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Government steps up efforts to combat pollution through enabling access to environmental information

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 5 March 2008 ARTICLE 19 press release:

China: Government Steps up Efforts to Combat Pollution through Enabling Access to Environmental Information

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the Chinese Government's effort to survey the country's major sources of pollution and its plan to publish the China Pollution Source Census. "This project is not only important for the protection of the environment, but also signifies an important step towards the promotion of the public's right to environmental information", says Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

The survey will collect information on factories, farms and other entities that discharge pollutants. The information will be compiled in the China Pollution Source Census, which will be published next year. As part of this project, the census officials have set up a hotline for citizens to report polluting firms.

As development is booming everywhere in the country, China has been struggling with pollution. Citizens and NGOs have been actively voicing their concerns both through official channels and unauthorised protest. The Chinese Government has responded with a number of initiatives to improve access to information and public participation as a way to enhance environmental protection and ensure the sustainability of China's environment.

An important milestone was reached when China adopted the nationwide Open Government Information regulation in April 2007. The regulation will go into effect on the 1st of May of this year. It will cover the disclosure of information with regards to government plans for emergencies, government spending, fees for public services and results of investigations into environmental protection, public health and food and drugs safety. It will put the onus on local governments to publicise data on land acquisitions, residence relocations and related compensation, as well as aims to reduce corruption regarding the family planning laws.

As an organisation that campaigns for freedom of expression and freedom of information worldwide, ARTICLE 19 strongly supports the Chinese Government's initiatives to strengthen the public's access to information. We believe that sustainable development requires broad-based participation and access to environmental information. The experience of many countries has shown that there is a strong link between public participation and access to information, and at the international level this link and the importance of access to environmental information have been clearly cemented by Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration for Sustainable Development and the 1998 Aarhus Convention.

"We are looking forward to the publication of the China Pollution Source Census next year and more importantly the launching and implementation of the information disclosure regulation. ARTICLE 19 is keen to assist the Chinese Government and civil society to help ensure the success of the promotion of freedom of information in China", says Dr. Callamard.

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