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Report shows progress in environmental information disclosure, but pollution data still withheld

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - London, 16 December 2010 - ARTICLE 19 and the Centre for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) at the China University of Political Science and Law launched a new report today entitled Access to Environmental Information in China: Evaluation of Local Compliance. The report outlines the findings of an evaluation on access to environmental information in seven cities across China.

The report found progress in access to government-held environmental information in China since the adoption of national RTI regulations in 2008. A significant amount of environmental information has been disclosed by the environmental agencies both proactively and upon request. In some cities, local environmental protection bureaus (EPB) have set up online mechanisms to facilitate access to environmental information and the submission of information requests by the public.

However, there is still a wide gap between existing practices and the legal requirements under China's Open Government Information Regulations and Measures on Open Environmental Information (for Trial Implementation). In particular, information relating to pollutant emissions, waste disposal and a list of illegally polluting enterprises was the hardest to obtain. In addition, disclosure of environmental information by large enterprises is very limited, which is likely due to the lack of legal requirements on enterprises to publish information.

"Environmental agencies may have been unwilling to release information on pollutant emissions for fear of affecting economic development or generating negative press. But such an approach is unsustainable. The free flow of information is key to the monitoring of responsible environmental behaviours and for the execution of timely responses to serious industrial impacts on the environment," says Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

Seven grassroots environmental organisations across China carried out the evaluation by examining published environment information on the websites and other communication channels of local environmental agencies and large enterprises, and submitting information requests to their EPBs. The activity has enhanced their ability to exercise their right to access environmental information.

"Through participating in this survey, we see that there is much improvement in EPB's work on environmental information disclosure. However, there is still room for improvement," says Liu Hong Ming, a member of Friends of Nature Shanghai, who participated in the survey, "As a civil society organisation, we need to step up our work on information disclosure, and build our own capacities and skills in making information requests."

In the report, ARTICLE 19 and CLAPV provide a set of recommendations to Chinese environmental agencies and civil society organisations to strengthen the government's mechanism and capacity for environmental information disclosure, establish standards on information disclosure by enterprises, and enhance collaboration among civil society organisations on promoting greater access to environmental information.

Click here to read the full report
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