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Legal Framework and Standards Crucial to Brownfield Sites Management

China Development Gateway, January 14, 2011 Adjust font size:

China has an opportunity to clean up and reuse contaminated sites to achieve the dual objectives of reduced environmental and health impacts, and improve the efficiency of urban land use. In order to achieve these dual objectives, China needs to step up its efforts to improve contaminated land management and redevelopment, according to a new World Bank study entitled "Overview of the Current Situation on Brownfield Remediation and Redevelopment in China". It can take the first necessary steps by developing a comprehensive legal system that clearly defines responsibilities and liabilities, and by introducing standards on land pollution and remediation.

A 'brownfield' is a parcel of land contaminated by one or more hazardous substances, but that has potential to be reused once it is cleaned up. In the past several years, hundreds of polluting enterprises have been relocated away from city centers in Beijing, Shenyang, Guangzhou and other large Chinese cities. As a result, a large number of abandoned industrial brownfield sites can potentially be "recycled" for contemporary urban use, appropriate to the safe levels achieved after the clean-up.

As urban land becomes increasingly scarce, in the absence of adequate clean-up, pollution incidents associated with land contamination in China are increasing. "As reported by news media, pollution incidents associated with land contamination are becoming a growing concern in China. Many brownfield sites, if not managed well, will pose an environmental and health hazard in China's most densely populated areas, as well as an obstacle to urban and economic development" said Jian Xie, Senior Environmental Specialist of the World Bank, who is the task manager of the World Bank Brownfield Program in China and the principal author of the new report.

The report reviews the current efforts being made by the Chinese government in recent years to address brownfield issues. In addition to the need for developing a comprehensive legal system and standards, the World Bank study also identifies the following areas for further work.

- Strengthening coordination and cooperation among various government agencies at both the central and local level. Better cooperation is warranted in such areas as: assessment of contaminated sites, land ownership transfer, remediation design and implementation, planning for re-use, and completion acceptance of the clean-up process.

- Adopting a risk-based approach to developing soil clean-up measures for a brownfield site. To do this, remediation objectives, measures, and cost estimates need to be developed based on the risks that the site poses to the environment and the surrounding population. Risk assessment can help ensure that the most important sites are tackled first, where "important" is a combination of high financial value and high environmental risk.

- Developing economic and financial instruments to provide incentives and mobilize funding for remediation and redevelopment of brownfields. These include environmental taxes, cleanup grants, loans, guarantees and market licenses, in line with the "polluter pays" principle.

- Adopting cost-effective remediation technologies. The selection of technologies should take into consideration the intended use and conditions of each brownfield site. China may also take advantage of mature and proven technologies already common in developed countries, and adapt them to local circumstances.

- Enhancing public awareness and participation. Redevelopment of contaminated land can have an effect on human health. Therefore, information should be made available to the public to make them aware of the risks and benefits, and to gain their support and facilitate their participation in brownfield site management.

A companion paper, entitled "International Experience in Policy and Regulatory Frameworks for Brownfield Site Management", shares successful experience and lessons learned in a number of developed countries. "The experience of adopting a risk-based approach as well as the various financing mechanisms used in the developed world can be very useful to China," said Magda Lovei, World Bank's Sector Manager for Environment, Social and Rural Development in East Asia and Pacific Region.

"The World Bank is assisting China in addressing the challenge of brownfield management. This study is intended to help us gain a better understanding of the current situation and to identify new areas and opportunities of brownfield remediation and redevelopment to which the Bank may provide technical and financial support," said Ede Ijjasz, World Bank's China Sector Manager for Sustainable Development.

(China Development Gateway January 14, 2011)

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