Testimony by Barbara Finamore to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, April 1, 2010

NRDC’s Environmental Law Project has been actively engaged in environmental transparency projects in China for nearly five years in an effort to improve the use of environmental information to strengthen implementation of China’s environmental laws and policies, and to enhance public involvement in environmental protection. This is just one component of a suite of projects in China to improve environmental governance and to help China achieve its environmental and energy goals. Our other projects on governance and law include collaboration on environmental legislation, such as China’s Atmospheric Pollution Prevention and Control Law, work with China’s environmental courts, judges and lawyers, as well as efforts to build better environmental health and climate change governance.

Importance of Open Environmental Information

My experience in China over the last twenty years and many years before that working on environmental issues in the United States has given me a clear understanding of the fundamental importance of public access to accurate, timely environmental information as a tool for strengthening environmental protection. This has been a pillar of our work at NRDC in the United States, China and around the world for over four decades.

Open information mechanisms have been proven to reduce pollution and improve human health by driving better environmental protection. The first broad-based use of environmental information as a regulatory technique was the Toxics Release Inventory (“TRI”), established in 1986 in the United States in the aftermath of the Union Carbide chemical accident in Bhopal, India. In the past decade, signatories to the “Aarhus Convention”2 ratified open information as a key tool for environmental protection and subsequently created the Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers to the Aarhus Convention, which established the rules for TRI-like systems in the Aarhus signatory countries. More generally, disclosure of environmental information is now recognized as a core component of environmental regulatory regimes in countries around the world.

China’s Recognition of the Importance of Environmental Information

Like many other countries, China has also begun to look to environmental information disclosure as a way to improve environmental protection. China’s leaders recognize that open information is an important way to bring a variety of stakeholders – such as members of the public and businesses – into its environmental protection efforts, and to improve the quality of information needed to achieve the country’s environmental and energy targets. Environmental transparency is also seen as having the potential to provide assistance to perennially overextended environmental agencies. China’s shift towards greater transparency on environmental issues has created an opportunity for international cooperation and capacity building, and NRDC has been working with various stakeholders in China, including government agencies, environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and local communities, to build a stronger foundation for environmental transparency in China.

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