the streets and held large-scale protests.

However, Pan Jiahua, research fellow and director for the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said some schemes, including the nuclear fuel processing plan, are much more safer than some ordinary manufacturing projects in terms of environmental impact, as they have a higher standard of security.

As for the "notorious" PX projects, the Communist Party of China (CPC)'s flagship newspaper People's Daily said earlier last month that it is not a dangerous chemical and its carcinogenicity is the same grade as coffee, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

"The public has rejected some projects based on limited information. It is understandable, but the actions lack rationality," added Pan.

Wang Yuqing, president of Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences and former vice director of China's State Administration for Environmental Protection, said more effort in publicizing common sense and scientific knowledge is needed to better handle the relations of economic development and environmental protection.

Wang said that only by learning scientific knowledge about related industries can the public understand the consequences that the projects produce to the environment.

"Publicizing scientific knowledge is badly needed, as only about 3 percent of the population have scientific literacy," said Wang.

The environment in China has suffered over the past few decades due to rapid economic development. Public complaints about toxic air, land and water have led to mass incidents, such as the opposition to industrial projects.

However, the situation is changing as the authorities pay more attention to environmental protection. In its 18th National Congress, the CPC said the Party should respect, protect and comply with nature.

"Even so, environmental protection should coordinate with economic development, especially in developing countries like China," said Wang.

Pan said protests showed that transparency of environmental information is not enough, and information asymmetry between the public and the government still exists.

"The government should publicize more information about industrial projects, and make the information known by the public and the government more symmetrical so as to seek the public's understanding and support," added Pan.

The suspension of projects also illustrated the public's distrust of the authorities.

An official from Heshan government said they had spoken to local residents and gave them information about nuclear science, but the public continued to have doubts.

In the case of the PX projects, local governments told residents about the nature of the chemical, but still failed to persuade them to accept the plans.

"The environmental protests show a lack of government credibility. That should be addressed," Wang added.

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