April 5, 2007

The need for Public Outreach: a case study in China

One year ago I wrote an article about the Environmental Impacts of Conversion Technologies using MSW Feedstocks. Biopact recently published a lengthy article on the impact of energy farming on primarily the "Global South" (southern hemisphere countries) - their environments and their societies.

The article includes a case study of the Chinese community of Guanxi with impacts potentially affecting over 650,000 people. The study was commissioned by Stora Enso, a major Finnish forestry company that has entered the biomass industry, and that wants to establish a large (120,000 ha) Eucalyptus plantation project. Working with Stora Enso, the United Nations Development Program conducted the study from their China office.

Biopact's focus is on the Social Impact Assessment aspect (SIA) of the report which is much more subjective than the Environmental one (EIA). Here are some representative excerpts from their article:

A closer look at Social Impact Assessments of large biofuel projects

Our bioenergy future will rely on large-scale energy farming. Many of the projects will be located in the Global South where they are set to have both positive, negative and ambiguous impacts on the environment as well as on the socio-economic fabric of the communities that host them.

Whenever large infrastructure and development interventions are carried out - from the construction of dams and pipelines to mining projects or indeed the establishment of biofuel plantations - it is absolutely critical to assess these potential impacts thoroughly before the project is implemented. Failure to do so may result in unwanted and irreversible consequences that threaten the viability of the project over the long-term.

The SIA team identified as top priority for communications work that:

• The company should strengthen its communication practices with local communities and seek expert advice on means through which more effective and transparent flow of information to all levels of affected communities can be achieved.
• The company should address, as a matter of urgency, issues surrounding clarity and transparency of rental agreements, fuelwood collection, and community perceptions of slowness.
• Maintaining a greater presence of national and foreign staff in the field to help explain the project directly to people.
• Development of peer support groups within villages.
• Establishment and support for forest plantation associations, which include land users and managers, contractors, and other stakeholders.
• Expansion of the functions of the company’s Hotline.
• A strengthened schools' program and additions to the curricula.
• Development of tele-centres (web-based information systems) as a part of the school computer program or general village out-reach.
• Regular excursions organized for local communities to plantation sites. In the longer term, an annual opportunity to visit the pulp mill.
• Introduction of communications approaches with sensitivity for gender, ethnicity, and poverty

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