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 Harwood, 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 which are perceived as being environmentally damaging.
The Chinese government has, according to a 2009, placed a greater concern on environmental issues and creating sustainable growth. In his annual address in 2007, premier Wen Jiabao made 48 references to "environment," "pollution," or "environmental protection." Environmental regulations were hardened. Some subsidies to polluting industries were cancelled and some polluting industries were shut down. Clean energy technology was promoted. However, many environmental targets were missed. Polluting industries continued to have access to inexpensive land, water, electricity, oil and bank loans. Market oriented measures such as surcharges on fuel and coal were lacking and instead gasoline price was state controlled to be inexpensive and driving subsidized. Corruption was a very powerful force preventing effective enforcement. Local authorities had considerable autonomy and had primarily been promoted based on how much economic growth they achieve and therefore often failed to implement central decisions effectively. Attempting to change the evaluation measure, the central government in 2004 instituted a green gross domestic product project in which the gross domestic product was adjusted to compensate for negative environmental effects. However, the program lost official influence and was restricted to academic research in 2007. The leading researcher said that opposition from provincial leaders killed the project. The environmental agency and energy planning authority had very few employees compared to the United States. In addition, the Chinese government attempted to hold national "No Car Days" throughout nearly 100 cities, including Beijing, in which cars would be banned on central roads. However, it was largely ignored.
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.
Since 2002, the number of complaints to the environmental authorities increased by 30% every year, reaching 600,000 in 2004; while the number of mass protests caused by environmental issues grew by 29% every year, according to an article by Ma Jun in 2007.
The Center for American Progress has described China's environmental policy as similar to that in the United States before 1970. The central government issues fairly hard regulations but actual monitoring and enforcement is largely done by local governments who are more interested in economic growth and engage in a "race to the bottom". Furthermore, as a restrictive non-democratic regime, environmental work done non-governmental forces such as lawyers, journalists, and non-governmental organizations is severely hampered. This is problematic for environmental issues since governmental agencies can only check a very small part of all potential problems and therefore in democratic nations rely on help from non-governmental sources.
Heavy industry, dominated by state-owned enterprises, has been promoted since the beginning of central planning and still have many privileges such as access to cheap energy and loans. Heavy industry tends to be polluting and has considerable power to resist environmental regulation.
The environmental Kuznets curve refers to an argued relationship where environmental issues initially deteriorate and then, at least for some issues, improve as the economy develops. A 2009 review argued that China appears to follow a path similar to those of currently more industrialized nations when they were less developed. While China has relied on an unusually high amount of polluting heavy industry relative to its developmental stage, cleaning up some forms of air and water pollution is technically relatively straightforward and has become less expensive causing high benefit/cost ratios. China was argued to have the financial resources to improve such issues if there is sufficient political support. Other areas such CO2 emissions are more difficult to improve as is also the case in developed nations. The evaluation measure of state officials had been changed from pure economic growth to also include energy conservation and reduction of major pollutants.
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.
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.
- Environment of China
- Environmental issues with the Three Gorges Dam
- Dongtan, Chinese ecocity
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- 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
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- Chinese environmental activist on climate change
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- China’s Environmental Movement
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- The Green Reason - greening the Olympics
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