Environmental issues in China
China has many environmental issues, severely affecting its biophysical environment as well as human health. Rapid industrialization as well as lax environmental oversight have contributed to the problems. According to Thomas V. Harwood III, 16 of the 20 most polluted cities are in China. The Chinese government has acknowledged the problems and made various responses, resulting in some improvements, but the responses have been criticized as inadequate. As of 2012, there is increased citizen activism regarding government decisions that are perceived as environmentally damaging, and a retired Chinese Communist Party official has reported that more than 50,000 environmental protests occurred in China in 2012.
- 1 Environmental policy
- 2 Issues
- 3 Community activism
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
- 7 External links
The Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People's Republic of China, formerly the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), is a cabinet-level ministry in the executive branch of the Chinese Government that is responsible for implementing environmental policies, as well as the enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. The Chinese environmental agency and energy planning authority employs 200 people, while The Energy Bureau of the National Development and Reform Commission, China's central planning agency, consists of 100 full-time staff members.
Since 2002, the number of complaints to the environmental authorities increased by 30 percent every year, reaching 600,000 in 2004; meanwhile, according to an article by the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs Ma Jun in 2007, the number of mass protests caused by environmental issues grew by 29 percent every year since that time.
The growing attention upon environmental matters since the commencement of the 21st century caused the Chinese government to display an increased level of concern towards environmental issues and the creation of sustainable growth. For example, in his annual address in 2007, Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the People's Republic of China, made 48 references to "environment," "pollution," and "environmental protection", and stricter environmental regulations were subsequently implemented. Some of the subsidies for polluting industries were cancelled, while some polluting industries were shut down. However, although the promotion of clean energy technology occurred, many environmental targets were missed.
After the 2007 address, polluting industries continued to receive inexpensive access to land, water, electricity, oil, and bank loans, while market-oriented measures, such as surcharges on fuel and coal, were not considered by the government despite their proven success in other countries. The significant influence of corruption was also a hindrance to effective enforcement, as local authorities ignored orders and hampered the effectiveness of central decisions. In response to a challenging environmental situation, President Hu Jintao implemented the "Green G.D.P." project, whereby China's gross domestic product was adjusted to compensate for negative environmental effects; however, the program lost official influence in spring 2007 due to the confronting nature of the data. The project's lead researcher claimed that provincial leaders terminated the program, stating “Officials do not like to be lined up and told how they are not meeting the leadership’s goals ... They found it difficult to accept this.” Furthermore, the Chinese government attempted to hold national "No Car Days" throughout nearly 100 cities, including Beijing, by banning cars on central roads; however, the action was largely ignored.
Heavy industry, dominated by state-owned enterprises, has been promoted since the beginning of central planning and its constituents still have many privileges, such as access to cheap energy and loans. In China, heavy industry tends to be a polluting sector and possesses considerable power to resist environmental regulation.
The Center for American Progress has described China's environmental policy as similar to that of the United States before 1970. That is, the central government issues fairly strict regulations, but the actual monitoring and enforcement is largely undertaken by local governments that are more interested in economic growth. Furthermore, due to the restrictive conduct of China's undemocratic regime, the environmental work of non-governmental forces, such as lawyers, journalists, and non-governmental organizations, is severely hampered.
The environmental Kuznets curve refers to a debatable relationship whereby environmental issues initially deteriorate and then, for at least for some of these issues, an improvement occurs as the economy further develops. A 2009 review argued that China appears to follow a trajectory similar to that of currently-more industrialized nations as they became more developed. While China has relied on an unusually high amount of polluting heavy industry relative to its developmental stage, in a technical sense, it is relatively straightforward for it to clean up some forms of air and water pollution; also, the cost has become less expensive and this creates high benefit/cost ratios. It was argued that financial resources was not an issue for China, but rather, sufficient political support was necessary for improvements to occur. Other areas, such as CO2 emissions, are more difficult to improve, as is also the case in developed nations.
The water resources of China are affected by both severe water quantity shortages and severe water quality pollution. An increasing population and rapid economic growth as well as lax environmental oversight have increased water demand and pollution. China has responded by measures such as rapidly building out the water infrastructure and increased regulation as well as exploring a number of further technological solutions. Water usage by its coal-fired power stations are drying-up Northern China.
Although China's forest cover is only 20%, the country has some of the largest expanse of forested land in the world, making it a top target for forest preservation efforts. In 2001, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) listed China among the top 15 countries with the most "closed forest," i.e., virgin, old growth forest or naturally regrown woods. 12% of China's land area, or more than 111 million hectares, is closed forest. However, the UNEP also estimates that 36% of China's closed forests are facing pressure from high population densities, making preservation efforts that much more crucial. In 2011, Conservation International listed the forests of south-west Sichuan as one of the world's ten most threatened forest regions.
According to the Chinese government website, the Central Government invested more than 40 billion yuan between 1998 and 2001 on protection of vegetation, farm subsidies and conversion of farm to forests. Between 1999 and 2002, China converted 7.7 million hectares of farmland into forest.
Desertification remains a serious problem, consuming an area greater than that taken by farmlands. Although desertification has been curbed in some areas, it still is expanding at a rate of more than 67 km² every year. 90% of China's desertification occurs in the west of the country. Approximately 30% of China's surface area is desert. China's rapid industrialization could cause this area to drastically increase. The Gobi Desert in the north currently expands by about 950 square miles (2,500 km2) per year. The vast plains in northern China used to be regularly flooded by the Yellow River. However, overgrazing and the expansion of agricultural land could cause this area to increase.
In 2001, China initiated a "Green Wall of China" project. It is a project to create a 2,800-mile (4,500 km) "green belt" to hold back the encroaching desert. The first phase of the project, to restore 9 million acres (36,000 km²) of forest, will be completed by 2010 at an estimated cost of $8 billion. The Chinese government believes that, by 2050, it can restore most desert land back to forest. The project is possibly the largest ecological project in history. It has also been criticized on various grounds such as other methods being more effective.
The position of the Chinese government on climate change is contentious. China is the world's current largest emitter of carbon dioxide although not the cumulative largest. China has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but as a non-Annex I country is not required to limit greenhouse gas emissions under terms of the agreement.
Various forms of pollution have increased as China have industrialized which has caused widespread environmental and health problems. China has responded with increasing environmental regulations and a build-up of pollutant treatment infrastructure which have caused improvements on some variables. As of 2013 Beijing, which lies in a topographic bowl, has significant industry, and heats with coal, is subject to air inversions resulting in extremely high levels of pollution in winter months.
In response to an increasingly problematic air pollution problem, the Chinese government announced a five-year, US$277 billion plan to address the issue. Northern China will receive particular attention, as the government aims to reduce air emissions by 25 percent by 2017, compared with 2012 levels, in those areas where pollution is especially serious. According to a report published by by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health in December 2012, the coal industry is responsible for the highest levels of air pollution (19 percent), followed by vehicle emissions (6 percent). In January 2013, fine airborne particulates that pose the largest health risks, rose as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing, compared with World Health Organization guidelines of no more than 25. The World Bank estimates that 16 of the world's most-polluted cities are located in China.
China currently has the world's largest population but population growth is very slow in part due to the one-child policy.
According to a 2007 article, during the 1980 to 2000 period the energy efficiency improved greatly. However, in 1997, due to fears of a recession, tax incentives and state financing were introduced for rapid industrialization. This may have contributed to the rapid development of very energy inefficient heavy industry. Chinese steel factories used one-fifth more energy per ton than the international average. Cement needed 45 percent more power, and ethylene needed 70 percent more than the average. Chinese buildings rarely had thermal insulation and used twice as much energy to heat and cool as those in the Europe and the United States in similar climates. 95% of new buildings did not meet China's own energy efficiency regulations.
A 2011 report by a project facilitated by World Resources Institute stated that the 11th five-year plan (2005 to 2010), in response to worsening energy intensity in the 2002-2005 period, set a goal of a 20% improvement of energy intensity. The report stated that this goal likely was achieved or nearly achieved. The next five-year plan set a goal of improving energy intensity by 16%.
Implementation of international environmental agreements
Compliance with the spirit of CITES Convention in relation to the continued importation of ivory, rhino horn and shark fins have been controversial issues for China.
Protests commenced in the southern town of Yinggehai in April 2012 following the announcement of a power plant project to be constructed in the small town. The protesters initially succeeded in halting the project, worth 3.9 billion renminbi (£387m) plant, as another town was selected for the location of the plant; however, the residents in the second location also resisted and the authorities returned to Yinggehai. A second round of protests occurred in October 2012 and police engaged aggressively with around 1,000 protesters on this occasion, leading to 50 arrests and almost 100 injuries (according to reports from the Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, a Hong Kong-based rights group).
In response to a waste pipeline for a paper factory in the city of Qidong, several thousand demonstrators protested in July 2012. According to the Xinhua news agency, 16 protesters from Qidong were sentenced in early 2013 to between 12 and 18 months in prison; however, 13 were granted a reprieve on the grounds that they had confessed and repented.
- Environment of China
- Environmental issues with the Three Gorges Dam
- Dongtan, Chinese ecocity
- Tan Kai
- Wu Lihong
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- China’s Great Green Wall Proves Hollow
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- chinadialogue the bilingual source of high-quality news, analysis and discussion on all environmental issues, with a special focus on China.
- Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People's Republic of China
- Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences
- China Environmental Protection Foundation
- China Environmental Protection Union (the "All-China Environmental Federation")
- The Global Environmental Institute (GEI) is a Chinese non-profit, non-governmental organization that was established in Beijing, China in 2004
- The Beijing Energy Network (BEN or 北京能源网络) is a grassroots organization based in Beijing
- Greenpeace China Up to date information on China's Environment
- China's Environmental Crisis - News collections on China's environment
- Cleaner Greener China - Website on China's environmental issues, policies, NGOs, and products
- 2005 Interview with Pan Yue, China' deputy environment minister
- Chinese environmental activist on climate change
- China Green News - Beijing-based NGO providing summaries and translations of domestic environmental news.
- China’s Environmental Movement
- Air Pollution in China A flash animation assessing air degree of pollution in China
- A Short History of China's Fragile Environment
- Green Group Warns China of Glacier Retreat Threat
- An Assessment of the Economic Losses Resulting from Various Forms of Environmental Degradation in China
- Coming of Age: China’s Environmental Awareness Gains Momentum - Greenpeace China
- Can China Catch a Cool Breeze? by Christian Parenti, The Nation, April 15, 2009
- The Green Reason - greening the Olympics