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Chinese divided over new environmental policy
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The Chinese public, while all eager for a cleaner environment, couldn't agree with each other on the government's new policy of a "green insurance system," with some hailing it as "genius" but others taking a wait-and-see attitude, a survey found.

The online poll, by the mass-circulation China Youth Daily and major Internet portal Tencent, found that although 64.5 percent of the 806 respondents "never heard of idea of green insurance system before," 51.7 percent showed support to it.

The policy, which aimed to have all industries with pollution risks insured, was introduced last month with an aim to better monitor polluting industries and help victims get immediate compensation.

Moreover, 34.9 percent of the repliers lauded it "a genius idea" as it "represented a market measure instead of a simple government regulation."

The policy put more weight on the enterprises' responsibility in reducing environment pollution, said Zhang Xiaofeng, a scholar from the Communication University of China. "While in business activities, the enterprises will be subject to not only supervision from the government, but also restraint from insurance companies," he said.

Different from the above supportive attitude, as the poll reveals, 45.2 percent of the participants took it as just a "new idea" of the government its own and 43.8 percent believed it "hard to implement."

Those who believed it "hard to implement" said environmental insurance was an extra expenditure for companies, making it no easy rule for companies to follow.

The survey also found 19.8 percent of the respondents believed the government should take sole responsibility for containing pollution, and 25 percent believed the "green insurance policy" unnecessary.

The system would be tried out this year in "companies that produce, sell, store, transport or use high-risk chemical products" and "petrochemical industries and dangerous waste disposing enterprises that are prone to heavy and serious pollution accidents", according to Pan Yue, vice director of SEPA, the country's top environmental watchdog.

The system will be implemented nationwide by 2015 after a trial period, according to a road map jointly set by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC).

In the past, once a serious environmental incident happened, the company responsible usually resorted to bankruptcy in face of the huge compensation and pollution control expenses. Victims usually couldn't get timely compensation, and the government had to earmark huge funds to rectify the situation. The green insurance system was expected to solve the problem.

In addition to the "green insurance system", China has also adopted a "green credit policy" and a "green securities policy" to curb pollution.

The "green credit policy" instructed banks to stop making loans to high-energy consuming and polluting industries.

According to the policy, not only companies causing heavy pollution and wasting energy are disqualified from getting loans, companies that already have loans, but are later discovered to have violated environmental protection regulations will also have their loans called in.

The "green securities policy" stipulated that highly polluting companies must pass environmental inspections when applying for an initial public offering (IPO) or re-financing.

China is in a period of "high incidence of environmental pollution accidents", Pan has said. Altogether, 108 cases of emergent environmental incidents were reported in 2007, with one case every two days on average.

SEPA figures show 81 percent of the country's 7,555 large-scale heavy chemical projects are in environmentally-sensitive areas that are densely populated or adjacent to neighboring rivers, while 45 percent are "sources with serious risks".

(Xinhua News Agency March 20, 2008)

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