Small but effective moves towards a greener China

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Your Editorial 'Raising the standards' (Nature 459, 1033–1034; 2009) reports on the pressure being imposed by non-governmental organizations on China's local governments to provide the public with more information about pollution. There is encouraging evidence that even a small organization can have an impact in this domain.

Ten years ago, there was hardly any environmental enforcement by civil society or by the markets in China. In 1999–2000, the World Bank collaborated on a pilot programme with the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning, Nanjing University, the Zhenjiang Environmental Protection Bureau in Jiangsu Province and the Hohhot Academy of Environmental Sciences in Inner Mongolia. This experiment, aimed at publicizing information about environmental performance, was run in Hohhot and Zhenjiang. Although the programme was halted at the end of the pilot phase in Hohhot, it was sustained in Zhenjiang.

Despite the top leadership's intention to clean up China's environment, the evaluation system is biased towards economic development. A push from the bottom is badly needed to attract the attention of local governments to the environment.

The Pollution Information Transparency Index now has wide geographical coverage, and efforts are continuing by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. So we have every reason to look forward to more informed public participation in environmental issues, stimulating local governments to embark on a path to a greener China.

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Li, W. Small but effective moves towards a greener China. Nature 460, 683–684 (2009) doi:10.1038/460683c

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