July 25, 2023

Environmental Impact Assessment: From the perspective of China

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) refers to the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating, and mitigating the environmental, biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals or projects prior to major decisions taken and commitments made (IAIA and IEA, 1999).

EIA was originated from the United States’ National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. In the early 1970s, the foundation of EIA in China was started. Formally EIA was included to the regulatory structure in 1979 with China‘s Environmental Protection Law. In the late of 1970s, increasing interest in EIA was the byproduct of economic reforms due to adopting the reform and open policy.  

With China’s main target to achieve economic development, concerns gradually developed regarding the lack of attention paying to the environment. There was no strict prohibition to the withdrawals and additions of environment that’s why many environment related issues has arisen in China. The country is facing serious environmental degradation and natural resource depletion despite having achievement in growth rate. In consequence, an effective EIA is required to achieve the new goals because the current EIA has exhibited implementation difficulties and various deficiencies.

This paper will review 4 historical stages of EIA development in China, evaluate current EIA procedures, and makes several possible suggestions to establish an effective EIA in contemporary China in the context of sustainable development.


Development of Environment Impact Assessment


  1. Preparation: Prior to 1979


The EIA was introduced in China in this periodical timeframe. The initial driving force for raising the awareness of environmental concerns in China was the 1972 Stockholm United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE). In 1973, the first Environment Protection Conference was held following the formation of Environment Protection Committee.  

After that some research institute and universities started to work on forming the EIA guidelines and research methods. A very limited number of projects were conducted in this period & environmental quality evaluation was emphasized only.

  1. Growth: 1979 to 1986


In 1979 the Environmental Protection Law provided the legal basis for the introduction of EIA in China. After that the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) was established in 1982 as the chief agency for addressing the environmental issues. Subordinate institutions such as the Environmental Protection Bureau (EPB) then established all over the country. Even the focus of EIA also shifted from environmental quality evaluation to construction project EIA.

In that period, almost 65% EIAs were conducted out of the total 445 large and medium-sized construction projects. In 1981 the Environmental Protection Management Ordinance for Basic Construction Projects first published and it defines EIA procedures and standardization of the environmental impact statement (EIS).

  1. Rapid Growth: 1986 to 1990


In this phase, several very important regulations and policies have been designed related to EIA including the Management Regulations of Environmental Protection for Construction Projects and the Management Regulations of EIA Certificate for Construction Projects.

Before conducting EIA investigations, it was required for qualified EIA agents to obtain credentials. One of the most prominent characteristic of this period was the development of EIA methodologies and prediction techniques such as the environmental system model methods, environmental economic analysis methods, and system analysis methods.  


  1. Improvement: 1990 to up to date


The Environmental Protection Law was published with its final edition after 10 years of trial in 1989. Regional EIAs were promoted in lieu of individual project EIAs. Besides EIA focus shifted from industrial pollution to ecological issues. International exchanges and cooperation were strengthened.

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