China recently announced their 10th five year plan, for the period . Unlike prior plans the new plan offers notable prioritization on environmental and sustainable issues, with the aim of spending US$84 billion to 'clean up' parts of China alongside providing a suitable environmental infrastructure for the future.
What has instigated the emphasis on the environment in the upcoming development plan? A number of factors seem to have taken a role. Firstly the acceptance of China to the World Trade Organization (WTO) has serious implications, including the likelihood of more rapid development of industry and agriculture due to the increased demand for goods through trade. In order to maintain such trade agreements in the future, China has to create a sustainable environment. China's current environmental degradation and pollution levels are unsatisfactory and verging on dangerous. To benefit now and in the future from the inclusion in the WTO China has to begin to safeguard its natural resources and environment.
Secondly, China has experienced substantial criticism both within China and around the world for its increasing levels of pollution. The air, waterways and destruction of landscapes have been at the heart of the criticism. China's most serious concerns lie in the following:
An article from China Top News on January 11th, exemplified the air pollution problem facing some of the urban-based Chinese population.
- Over half the population (nearly 700 million people) lack access to clean water, and consumes drinking water contaminated with animal and human waste that exceeds the applicable maximum permissible levels
- All of China's bodies of water are polluted to various degrees
- China faces severe deforestation problems, which contributed to the devastating floods during the summer of 1998
- Air pollution in some Chinese cities is among the highest ever recorded, averaging more than ten times the standard proposed by the World Health Organization
- Air pollution threatens public health and welfare on a large scale. China's six largest cities - Beijing, Shenyang, Chongqing, Shanghai, Xian, and Guangzhou - rank among the most polluted in the world
- In Beijing, 40 percent of autos surveyed and 70 percent of taxis failed to meet the most basic emission standards
Source: World Resources Institute
'Most residents in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province have had to wear gauze respirators recently to avoid air pollution.
"I dare not go out in the morning orwindows to air my
room. Even the quilts being dried outside are soiled by the air,"
said Yang, an old man living on Yingbin street in Changsha.'
Source: China Top News
In this case the source of the pollution has been blamed on gas stoves, exhaust gas from boilers, chimneys, motor vehicles plus particulate matter from construction work.
Considering that China is the most populated country in the world (1.26 billion), is the largest energy user in the world (alongside the USA), plus the fact that China has experienced as much growth in one decade as the industrialized world experienced in nearly a century, the threat of serious pollution comes as no surprise.
However, it is interesting to know that the even with 3.5 times the population of the US, China has contributed 4.5 times less to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in the 20th Century, and on a per capita basis, the US emits 7.5 times more than the average Chinese.
Unlike the present US government, the Chinese government have taken a step in the direction of environmental protection. The US government on the other hand appear unperturbed by the fact that as a nation they are the world's biggest polluters. Rather than address sustainability and take on environmental responsibility they consider further exploitation and degradation of more importance. Withdrawal from the Kyoto Treaty, oil exploration in Alaska are just two examples of recent US action against the environment.
For China, what then does the 5 year plan entail for the environment? Targets have been set for pollution control. All major air, water and soil pollutants must be cut by 10% of the year 2000 value. This includes sulphur dioxide, industrial dust and solid waste. In 'dual control areas', the production of sulphur dioxide is to be slashed by 20%. The rate of forest coverage must be raised to 18.2% and for newly completed cities the rate of reafforestation must be raised to 35%.
Alongside these targets, is the emphasis on restructuring the economy to cast out smaller businesses that cause pollution with outdated production techniques and that do not achieve the required economies of scale. For agriculture, the attention is on preventing agricultural contamination and creating agriculture which is ecologically sound.
Environmental protection is seen as national policy and must infiltrate all projects. Of particular mention are the need for sustainable environmentally-friendly growth for the developing western region of China and restoration of the Yangtze, Pearl and Yellow River areas.
To help enforce the new plan, the National Peoples Congress (NPC) have scheduled 4 new environmental laws encompassing the prevention of sandstorms and desertification, clean production, the evaluation of environmental changes, and the control of pollution by radio-active substances. In addition to these, there has been much debate over a new law to regulate the utilization of natural resources. Such laws are seen as a vital component of ensuring that the environmental targets for the next 5 years are met.
It is difficult to predict how likely China are to succeed in their goals, but it is apparent that in the next few years, China will be taking centre stage in the world arena not only as the newcomer to the WTO but also with the upcoming Olympics in Beijing in 2008. The issue of pollution will be one that is monitored closely by the outside forces to ensure that the environment at the 2008 games is a suitable one. Within China, the current momentum from the government and non-governmental agencies is one of long-sighted goals for the country. They are aware that without regulation, the degradation of the environment may become China's downfall and for a nation quietly becoming an economic giant, this would be a catastrophe.