Economic Growth and Environment in China

Subject: Environment
Pages: 13
Words: 3531
Reading time:
13 min
Study level: College

A foreign businessman inside an office building in Hong Kong was gazing out of the window. The smog was so dense that he couldn’t see the other building. China’s major cities, which have seen rapid economic growth, are witnessing rising pollution, sandstorms, and desertification.

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Beginning in the late 1970s, China’s communist regime began changing its policies from a Soviet-style centralized economy to a more free-market-oriented economy. The reforms led to the privatization of agriculture, increased foreign investment, and the emergence of private enterprises. While China has witnessed tremendous economic growth, rising industrialization and development have come at a cost to the environment. The Chinese government has failed to implement effective legislation and regulations to prevent environmental degradation. The government has failed to achieve a balance between development needs and environmental issues (Edmonds, 2005).

Rapid economic development has led to a reduction in the land that can be cultivated. According to current studies, China has lost more than 44.1 million hectares of land since the 1980s. Many jungles, fisheries, and ponds have been destroyed. The majority of China’s forests and jungles are suffering from deforestation and destruction. Desertification and salinization are other major problems affecting arable land. Large areas of the Yangtze River have lost their volume. Environmental problems which have affected China’s arable land have led to a scarcity of water and diminished agricultural production capacity. Serious concerns have been raised about China’s ability to feed its rising population. Soil erosion, desertification, water scarcity, deforestation are some of the major environmental problems faced by China (Edmonds, 2005).

China’s rising industrial capacity has led to pollution, which threatens the environment. Industrial waste products make up a large portion of pollution in China. Waste products have been released into the environment without proper processing methods. Textile, mining, food, paper, oil industries are the leading producers of waste products that have been dumped into the Huang River. The lack of enforcement of environmental regulation laws had led to the spread of pollution by the industrial sector. China’s industries also lack the modern technology to process industrial waste products.

China has ample resources of oil and coal. However, it consumes more energy than it produces. A thriving economy has also fed the need for energy resources. This has led to the degradation of the environment. Coal is the main source of energy for China. The demand for crude oil and electricity has increased with the rise in industries. China consumes about 9 percent of the world’s oil supply. It is increasingly dependent upon foreign producers for oil and energy supply (Edmonds, 2005).

Water is life for China’s huge population, which is approximately one-quarter of the world’s total population. Rapid economic growth has led to an increase in water pollution. The dumping of waste products by industries in China’s water supplies has significantly reduced their volumes. Water is also not utilized properly. China’s Yangtze River has become the world’s largest natural sewer. An estimated twenty billion tons of waste products are released into the river annually. Severe flooding has further led to losses and degradation of the environment. China’s urban population does not have access to safe water. The water is highly contaminated in urban areas. A majority of China’s cities suffer from water problems (Edmonds, 2005).

China is constructing the largest hydroelectric dam on the Yangtze River. This project is known as the “Three Gorges Dam.” The dam, once completed, is expected to carry many benefits. China’s dependence on coal would be reduced, and electricity would be produced in abundance (Morton, 2005).

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However, the project has its critics also. The World Bank did not finance the project despite a record of having financed dams in developing countries. Critics say that the dam will have a negative impact on China’s environment and habitat. Large species of animals could become extinct or endangered. Deforestation, increase in the volume of flooding, slow flow of water, and weakening of self-cleaning process would be affected.

China’s air is severely polluted. Carbon Dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbon are the major causes of pollution. Air pollution has caused many illnesses. Respiratory, skin, eye, and heart problems are caused by air pollution. China’s food supply has also been severely affected. Air pollution has caused a decline in China’s agriculture production. It is forecasted that air pollution will continue to increase in China due to its great consumption of coal.

China’s massive population has found many new opportunities to increase their standard of living by working for foreign enterprises and opening their own industries. However, this has also produced a negative impact on the population. Most village industries are major generators of pollution. An increase in the living standards of China’s population has fueled a demand for quality food, water, electricity, vehicles, electrical appliances, and air conditioners. This adversely affects the environment. More demand for consumer products fuels an increasing demand for new factories producing those goods. This, in turn, leads to more pollution. The use of fertilizers in agriculture further adds to environmental degradation (Morton, 2005).

China has witnessed tremendous growth in the industry, agriculture, and energy sectors. A huge creation of rural factories has also led to environmental degradation of lakes, forests, ecosystems, ponds, forests, jungles, and coastal areas. The government has focused on economic development at the expense of the environment (Morton, 2005).

China’s government has opened up its markets and given autonomy at the provincial and district levels to promote economic growth. Therefore the result has been zeal in striving for economic development. This has led to adverse conditions for the environment.

Rural populations have been displaced to make way for economic development projects. The number of hectares of cultivable land has been reduced. Industries have proliferated in the villages. These industries have been dumping waste products into the environment. Air pollution has caused extensive illnesses amongst China’s population.

China cannot prevent environmental degradation by emphasizing economic development. Advances in science and technology could benefit China in pursuing sustainable development policies. But so far, it has refused to sign international treaties and agreements that strive to reduce green gas emissions, pollution and pursue sustainable economic development. Chinese government officials have countered that removing poverty and pursuing economic development are more important concerns for the government. China continues to focus on heavy industries, which are the major sources of pollution and environmental destruction. China has more than 100,000 enterprises that are involved in protecting the environment. Foreign companies can help promote environmentally friendly policies in China (Morton, 2005).

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China has many laws regulating environmental protection, but the courts are unable to enforce them due to vested interests. China’s government slowly realizes the need for regulation that protects the environment. The Chinese government has in recent years invested heavily in protecting the environment. In the recent five-year plan, the government announced that it would invest 500 billion yuan for the treatment of industrial waste products, minimizing pollution, and pursuing environment-friendly policies. The government has also launched a public campaign to educate its citizens about protecting the environment. An official forum has also been created for discussing environmental issues. Despite extensive efforts to protect the environment, the Chinese government remains committed to economic development. Environment and economic issues are tackled by higher Chinese officials where the economy is given preference over the former (Morton, 2005).

The 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of organizations that were dedicated to protecting the environment. The Chinese government has created organizations at the provincial, district, and village levels to address environmental issues. These agencies have developed guidelines, policies, and procedures for the environment.

NGOs have also proliferated, which have launched their own campaigns to educate the people living in rural areas about the environment. They have organized activities like recycling and cleaning up waste. Universities and colleges have seen student groups advocating environmental protection. However, many of these organizations cannot operate freely due to the authoritarian political structure of China. China’s heavily regulated media does not allow unlimited freedom of expression. Therefore many of these organizations face tough pressure in addressing environmental issues (Cannon, 2005).

China’s environmental organizations suffer from their inability to coordinate their activities with other agencies. They also have been unable to enforce environment-friendly policies due to government support for economic development. The local Chinese government is pressured by the State government to pursue economic development projects at the expense of the environment. The lack of financial resources has also hampered the ability of organizations to carry out their work sufficiently. Other serious shortcomings are lack of trained staff and low fines against the pollution, which do not help in covering the financial costs (Cannon, 2005).

China’s National Environmental Protection Agency is the supreme organization that is tasked with coordinating and standardizing environment-friendly policies and organizations. However, this is only on paper. Other environment organizations have pursued their own independent policies related to the environment. Further local agencies are influenced by officials who favor economic development over the environment. Local officials own many industries, which makes it difficult to enforce environmentally friendly policies.

The Academy for Green Culture, now known as Friends of Nature, was the first Chinese environment NGO. It was created in 1994. Other significant environmental NGOs include the Global Village of Beijing and Green Home. Currently, there are 4000 environmental NGOs in China. These NGOs have launched campaigns like tree planting and recycling. They have also been active in protecting species (Cannon, 2005).

China’s environment NGOs face many problems due to bureaucracy and red tape. The process of registration is still slow and cumbersome. Under Chinese law, an NGO can be registered only if a government department sponsors it. They also face financial difficulties because of lacking funding. There has been limited support from the government in funding these NGOs. These organizations raise funds either by donations or by organizing their own fundraising campaigns. These NGOs are unable to enforce environmentally friendly policies. The powerful industries are backed by local officials and enjoy vast support from the central government. China’s environment NGOs are studying Western organizations about their influence and professionalism. Western NGOs have been able to focus on specific activities rather than attempting to tackle everything. They also have been able to influence their governments about pursuing environment-friendly policies (Cannon, 2005).

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China’s environment NGOs have been seeking to educate the people and raise awareness amongst them. They have also been actively seeking the support of the Chinese government in enforcing environmental regulation laws. The NGOs have been instrumental in monitoring the environment and raising awareness amongst the people about the environment (Cannon, 2005).

Despite being a tightly controlled authoritarian society, the Chinese government has allowed NGOs and media to raise concerns about the environment. The Chinese government has actively encouraged grassroots environmental organizations that can educate the masses about the environment. However, these organizations are tightly monitored to prevent any political dissent from using these organizations as platforms for political change. Chinese environmental NGOs refrain from talking about political issues and instead focus on activities like protecting endangered species, conservation, and protecting endangered species. These NGOs have also worked with local officials, trying to persuade them to pursue environment-friendly policies (Cannon, 2005).

Newspapers, magazines, and TV have also been allowed by the Chinese government to talk about environmental issues. Newspapers have written articles about deforestation, soil erosion, flooding, contamination, and air pollution. Special programs have been broadcast in which protecting the environment has been emphasized. For instance, battery recycling programs helped influence people to create such programs in their cities and towns. The media has also highlighted government corruption and tried to convince the government not to pursue environment degradation policies.

The international community has been working hard to cooperate with China in preventing environmental degradation. The Chinese government has also played an active role in cooperating with the international community. China can become a success story for other developing countries pursuing economic development if it successfully implements a sustainable development program (Cannon, 2005).

China has been involved with international efforts to protect the environment. It has participated in numerous seminars, conferences, and conventions where environmental issues have been discussed. Many international organizations have been helpful in promoting environmentally friendly policies. There have been efforts to protect endangered species (Cannon, 2005).

International organizations have also been giving technical and financial assistance to China to help protect the environment. The World Bank has assisted China in loans that have been used in environmental management. Organizations are also investing in science and technology to help the Chinese in preventing environmental degradation.

The World Bank has provided more than US$1 billion in assistance to China to develop its forest sector. The World Bank has assisted China in many agricultural and irrigation projects. Major efforts have been undertaken to plant forests. Farmers have been encouraged to participate as part of poverty eradication programs.

Despite this progress, China is still pursuing policies that favor economic development over environmental issues. China’s national interest is to eradicate poverty and to develop the economy. China has also been reluctant to implement international standards and procedures for environmental regulation and management. China is pursuing those environment management policies which are compatible with its economic development program and do not infringe on its national sovereignty. China has made many commitments to adhere to international standards and regulations regarding the environment, but it has been slow to implement them. It faces formidable technological and financial limitations in properly implementing environment regulation policies. The international community, while applauding the vision and concerns of the Chinese government, has also observed its slackness in preventing environmental degradation (Shapiro, 2005).

The Chinese government has in recent years tried to obtain assistance and expertise from the international community. Japan has been a major provider of aid for environment management and regulation. Other Asian and international organizations have also provided expertise and aid to help China fight environmental degradation. Extensive projects have been funded for preventing pollution, protecting endangered species, and encouraging the use of organic fertilizers. Many multinational companies which have investments in China have been promoting environmentally friendly policies. Foreign companies have been crucial in providing science and technology to better treat industrial waste products and prevent contamination of the environment. However, despite progress, many foreign companies have ignored environmental concerns. Still, the international community has played an important role in transferring resources, expertise, and financial assistance to the Chinese government to fight environmental degradation.

China’s government has 30 environment regulation laws. It has also passed several environmental standards, policies, and procedures. There is still room for improvement in the quality of these laws. Public opinion has also been invited on government websites which is a major achievement for the country’s closed political system. However, despite these improvements, the lack of effective enforcement, political factors, emphasis on economic development, and untrained judges and lawyers makes it difficult to implement these environment regulation laws. There has also been a growth of legal nongovernment environment organizations. These organizations have trained lawyers in environment regulation laws, litigation cases and helped pollution victims get compensation from industries. Political and legal hurdles, however, somehow limit the efforts of such organizations to fight environmental degradation. China’s government has been taking some drastic steps to reduce pollution. The Pearl River is being cleaned up as a major project. Many sewerage treatment plants have been constructed near the river. Major industries have been shifted away from the river. The efforts are impressive, but it still has to go a long way to compare with advanced countries (Shapiro, 2005).

Some researchers believe that China might become the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases within a few years. The economic boom has fueled a demand for vehicles. The annual rate of automobile purchases has increased in China. The Chinese government has taken steps to substitute energy sources by investing in nuclear, wind, and solar energy. A number of effective procedures have also been implemented to reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide (Shapiro, 2005).

China has ratified the Kyoto treaty but failed to implement international standards and procedures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China can implement steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by removing subsidies on energy sources. Another approach can be raising the prices of various energy sources. The technology could be used which uses less carbon for its industries. China faces serious environmental degradation. The coming decades will create more problems for the ecosystem and population (Shapiro, 2005).

China will use massive amounts of energy as its economy develops. Coal is the major energy supply of China’s industries. It has a negative impact on the environment. While the government is making progress in developing nuclear, hydroelectric, and wind energy sources, they cannot provide any significant impact on the energy sector. Unless the price of carbon is changed, there can be little impact by alternative energy sources.

The Chinese government has played an active role in resolving local environmental issues. It has been implementing policies to reduce air pollution, water pollution, and emissions. Japan and Korea are cooperating with the Chinese in reducing sulfur emissions. Carbon has a negative effect on the environment and health of the Chinese people. The government should gradually encourage alternative, less carbon-intensive technologies for the people in the coming years. Control schemes could be implemented in China, which would allow its economy to grow but regulate the price of carbon. This would result in a shifting of less carbon-intensive technologies. Foreign investment can definitely contribute to this area (Shapiro, 2005).

China’s environmental problems are very similar to that of the United States. Inside the United States, industries continue to dump industrial waste products and have gotten away, harming the ecosystem and population. Fines are very low, and local officials are reluctant to implement these laws because of powerful industrialists and companies. These companies enjoy broad support because of the fact that they employ many people. Local and Federal agencies also have failed to coordinate their activities.

However, the major difference between China and the United States is that the former is moving towards a society where the rule of law is prominent. China has no effective litigation mechanism to help victims of pollution. China is turning the tide against environmental degradation just as other advanced countries did. Environment laws have been implemented to protect the environment. Automobile tailpipe standards have been adopted by the Chinese (Horton, 2007).

On 4th June 2007, China launched a new climate change national plan. The plan aims to balance economic developments and prevent environmental damage. However, the Chinese have also blamed the West for environmental problems. The national plan aims to reduce the major sources of pollution. It has made plans to reduce sulfur emissions. It will also accelerate the process of installing water sewerage treatment plans and using alternative energy resources. However, the report also mentioned that poverty eradication is the main priority of the Chinese government.

China’s import policy also affects the environment. Importing advanced technology can help protect the environment. It can prevent pollution and reduce ecological destruction. Importing paper and wood can help China’s ecosystem. Some imports cause extensive damage to the environment in the form of pollution. These products include metals, rubber, and sulfur products (Horton, 2007).

China is a major country for investment by foreign countries. Foreign investment has helped Chinese economic development. They have contributed towards developing the industrial, agriculture, and energy sectors. Many foreign companies have created a positive impact on the economy. Many have implemented steps to protect the environment. By using advanced technology, they have reduced the number of carbon-intensive technologies. Some companies have further developed advanced waste reduction technologies. They have also contributed to the growth of food by using organic fertilizers and pesticides. By importing wood and paper products from abroad, they have prevented the destruction of the Chinese ecological system.

China’s environment regulatory policy consists of coordination between economic development and preventing environmental degradation. It has sought to make polluters pay for the cost of destroying the environment. It has also tried to implement prevent and control mechanisms (Horton, 2007).

China has established numerous laws and regulations to protect the environment. It has protected natural resources, endangered species, forests, rivers, waste product management, eliminating air pollution, preventing water pollution, and protecting the coastal areas from pollution. Environmental standards have been implemented. An effective regulatory system has been implemented in urban areas to protect the health of people. Several steps have been taken to eliminate noise and air pollution in urban areas (Horton, 2007).

China is a major economic power. Its economy is expected to develop at a high rate as it continues to raise the standards of living of its people. Economic development, however, has caused serious environmental problems. China must cooperate with the international community in implementing environmentally friendly policies. At the same time, it must strengthen its own legal system and create more awareness amongst its population to protect the environment. It must balance the relationship between economic development and conserving its natural resources. It must also enhance cooperation amongst its local and state agencies for proper utilization of resources. It must also invest heavily in financial and technical expertise to help protect the environment. It must increase cooperation with regional and industrialized nations to help protect the environment.


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  5. Shapiro, Judith (2005). Mao’s War against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China (Studies in Environment and History). US: Cambridge University Press.