China’s Environment, Politics and the Economy: Grave Concerns by Zheng Yisheng and Qiang Yihong
Introduction: U.S. Embassy Beijing in 1999 produced a six-part summary translation of Grave Concerns [Shendu Youhuan], a 1998 book by two economists at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Zheng Yisheng and Qian Yihong. Grave Concerns highlighted the politics of the environment, in particular how poor coordination, political structures that make it hard to set proper priorities and corruption are the major underlying causes of pollution. The authors conclude, with many other Chinese environmentalists, that corruption is the most serious form of pollution and that a more democratic political system is needed that can effectively reduce corruption and set proper priorities. Grave Concerns has stood the test of time, unfortunately. While China has made progress on energy efficiency and cutting pollution, the sheer pace of economic growth means that pollution often increases even though pollution per unit of GDP is still declining. Some cities on the east seaboard, including Shenyang and Beijing, have made progress on reducing air pollution. Even there, however, the gains made by reducing industrial pollution are to some extent being lost as pollution from motor vehicle emissions increase. The big picture today remains much the same today as when this book was written in 1998. Readers will likely find that Grave Concerns helps them understand the China’s environmental problems in their political and economic context.
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PRC Environmental Grave Concerns – Part 1
A February 1999 report from U.S. Embassy Beijing
Summary: Grave Concerns an October 1998 book written by two Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Environmental and Development Institute researchers, presents an overview of China’s environmental problems, Chinese views on the international dimensions of sustainable development, and a deep analysis of the technological, social and political barriers to sustainable development in China. The authors point out that China has reasonable environmental laws and policies but has been unable to implement them because of poor coordination among ministries and between local governments and the center. The authors conclude that waste arising from a collective property system in which no one exercises property rights over natural resources, widespread corruption, and the failure to respect laws and individual economic rights are the principal obstacles to sustainable development in China. This is the first in a series of five reports which present a summary translation of Grave Concerns Part one examines the awakening of China to environmental deterioration during the 1970s, an overview of China’s environmental problems, and the international and Chinese internal debate on sustainable development.
Grave Concerns — Problems of Sustainable Development for China 深度忧患 [Shendu Youhuan — Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti] is a volume in the influential China’s Problems Series. Grave Concerns was published by Today’s China Publishing House in October 1998. Authors Zheng Yisheng 郑易生 [STC: 6774 2496 3932] and Qian Yihong 钱 [STC: 6929 5650 4767] are the Vice Director and the Secretary-General of the Environment and Development Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Like many other books published since the fall 1997 Fifteenth Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Grave Concerns finds that not just corrupt individuals or bad policies but deep structural problems in China’s political and economic system are the key barriers to China’s social and economic progress.
Part one of this five part series of summary translations from Grave Concerns covers a brief introduction to China’s environmental predicament; Chinese perspectives on the injustice of the world economic order and the international development of sustainable development; China’s effort to “win equality for China in the eyes of the foreigners while combating ignorance at home” how China must confront simultaneous and increasingly acute crises of population, food and pollution in the coming decades; China’s position in the international global warming and CO2 emissions debate; and a short account of environmental protection in China since 1972.
Page numbers refer to the first edition of Grave Concerns published as a volume of the China’s Problems series by the Today’s China Publishing House [Jinri Zhongguo Chubanshe] in October, 1998. Embassy Beijing summary review/translations of two other volumes in the China Problems series — China Doesn’t Want to Be Mr. No and Competition on the Pacific Ocean — are available on the Embassy Beijing Environment, Science and Technology Section web page at http://www.usembassy-china.gov/english/sandt/bjbkwrm.html
SUMMARY TRANSLATION BEGINS
China’s Environmental Woes: Awakening in the Seventies
Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine epidemiological studies conducted 1976 ?1980 in a study of 26 large Chinese cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin found a strong correlation between air pollution concentrations and lung cancer deaths. During the late 1980s, health studies in polluted districts of Shenyang having a population of 2.2 million attributed 3000 annual early deaths, twenty percent of chronic illnesses and 35 percent of acute illnesses to severe air pollution. These figures probably considerably understate the problem since other relatively unpolluted areas of Shenyang, used as a baseline in the study, themselves actually exceeded the World Health Organization standard for total suspended particulates (60 ?90 micrograms per cubic meter) by three to five times. In the early 1980s, a study of 1.28 million fishermen and nearby farmers in northern China found markedly higher mercury, cadmium and lead levels as well as a higher death rate in the fisherman. The Jilin Province Environmental Protection Bureau found high mercury levels in the Songhua Jiang River. After the discovery of DDT in mother’s milk in some areas which exceeded WHO recommendations by ten times, China banned organic chlorine pesticides, including DDT, in 1983. [pp. 8 – 10]
Public Consciousness, Environmental Education Essential
Just as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring awakened the environmental movement in the United States, so do does environmental education have an important role to play in China. By 1990, the United States had 5000 citizen environment groups. Many Chinese people, too, care about their environment much more than many people realize and the popular concern about China’s environmental is growing. Environmental degradation exacts a toll on national economies. Some experts say that if damage to health and decreasing production are considered, the environmental toll on many developing countries is about ten percent of GNP. Yet not just GNP but the total welfare of a country should be considered. [pp. 10 -18]
Chinese Should Not Make Excuses on Environmental Protection
Concern about the environment is not merely something imported from Western countries but something Chinese people have out of concern for the fate of their own country. Talk like “our national circumstances are different” [guoqing bu tong] and “we are at a different stage of development” [fazhan jieduan bu tong] are excuses we should not be making as China enters the Twenty-First century. [p. 40]
World Economic Order Injustices Discussed at Stockholm
At the Stockholm Environmental Conference of 1972, the developed countries were concerned about pollution, overpopulation, and environmental protection while the developing countries placed a higher priority on the problems of poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and unemployment. The Stockholm Conference refuted the idea of limitless resources and pointed out that we are all fellow passengers on lifeboat Earth. Some delegates pointed out the injustice of a world in which one-fifth of the world’s population consumes 80 percent of the resources.
In the late 1980s, the Brundtland Committee worked out a framework called “sustainable development” which included the concerns of both the developed countries of the North and the developing countries of the South. At the 1992 Rio de Janeiro “Global Environment and Development Summit” the sustainable development concept was accepted by the assembly and a global Agenda 21 was passed. The Rio summit also delineated the responsibility for pollution and opened the way for funding. The responsibility for regional and global pollution rests with the developed countries. Moreover, some of the environmental problems of developing countries result from the pillaging or purchase for an excessively low price by developed countries of developing country resources. An understanding was reached that the developed countries would each year give 0.7 percent of their GDP to help developing countries solve their environmental problems. [pp. 43 – 47]
Developed Countries Ignore the 0.7 Percent GDP Commitment
Yet the developed countries did not keep their promise. In fact, the level of official development assistance from the developed to the developing countries fell from 0.35 percent of GDP in 1991 to 0.27 percent of GDP in 1995, the lowest level in 25 years. Moreover, many developed countries are not eager to transfer technology to the developing countries. There is a fundamental contradiction in the global interest and specific national interests. This can be seen very clearly in the arguments over global warming at Kyoto in 1997.
Many of the developed countries are disturbed that they must replace costly industrial plant well before the end of its design life in order to meet Kyoto emissions reduction commitments while developing countries can go on increasing their emissions as their economies grow. Some developing country leaders say that the developed countries put pressure not only on their own resources but those of other countries as well not because of a large population but because of wasteful developed country lifestyles. At the root of many environmental problems in the developing countries is an unjust international order. [pp. 52 – 60]
Tariff Barriers For Processed Goods: A Bar to Development
Many developed countries through differentiated tariff treatment (example: a 5 percent tariff for wood but 15 percent tariff for furniture) make it hard for developing countries badly in need of export earnings to escape their role as mere providers of raw materials. Loans to developing countries to create big plantations for cash crops have often resulted in unsustainable development. When economies turn sour, reverse capital flows to the developed countries of which former World Bank director Robert McNamara said “This is like a blood transfusion from the poor to the rich.” [p. 65]
Some in the developed countries understand. The former Norwegian Foreign Minister said at an opening ceremony of a World Environment and Development Commission meeting, “We should reflect upon all our international relationships including trade, investment, and development assistance as well as industrial and agricultural relations. These relations are the cause of underdevelopment and environmental devastation in the Third World. Our task is to take measures that will reduce the bad effects [of these relations].”
Closing the Development Gap: Help from Multinationals
The developing countries want to close the gap with the developed countries but the developed countries want to maintain the present situation. In some area, developing countries such as China and Brazil are closing the gap but in other such as information technology, the gap between the developed and developing countries is widening. The end of the Cold War and the greater integration of the world are helping some countries, notably in Eastern Europe, to develop more rapidly. Although international corporations are much criticized, they are increasing economic cooperation among countries. [p. 72 – 73]
Winning Equality Abroad While Fighting Ignorance at Home
While it is easy to criticize the views of the developed countries on global sustainable development, we Chinese should not forget our own responsibilities for sustainable development. Chinese revolutionaries for over a century have had the twin tasks of “Winning equality for China in the eyes of the foreigners while combating ignorance at home.” We need to understand how international politics and economics affect environmental issues and how some people in the developed countries want to “restrain” China’s development. We also need to clearly explain to China’s people the seriousness of China’s population, resources and environmental dilemmas. We need to convince them of the urgency of changing old ideas, making changes in the structure of government, and reforming the system. [pp. 83 – 84]
To Meet Its Own Needs, China Chose Sustainable Development
Understanding China’s problems is harder than understanding international problems. Slogans and nationalistic feelings often prevent serious consideration of these issues. Some people even say that “sustainable development” is just a slogan to use on foreigners but fortunately those people are only a small minority. The plain truth is that even if there had never been an international Conference on the Environment and Development, no “Agenda 21” and no sustainable development slogan, China would still need to develop sustainably. [p. 84]
Sustainable Development Ideas in PRC History
Although China’s Cultural Revolution was still going on in 1972 when the Stockholm Conference was held and China at that time held that “environmental pollution exists in capitalist but not socialist societies? Zhou Enlai sent a Chinese delegation to Stockholm. International meetings were new to the Chinese delegates, but they participated in the drafting of the Stockholm Declaration. It may well be that the three quotations from Chairman Mao that made it into the final declaration, including “We need passionate but steady feelings and intense but orderly work” was their major contribution to the conference. The delegation brought ideas about the environment back home to China, yet just as in the West, there were already intellectuals in China who had begun to think about environmental problems. [pp. 84 – 86]
Beijing University President Ma Yinchu proposed family planning in 1957 to slow China’s population growth but was condemned as a rightist and his ideas buried for twenty years. In 1998, Zhongshan University teacher He Bochuan’s book “Shanao Shangde Zhongguo [Translator’s Note: Published in English as China on the Edge in 1991 by China Books and Publications. End note] shocked many Chinese raised on a diet of triumphant slogans with his perspectives on population, resources and environmental crises confronting China and his call to action. [pp. 86 – 89]
1988 Science Academy Report: Survival and Development
The 1988 report of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Committee on China’s Situation [Guoqing fenxi baogao] report Survival and Development [Shengcun yu Fazhan] analyzed China’s population, resource, environment and food situation on the basis of information collected during previous Chinese Academy of Sciences natural resources surveys. The report considered issues such as the growth and aging of China’s population, increasing pressure on China’s agricultural resources and their population carrying capacity; unemployment; spreading environmental pollution and ecological deterioration; and a growing demand for food.
The report concluded that the Chinese people must rid themselves of several illusions: that China’s resources are limitless, that it would be able to thoroughly modernize quickly, and that it would be take the same path as the western countries to modernization. According to the report, “China is now faced with unprecedented multiple simultaneous crises.” “History has left little maneuvering room to us and to our posterity. The time we have to change is short, and the conditions we will have accept are arduous”, “We should tell the people that there is no way that China can achieve the same resource consumption levels of the United States and Europe or even the consumption levels of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. From this short review of sustainable development ideas in the PRC, we can see that these ideas are not a passing fashion, but arose from a conjunction of China’s needs and the ability of intellectuals who were able to give them due attention. [pp. 89 – 92]
China’s Agenda 21
China’s Agenda Twenty-One, also called the White Paper on China’s Population, Environment, and Development in the Twenty-First Century approved by the State Council in March, 1994 is a plan drawn up by 300 experts in 57 ministries and agencies for implementing China’s sustainable development strategy. [pp. 92 – 98] [Note: China was one of the first countries to complete drafting its national “Agenda Twenty-One For more information, see the China Agenda Twenty One website at http://www.acca21.edu.cn End note]
Obstacles to Sustainable Development in China
China in 1995 had a population of 1.21 billion or 22 percent of the world total. Declining fertility, down from an average of six children per woman in the 1950s and 1960s to about two children per woman [fertility drop of 17 per thousand to 7.1 per thousand] by the early 1990s, meant that 200 million fewer children were born during the last two decades than would have been born otherwise. The Chinese population is likely to reach 1.5 – 1.6 billion people in the middle of the Twenty-First century.
Evolution of Family Planning Policy in PRC Since 1970
China began developing a family planning policy in 1970. The implementation of family planning policy begins during 1970s, strengthen by orders and policies of 1979 – 81, in 1984 farmers a change in policy : farmers are allowed to have two children and creates more relaxed family policy adopted for national minorities. In late 1980s policy implementation of family planning policy was strengthened. With the development of the market economy, “government administrative intervention” in family planning became less effective and so family planning was integrated with other government program to create incentives in housing and farming land allocation to families who follow family planning regulations. Chinese studies found that better educated women had fewer but better educated children. [Note: See the Embassy Beijing report PRC Family Planning: The Market Weakens Controls But Strengthens Voluntary Limits for more information. End note.]
Sex Ratios, Illiteracy, Poor Educational System
Failure to report the birth of girls and sex selective abortions on the basis of ultrasound examinations of pregnant women put China’s male/female sex ratio at birth to 113:100, eight points above the normal range. China will enter the Twenty-First century will more poorly educated people than any other country. China since the 1980s has been spending about 2 – 3 percent of GNP on education ?just half the average developing country level of 4.1 percent. Some Chinese educators criticize Chinese education as merely test preparation or education to become an official and not really suitable for China’s needs. [pp. 99 – 108]
Who Will Feed China — the Food Problem
Lester Brown wrote that “a serious food shortage will bring a premature end to rapid Chinese economic growth.” Chinese experts see the same problems as Lester Brown, director of the Worldwatch Institute [http://www.worldwatch.org], but do not expect that the problem will become as acute as Brown anticipates and see measures that China can adopt to solve the problem. Brown predicts that by 2030 increased population and changes in the food consumption pattern (more meat) will per capita grain requirements to 500 kg per person and total demand to 956 million tons. Chinese government experts and experts predict per capita consumption in the 400 ?500 kg per capita range and total grain requirements in the 640 million to 720 million ton range owing to shift towards a more typical Asia/Japanese rather than Euro-American dietary pattern.
Lester Brown predicts that industrialization will cut cropland in half; Chinese experts say that opening new land to cultivation and increased multiple cropping means that the decline will not be large as Brown predicts. Increasing the Chinese multiple cropping index by one percent boosts effective arable land by one million hectares, say Chinese experts.
Lester Brown predicts increasingly serious water shortages for China. Chinese experts agree on the seriousness of the water shortage to the extent that 80 million farmers are short of drinking water. Yet the Chinese experts see very large potential gains possible in water conservation by improving the highly inefficient use of irrigation water by Chinese agriculture.
Lester Brown argues that large productivity increases for Chinese agriculture should not be anticipated. Chinese experts say that the contribution of science and technology to agricultural production is just half what it is in Western countries. They say that there are still many agricultural techniques such as improved varieties and combating pests that are still far from being full utilized in China.
Lester Brown points out the serious effects of air and water pollution and poor irrigation on Chinese agriculture. Chinese experts agree, pointing to the 95 percent of China’s solid waste that is dumped untreated into China’s rivers and the six million hectares of Chinese cropland that is already polluted. Eighty-eight percent of Chinese rivers are already polluted, say Chinese experts. Brown predicts a large (369 million tons or 57 percent) shortfall in Chinese agricultural production in the year 2030.
Chinese experts also predict that Chinese grain requirements will exceed production but say that the gap will be much smaller than what Brown predicts. Chinese experts say that agricultural production will be determined by government policy and the response of Chinese farmers to that policy and to markets. [Translator’s note: see U.S. Embassy Beijing EST section web page reports Chinese Food Security: Debate Over Brown Highlights Insecurities and Chinese Critics Confront Lester Brown on Lester Brown’s arguments and Chinese food supply concerns. Frequently recurring debates on China’s food sufficiency problem are often referred to as responses to Lester Brown.] [pp. 109 ?114]
Blind Faith in Ideology Led To Disasters
Mass movements such as the movement to criticize Malthus’s population theory, the exaggeration of the capacity of human willpower to transform nature (in the Great Leap Forward, the movement for everyone to make steel, the People’s Communes) caused damage to the environment. Misguided, unscientific policies, such as overemphasizing “food is the main thing” and suppressing non-collectivized agriculture, expanding arable land at any cost, creating fields on mountainsides, transforming pastureland into farmland, and reclaiming land from lakes, resulted in severe ecological damage.
After the Great Famine, Agriculture Stressed
After the Great Famine of the late 1950s and early 1960s that killed tens of millions of people, the main focus of government policy was to build agriculture. Despite many of the uneconomic projects pushed in the movement “Agriculture Study Dachai” movement, important improvements in agricultural infrastructure such as water projects, flattening land and terracing fields were accomplished. Between 1965 and 1977, China’s arable land doubled, irrigated land increased by one-third and chemical fertilizer use tripled. Improved varieties of rice, maize and wheat brought the Green Revolution to China. With the beginning of reform in 1978, agricultural development increased rapidly. The use of chemical fertilizer tripled between 1978 and 1990. Yet environmental problems and agricultural disasters became more frequent during the 1980s. This may be partially due to the increased water, fertilizer and pesticide inputs required by Green Revolution varieties. [p. 114 – 117]
During the 1970s, China entered the chemical fertilizer age. By 1991, Chinese farmers were using three times as much fertilizer per hectare as American farmers. China’s environmental problems are to some extent the result of its intensive agriculture since China must support 22 percent of the world’s population on 8 percent of its arable land.
[Translator’s note: With the 40 percent upward revaluation of China’s arable land, this 8 percent estimate was raised to 10 percent. See PRC Arable Land Jumps Forty Percent on the U.S. Embassy Beijing EST web page. End note]
For each ton of grain production, 53 kg of soil were lost in central Sichuan, 140 kg in Gansu and 107 kg in Shaanxi Province. [p. 119] Heavy fertilizer use caused water pollution. Increased water use made the water table decline. Sixty five percent of China’s nitrate fertilizer is made by burning coal. Air pollution is one of its byproducts. Nutrient pollution of lakes and streams has also become a serious problem.
Unlike Korea and Taiwan, PRC Kept Raising Taxes on Farmers
Many areas such as Korea and Taiwan switched from agriculture subsidizing industry to state subsidies to agriculture when per capita agricultural production reached USD 400. When China hit that level in 1991, not only was there no switch to agricultural subsidies, but the amount of capital extracted from farmers continued to increase, thereby limiting growth in farm incomes. Now that Chinese food prices are approaching international levels, there is less room to increase prices. [pp. 117 – 118]
Industrial Waste Treatment Improves But Few Sewage Plants
During 1990 – 1995, China’s industrial waste water pollution declined but because of the rise in residential pollution sources, overall water pollution became more serious and affected a larger area. Eighty-six percent of China’s rivers exceeded pollution standards. Industrial waste water treatment increased to 70 percent but 70 percent of Chinese cities had no sewage treatment plant. Beijing and Shenyang are among the world’s most polluted cities. [p. 125]
[Translator’s note: In a new study sponsored by the World Resources Institute (http://www.wri.org), Beijing and Shanghai don’t make the top world’s ten although nine of the top ten cities on the WRI list are Chinese. What appears on the top ten to some extent depends upon which cities are looked at: the big Chinese cities of Lanzhou, Chongqing and Hehaote have considerably worse pollution than Beijing and Shenyang but for some reason were not on earlier international pollution comparison charts. Sewage fees are not common in China so financing sewage plants (and their operation once built) has been difficult. End note]
Air Pollution, Solid Waste, Water Shortages
Sulfur dioxide pollution increased and acid rain now falls on thirty percent of Chinese territory. A large part [Translators note: 75 percent] of China’s energy supply comes from coal, much of it high sulfur coal. Exhaust gases output climbed as the number of Chinese motor vehicles climbs by ten percent annually. [p. 125] Annual industrial solid waste output amounts to 6.64 billion tons. Five percent of this is hazardous waste. Urban waste amounts to 146 million tons and increases by 10 percent annually. Chinese per capita water resources come to 2316 cubic meters or one-fourth the world average. Six to twelve million hectares of land are short of irrigation water each year because of shortages and 80 million north China farmers don’t have enough drinking water. Three hundred Chinese cities are short of water. Excessive ground water use has made the water table decline in some areas. Chinese water resources are unevenly distributed. Sixty-four percent of China’s arable land but only 19 percent of its water resources are north of the Huai River. [p. 126] [Note: More information is available at Summary, Comments on Can the Environment Wait? Priorities for East Asia, A 1997 World Bank Report End note.]
China has one of the world’s most serious soil erosion problems. Desertification already affects 8 percent of Chinese territory and threatens the livelihood of 170 million people. About 2100 square kilometers of land are lost to desertification each year. Soil erosion is a serious problem on the Yellow River, the Yangzi, Songhuajiang, Huai and other rivers. Silting raises the bed of the Yellow River by 10 centimeters each year.
Overpopulation leads to cultivation of unsuitable land and overcutting of forest lands. China has a relatively low forest cover and just one-sixth the world average on a per capita basis. Biodiversity is threatened by habitat loss including loss of virgin forest and grasslands, inappropriate pesticide use and encroachment on wetlands. In the mid 1980s some experts calculated that China loses 5 ?10 percent of GNP each year to environmental damage. Various studies have come up with widely varying estimates of the cost of pollution and the relative importance of various kinds of pollution in China. [pp. 127 – 128]
- A 1992 Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Environment and Development Research Center put environmental loss at 4.5 percent of GDP with 45 percent of this attributable to air pollution, 52 percent to water pollution and 3 percent to solid wastes. With ecological damage to GNP added, the total came to 10 percent.
- A 1990 study by the U.S. East-West Center put the environmental loss to China’s GDP at 2.1 percent with 41 percent attributed to air pollution, 32 percent to water pollution, and 26 percent to solid wastes. Considering ecological damage as well, the GNP loss total rose to 7.5 percent.
- A 1997 World Bank study estimated environmental loss to China’s GDP at 8 percent with 93 percent attributable to air pollution and 7 percent to water pollution. The World
- Bank air pollution damage estimates are based on damage to human health alone which the Bank put at 44.8 billion USD annually. [pp. 130 – 131]
Pollution Moves to Medium Cities and the Countryside
“Pollution in the larger cities is being brought under control, but it is rapidly spreading to the rapidly growing medium and small cities, and into the countryside, where pollution is getting worse. The township and village enterprises may well become the main source of pollution in China. Perhaps one day Beijing, Shenyang and other large Chinese cities will no longer be among the most polluted cities in the world, but by then pollution sources will have spread far and wide throughout the country. This kind of pollution situation may be even worse than what we have today.” (p. 132)
[Comment: Much less information is available about rural pollution in China than about urban pollution. This is beginning to change. A Chinese government survey of the township and village enterprises that concluded in 1997 indicates that the township and village enterprises produce about half of China’s GDP and half of its pollution. Many provincial environmental situation reports [Huanjing Zhuangkuang Gonggao] last year included for the first time data for the township and village enterprises. Indoor air pollution (from burning coal for cooking and heating indoors, which is often much higher than outdoor air pollution), may result in an air pollution problem in rural China fully as serious as in its cities. See the report PRC Air Pollution: How Bad is It? on the U.S. Embassy Beijing EST section webpage. End comment.]
Halting Environmental Deterioration Will Take Decades
China has deep ecological deterioration problems (such as soil erosion, declining soil fertility, and water problems) that will likely take several decades and the mobilization of society to stop and reverse. This kind of problem is deeper and more difficult than the urban air pollution and industrial pollution problem that Japan was able to reverse in about a decade starting from the 1970s. [p. 133]
Chinese, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Global Warming
As a consequence of rapid industrial growth, China is already the world’s second largest CO2 emitter and will likely become the largest soon. And “greenhouse gases, chiefly CO2, despite uncertainties in present knowledge are generally considered to be the principal cause of global warming. Global warming will have serious consequences for China, especially for Chinese agriculture. At a recent international meeting, a Chinese delegate said, “on a per capita basis, Chinese carbon dioxide emissions are still much lower than those of the developed countries. The developed countries reply, “China’s energy efficiency is just one-half the world average. A Chinese response would be, “We are a poor country and can’t afford the massive investment in clean technology and must continue using fuels that cause a lot of pollution.” To which a foreign professor said, “What do you mean you don’t have the money?” The professor mentioned China’s rapid economic growth, its trade surplus with the United States and the hundreds of millions of dollars in Chinese capital invested overseas. This foreign professor concluded, “You are just not interested in improving the environment!” [p. 134]
PRC CO2 Strategy: Population, Renewables, Conservation, Trees
Carbon monoxide emissions are a big hidden problem that very likely will have a big effect on the future of the Chinese environment. At Kyoto, the Chinese delegation stressed that in the spirit of the Berlin Conference, it opposed the efforts of the developed countries to persuade the developing countries to take on new responsibilities. The leader of the Chinese delegation, Chen Yaobang, said that until China reaches the ranks of the middle-ranking industrialized countries, it cannot take on any responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It can only seek to slow increases in greenhouse gas emissions by: (1) limiting its population, (2) energy conservation, (3) developing renewable energy resources, (3) planting forests.
An Active Role? More Influence But Constraints Too
“At the December 1997 Kyoto Conference, China was asked to make voluntary commitments to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and China may well get more pressure (and perhaps one day even face an economic embargoes) stemming from this matter than other countries. Changing our position from a passive to an active one might well give China more influence in these matters. We can’t expect that the developed countries will understand the determination to modernize and hopes for the future of a country on the rise to becoming a great power. As we have already discussed, this world doesn’t leave the weak much room to maneuver. And not all the calls to keep the world clean come from a magnanimous spirit. We have to stay alert to these questions and understand them properly. [pp. 134 – 135]
Progress in Environmental Protection
Environmental protection in China has slowed ecological deterioration so that the environmental deterioration from waste water, air pollution and other causes has been slower than China’s economic growth rate. Between 1987 and 1995, 2.7 billion RMB [8.3 RMB equals 1 USD] in pollution fees had been assessed to polluters under the principal “The polluter pays [shei wuran, shei zhili]. Since 1988, the state has established 120,000 pollution remediation projects. Laws to protect the air, water, and ocean were made and over 200,000 people were directly involved in environmental protection work.
The decades-long project to plant three northern forest belts beginning in 1978 protects the soil. The forests cut the number of windy days in the Beijing-Tianjin region by fifty percent. During 1998 logging was forbidden in most state-owned forests and plans to cut wood production by 40 percent by the year 2000. Energy conservation regulations in 1985 have led to the replacement of some inefficient plants and a steady decline in Chinese energy consumption per unit GDP.
Environmental Protection in China Since 1972
Environmental protection began with the first environmental conference convened by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1973 after the Stockholm Conference. During the 1970s, China’s environmental policies were formulated and implemented. This included requirements that environmental controls should be designed, built and put into operation simultaneously with the plant itself. A pollution fee collection system for excess wastewater and sulfur dioxide emissions was established. Proceeds from the fees go to environmental protection including environmental impact statement preparation; and that environmental impact statements should be made before the approval of a project. The 1978 PRC Constitution included a provision that “The State protects the environment and natural resources and environmental work entered the legal code with the 1979 draft law on environmental protection.
“In 1983, environmental protection was affirmed as a fundamental state policy. “Prevention is primary. Combining prevention and environmental remediation is the basic policy [yufang wei zhu, fangzhi jiehe] This includes including environmental protection considerations in overall economic and social planning as well as in urban development plans; environmental protection systems planned, built and put into operation at the same time as the plant; environmental impact statements; and preventing new pollution sources from appearing.
Over twenty years of environmental protection in China have improved the state’s capacity to control pollution, increased the rate of treatment of polluted water, air and wastes, and increased the proportion of enterprises that meet environmental protection standards. Much of this involved the upgrading and replacement of low efficiency boilers. This effort has meant that industrial pollution rates have actually declined considerably when compared with economic growth. Environmental progress has also been made by increasing the capacity to treat urban water and wastewater, widening the use of coal gas, and the increasing the size of the area now served by central heating plants.
Energy Efficiency Gains
China made important gains in energy efficiency. In 1980, China needed to burn 13.0 tons of coal equivalent energy to produce 10,000 RMB unit of GNP. By 1988, this figure had fallen to 9.8 tons. Energy consumption in high energy consuming products had fallen by two-thirds. Important gains in rural use of methane gas and solar energy were realized. China’s fifteen year Trans-Century Green Plan, begun in 1995, includes in its first five year segment 1591 projects and an investment of 188.8 billion RMB. [pp. 135 – 140]
END OF PART I OF SUMMARY TRANSLATION
China Faces Its Environmental Crisis: Grave Concerns – Part 2
A February 1999 report from U.S. Embassy Beijing
Summary: The Summer 1998 Yangzi River floods demonstrated that the costs to China of neglecting infrastructure and damaging the environment are rising. China has only a narrow safety margin. Pollution will grow more serious until 2010 but energy and water shortfalls will last decades longer. In this second part of a summary translation of Grave Concerns two Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Environmental and Development Institute researchers examine a China approaching environmental crisis. As its economy grows, China faces increased pressure, including green trade barriers, from the developed countries. Uneven development, the shirking of official responsibility, and very poor cooperation among ministries hinder sustainable development efforts. Rapid development, environmental crises and regional disparities also make political modernization much more difficult. The greatest problem of all is the neglect of the political and economic dimensions of sustainable development in favor of the purely technical. Short sighted policy making and ineffective enforcement of laws and regulations are not just the failures of individuals but are inherent in the present system.
Grave Concerns — Problems of Sustainable Development for China [Shendu Youhuan — Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti] is a volume in the influential China’s Problems Series. Grave Concerns was published by Today’s China Publishing House in October 1998. Authors Zheng Yisheng [STC: 6774 2496 3932] and Qian Yihong [STC: 6929 5650 4767] are the Vice Director and the Secretary-General of the Environment and Development Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. A thread running through this book like some other books in the “China’s Problems Series is that many of China’s problems stem not just from the actions of bad individuals or bad policies but from deep structural problems in China’s political and economic system.
Page numbers refer to the first edition of Grave Concerns published as a volume of the China’s Problems series by the Today’s China Publishing House [Jinri Zhongguo Chubanshe] in October, 1998. Additional background information on Chinese environmental issues can be found among the ninety unclassified Embassy Beijing reports posted on the U.S. Embassy web page at http://www.usembassy-china.gov/english/sandt/index.html Some informal translations from the Chinese press bearing on the Chinese environment (including Summer 1998 Yangzi floods) are available at http://www.usembassy-china.gov/english/sandt/sandsrc.htm
SUMMARY TRANSLATION BEGINS
Our Common Danger
The Summer 1998 Yangzi River floods, the biggest Yangzi River basin flood since 1954, reflect China’s environmental crisis in microcosm. Experts had warned of the great danger of natural disaster there. Even as some people give their lives to save flood victims, other people are creating (without realizing it) the conditions for more natural disasters. The flood was caused chiefly by the ecological deterioration of the Yangzi River basin. Zhuang Guotai, director of the Ecology Section of the State Environmental Protection Bureau, said that the peak flood rate at Yichang on the Yangzi of 60,000 cubic meters per second was no record; it was no more than the twenty-third highest flow level recorded. The causes of the flooding included:
- Low flood control standards set for just the biggest flood that might happen in a ten year period;
- Encroachment by land hungry farmers on river beds and lakes which otherwise would have sequestered much of the flood waters. [see Embassy Beijing webpage report on Yangzi River flooding.]
- Many reservoirs and dams are poorly designed and poorly maintained. Of the over 80,000 dams in China, one fourth of the large ones and two-fifths of the small and medium dams have problems. China’s three pronged sustainable development problem (population, agriculture, food, and environment-ecology may be developing a synergy that will bring on a crisis. For the problem isn’t just the environment, but also an economic crisis and a social crisis that could lead China to disaster. [pp. 141 – 147]
[Note: For an overview of the Summer 1998 Yangzi River floods, see Yangzi River Floods and the Environment End note.]
China Enters 21st Century With A Narrow Safety Margin
- China’s population will peak [Note: at 1.6 billion] around 2030 with a large proportion of elderly people.
- China’s food shortfall, according to some estimates of about one-third or more of production) will peak around 2020.
- China will be self-sufficient in primary energy sources in the year 2000, but will be 8 ?10 percent short in 2010 ?2020 and the shortfall will increase, assuming that China uses advanced world-class technology. The oil supply shortfall will be 22.5 percent of supply in 2000, 36.5 percent of supply in 2010, 43.7 percent of supply in 2020 and 84 percent of supply in 2050.
- China’s water consumption requirements will climb by 20 percent from now to the year 2010. China’s water supply demand will continue to grow until 2030. If there is no change in the current overall situation, agricultural water demand will reach 70 billion cubic meters and urban water demand 20 billion cubic meters. If current trends in the Huai River and Yellow River basins (which account for one third of China’s industrial GDP but with just 7.6 percent of China’s water resources) do not change, water demand in these areas will seriously outrun supply.
- Air pollution will continue to worsen if China’s current policies do not change. In the years 2010 particulate pollution will be 39 percent higher and in 2020 35 percent higher than in 1995. Sulfur dioxide pollution and NOx emissions will double from the current level.
- Vehicular exhaust emissions are expected to increase until the year 2010. In 2010 volatile organic emissions will be 3.4 times the present level. Chinese carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will be 2.38 billion tons of carbon equivalent compared with 800 million tons in 1995. China will face more natural mineral resources shortages. While China has a shortage in only one-quarter of the 45 most important mineral resources, it will be short in half of these minerals in the early Twenty First century. In the first ten years of the next century, China will confront unprecedented pressures on its population, environment, and resources. [pp. 141 -149]
This is the critical time for making the needed changes in these trends. It is also what some economists call the “golden age of Chinese economic growth” — the years 1990 to 2010. Growing economic inequality and especially the growing gap in incomes among urbanites (4X ratio between the top and bottom ten percent) as well as between the city and the countryside is an alarming trend. [pp. 151 – 154]
How the Crisis Will Erupt
“Environmental deterioration is expressed through the worsening of socio-economic contradictions within society. In some countries, this is the main way in which environmental deterioration appears. If we do not pay attention to this and only consider environmental/ecological deterioration itself and its direct effects, we can miss the big picture such as ecological disaster in a mountain village or the health effects of pollution on an urban population. These are serious problems, but still far from adequately reflect the very great threat that environmental degradation poses to the sustainable socio-economic development of the entire society.
[Note: For an example of the vicious cycle of poverty and desertification at work in Ningxia and Inner Mongolia see PRC Desertification: Inner Mongolian Range Wars and the Ningxia Population Boom End note.]
“.. The environment is one of a country’s key economic characteristics … The acceleration and the accumulation of environmental change in individual countries and on the global scale will have ever greater effects on the competitiveness and social stability of many countries. The developing countries lag far behind the developed countries in their capacity to exploit and sustain resources (including the capacity to use resources very efficiently). While unsustainable development for developed countries means something that doesn’t meet the test of long-term sustainability, for developing countries, the problem looms as a very pressing problem of poverty and survival. There is an old Chinese saying, “He who is not concerned with far-off dangers will surely face a present danger [Ren wu yuan luu, biyou jinyou]. But the developing countries today face both present dangers and far-off dangers. If the present crisis is not resolved, there will be no tomorrow in which to confront the long-term danger.
Environmental Problems Complicate Social, Economic Problems
“In short, China has the greatest environmental pressure of any country on Earth. In these circumstances it is not reasonable to discuss the long term danger facing all of mankind with the Chinese who are themselves one-fifth of humanity. The question is, will these environmental problems make China’s economic and social problems even more difficult to solve”. [pp. 154 – 155]
Disaster-Prone China Faces Rising Environmental Costs
In 1990, one hundred members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences warned that many natural disasters occur throughout China. China is one of the most disaster-prone countries on Earth. The frequency and extent of natural disasters continue to climb. With economic growth, the economic costs of environmental pollution and ecological damage are also rising sharply. In the year 2020, air pollution alone is expected to impose an annual cost equal to 13 percent of China’s GDP. [pp. 156 – 158]
Sooner or Later “Compulsory International Environmental Assessments” Will Come
As global economic integration proceeds into the Twenty-First Century, resource-poor China must consider its own comparative advantage on the world market. But there are many uncertainties. Many foreign observers, including Vaclav Smil (author of “China’s Environmental Crisis? [Translator’s note: See Environmental Scarcities, State Capacity and Civil Violence: China on the University of Toronto web site for reports by Vaclav Smil and other scholars on the environment and state capacity in China. End note] and Lester Brown, are concerned at the coming very large export demand from China for food, oil, iron ore, and other ferrous minerals. What price will China have to pay for these raw materials as the international competition for these resources becomes more acute? [p. 159]
“The developed countries will eventually demand, regardless of whether their demand is reasonable or not, that the developing countries reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants with regional and global impact. .. This trend is becoming more and more serious. More and more developed countries will want to put restrictions on China as the “leading source of pollution”.
And there is no doubt that as the Chinese economy grows, the developed countries will put more pressure on China. More and more people around the world are saying, “Chinese determination to modernize is the greatest threat to the global environment? To the Chinese people this is the “voice of the strong and represents to a certain degree the selfish interests of the strong. We must protect the “right of development principle contained within the idea of sustainable development. Nonetheless, a Chinese insistence on not making fundamental changes in its own production and consumption patterns and holding to its own standards and rules would be unrealistic. [p. 159 – 160]
Green Trade Barriers
Green trade barriers are becoming more common. Increasing pollution in Chinese coastal waters and new European and Japanese health standards have sharply reduced Chinese exports in some categories such as shellfish market to Europe. Chinese products which do not meet ever stronger regulations lose access to foreign markets. Trace pesticides in Chinese cotton have resulted in losses of millions of dollars in exports to Europe. China in 1997 had 134 products with environmental standards but far fewer than Germany which has 7500 commercial products (40 percent of the total) with an “Environmental Blue Angel standard.
Some of these barriers, which arise not just from environmental concerns but out of attempts to protect the economic advantage of developed countries within international trading rules, are becoming more common. [pp. 160 – 164] The “technical trade barriers accord of the WTO Uruguay round stipulates “These rules do not prevent any country from taking necessary measures to protect the lives and health of people, animals and plants and to protect the environment? The ISO 14000 environmental management series standards were published in draft by the International Standardization Organization (ISO) in September 1996, so now sustainability has become a selling point in international trade competition. [pp. 190 – 194]
The rapid increase in the Chinese work force by 15 million workers each year not only makes redundant workers more common but also reduces the economic incentive to convert to labor saving technologies which are often more environmentally-friendly as well. [pp. 165 – 166]
China: Unique Regional Disparities Make Problems Worse
The uniquely large environmental, population, economic and cultural disparities in China are getting larger and merging into a single large problem. Poor, crowded countries probably have the least tolerance for income disparities. Political and economic problems arising from unequal incomes and regional disparities are important parts of the Chinese sustainable development problem. China has little room to maneuver when faced by an array of associated problems including increasing disputes at all levels over scarce resources, disrespect for law, growing local protectionism, and backsliding and slowing up in efforts to establish the rule of law.
The Chinese Microcosm: Developed China vs. Developing China
China is becoming unfortunately a microcosm of the whole world. The developed parts of China have become concerned about the environment, the poorer provinces cannot afford it. And so polluting industry moves from developed to developing China. Will China someday have islands of environmental splendor amid environmental squalor? If China does not pay attention to the problem of inequality, a vicious cycle of ecological decline could create inter-regional battles for resources and create tensions between the developed ethnic Han areas and the economically backward areas in which the minority people live. If economic development does not increase society’s ability to solve these increasingly serious social problems, then China will face a life and death crisis. China has a lower capacity than the developed countries to absorb environmental problems and problems of social inequality.
Rapid Development Makes Political Modernization Difficult
Political modernization has been much more difficult for developing countries than for the western countries which modernized much more slowly. Developing countries are faced with several crises simultaneously where western countries face only one crisis as a time. The result of the multiple crises developing countries face has often been severe instability. China has especially serious concerns since it is approaching its absolute limits in several areas ?resources, population and the environment. These pressures have become increasingly severe during the rapid growth of China’s economy.
PRC Sustainable Development Not a Luxury But a Necessity
Sustainable development is not something just for the rich countries. If there had never been a Rio Conference, China would have had to choose sustainable development. The excuses must stop. Some of the popular excuses for not taking sustainable development seriously include:
- “Sustainable development is just a phrase made up to serve the power game of the great powers.
- The western countries are afraid of China’s economic growth, so they trot out environmental issues to block it.
- Eastern culture can solve any problem created by the West.
- New technologies can solve any problem
- I’m sorry, but that isn’t my field of research. [pp. 167 – 171]
Quick Fixes, Ineffective Policy, Shirking Responsibility
Short term, short-sighted fixes predominate in China. China’s dams are designed only to withstand the largest flood that comes in 10 or 20 years. Overdrawing ground water in water-short areas is another problem. Short-sighted policy making is very common in China. Water pricing is a classic example. Chinese water prices are far below cost and the failure to collect sewage fees means that once expensive water treatment plants are constructed, they are too expensive to operate. Short-sighted policy making and the failure to enforce rules is not a matter of the failure of individuals but of an entire system in which poor coordination and the avoidance of responsibility is inherent in the present system that encourages this behavior. [pp. 174 – 175]
When the Crisis Comes Along, Which Department Handles It?
Sustainable development is a trans-regional, cross-departmental, and cross industry problem. Yet in China sustainable development policies and enforcement regularly fall victim to regionalism, the narrow views of a government agency or a particular field. This makes it easy to ignore a large, uncertain problem or problems that cross ministerial lines. The Summer 1998 Yangzi River flood was one such case. Although some specialists, considering El Nino and heavy snows on the Qinghai – Tibetan Plateau, predicted the floods, there is very little money available for cross-disciplinary work that is invaluable in natural disaster prediction. Parts of important problems are handled by separate ministries that refuse to cooperate.
Officials Ignore Big Issues, Seek Influence, Foreign Trips
No one analyzes problems systematically. Many officials are obsessed with personnel problems, foreign trips and making an impression on the boss and so forget big cross-boundary issues. Foreign experts who helped draft “China’s Agenda 21 recall how dozens of ministries submitted separate work reports that were very hard to merge. Some people joke about this saying, “The people care about the big issues, the leaders work on small details? Important issues such as Yangzi River flooding risk estimates which require input from geologists, hydrologists, meteorologists and other experts from many different agencies are difficult to address. Many officials only want to report good news so they bury the bad news. Some newspapers love to get a foreigner to say how great China’s economic growth has been. All the while some other countries with problems much less serious than China, such as Japan, warn their people of the seriousness of the economic problems confronting their country. [pp. 172 – 178]
The Clash Between New Development Views and Reality
Sustainable development is much discussed by academics and the top leadership but it hasn’t reached the working level. The environmental protection bureaus at every level are still very weak in any confrontation with agencies and departments proposing development. This imbalance is much more pronounced outside of the big cities. Very often the environmental protection bureaus have no say at all in development projects.
Sustainable development has in practice been very often just a slogan. The division of labor between organizations means in fact a divorce between departments working on overlapping areas so that environmental protection work is ineffective. Yet the practicality of projects should also be considered. In some of the propaganda and implementation of sustainable development in China over the last few years it can also be seen that some proponents of sustainable development in China do not chose the most appropriate way to deploy resources. [pp. 181 – 183]
Some progress has been made. It was largely plant upgrades during the 1980s, particularly in heavy industry, that prevented Chinese pollution from increasing proportionately with economic growth. Cost-benefit analysis should be done to determine the most efficient way of reducing pollution.
Why Is Environmental Work Ineffective? Political and Economic Realities are Often Ignored
“Why are people and work units unwilling to do what needs to be done but are often quite eager to do what they shouldn’t do. This often happens not for scientific or material reasons but because social, political and economic realities are often ignored. In particular, the individual advantage-seeking behavior of people in society and the network of people’s relationships need to be better understood in this regard. Even if something makes sense economically, it may not be practical for reasons of political advantage. Take for example, the case of interest groups working against the public interest for their own private interest or the innumerable instances of interpersonal exchanges for private advantage.
[Note: Many books and articles have appeared over the last year about corruption arising from the structure of the political and economic system. See the press clippings at http://www.usembassy-china.gov/english/sandt/sandsrc.htm for examples. End note]
This ignorance of political and economic realities is a consequence of China’s long neglect of the social sciences. It shows the limits of making policy purely on the basis of technical considerations. In foreign countries expertise from both the natural sciences and the social sciences is applied to these problems. China is far behind in this respect. The big research projects focus too much exclusively on discussions among experts on the environment, ecology and energy efficiency. Yet problems of sustainability and development are in the end human problems. These problems must be addressed.? [pp. 184 – 185]
Plant Renovation is Expensive – Where’s the Money?
Foreigners don’t understand what a tremendous investment would be required to replace the heavily polluting industrial plants of China. And they are unwilling to help by transferring technology to China. China must finance these changes by the earnings of these plants. Unlike the Western countries during past decades, China cannot accumulate capital by sucking dry foreign colonies or by relying on cheap Middle Eastern oil supplies. Among the voices of those on the international scene calling for environmental protection there are some who want to stop China’s economic development. [p. 186]
Developing Countries Catch Up Amidst Environmental Crisis
The developing countries have higher and faster growing populations than the developed countries and a lower living standard. The developed countries are determined to achieve a developed country standard of living. Yet the environmental capacity of the world is limited and a global environmental crisis is already taking shape. Today’s developed countries already used up the most easily obtainable resources during their own path to development. So the conditions of development have already been irrevocably altered.
China Nears Outer Limits: Its Development Path Must Differ
China as a country that is nearing the absolute limits of that its resources and environment can support cannot just follow the same developmental stages that the developed countries of today followed. [pp. 186 – 190]
Pollute First, Clean Up Later: Good Excuse But We Better Not
The experience of the developed countries themselves demonstrates the Kuznets cycle ?that only when development reaches a certain point does the environmental protection capacity of a country become great enough to reverse environmental deterioration. When developed countries try to force developing countries to adopt strict environmental regulations, the developing countries can respond that by limiting our development, these restrictions will delay the development of a strong environmental protection capacity. “Yet the developing countries should also consider how new technologies and knowledge can help them take a short-cut and avoid the Kuznets inverted U-curve that shows pollution increasing with incomes but later declining with even higher incomes [p. 182]. The developing countries may be able to avoid repeating the pollute first, clean up later experience of the western developed countries.” [pp.197 – 199]
Conservatism and Inertia Block Life Cycle Costing
New production philosophies have appeared which recognize the interactions between the mode of industrial production, society and the economy. Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) can help a company reduce material inputs and move to clean production. This method requires closer cooperation and information sharing among suppliers since the manufacturer wants every part and every step of the production process. “The decision making process for this means of production extends to individual consumers and communities so the boundaries of the company are greatly extended. The greatest obstacles to the move to cleaner production are conservative attitudes and inertia in industry. [pp. 202 – 203]
Sustainable Development Means Rejecting Consumerism
For the developed countries, the switch to sustainable development involves changes in individual and social values and accepting standards of living lower than what they have already achieved. This collides with individualism and some other cultural values. The developing countries need to rid themselves of the very often expressed desire to “copy and import western technologies and make the westerners pay for it. Developing countries must reject the dream of developed country consumerism. Yet a drop in living standards can be avoided in the developing countries by more efficiency resource utilization. “Some countries try to solve their pollution problems by cleaning up at the end of the production process. But doesn’t work since technology can’t accomplish that. What is needed to create cleaner and higher efficiency processes at every step of the production process in China. This simply can’t be accomplished through foreign assistance. [p. 203]
The Multinationals: Key Support for Sustainable Development
Industrial development in the developing countries not only threatens the environment but this development can lead to transformations that can help solve the problem.?[pp. 203 – 206] Investments by foreign multinationals in the developing countries are the major source of capital for sustainable industrialization. In many cases the environmental standards followed by these multinational companies far exceed the requirements of the host developing country government. [p. 204]
END OF PART II OF SUMMARY TRANSLATION
China Searches For Solutions: Grave Concerns – Part 3
A February 1999 report from U.S. Embassy Beijing
Summary: Some areas, such as Benxi City in the Northeast, have cut pollution by involving the public. Every locality has a development strategy but these too often ignore resources, environmental capacity and markets. Pollution will continue to worsen if policy does not change and enforcement does not improve. China has good technology but can’t commercialize it. Solutions such as raising water and energy prices could sharply cut pollution and boost efficiency but official timidity sometimes blocks this solution. In part three of a summary translation of Grave Concerns, two Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Environmental and Development Institute researchers conclude that while no regrets policies are an easy first step, the next step must be to overcome special interests so that local and the interests of all society can be balanced and losers fairly compensated. Many lobbies and local interests oppose the necessary changes. Only through a widespread understanding of the hardships facing China and finding a way to harmonize individual interests with the long-range interests of everyone can these problems be solved.
Grave Concerns — Problems of Sustainable Development for China [Shendu Youhuan — Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti] is a volume in the influential China’s Problems Series. “Grave Concerns” was published by Today’s China Publishing House in October 1998. Authors Zheng Yisheng [Standard Telegraphic Code: 6774 2496 3932] and Qian Yihong [STC: 6929 5650 4767] are the Vice Director and the Secretary-General of the Environment and Development Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The Center Relies on Public Opinion to Overcome Parochialism
Post comment: Environmental officials in the central government recognize the problems in enforcing laws at provincial and local levels and increasingly are depending on public opinion and an informed populace to help force polluters to obey. The central government actively supports environmental education efforts and publicizes environmental NGOs and local activists. Central government controlled media provide articles highlighting contributions of individuals and local groups on a daily basis. Success in overcoming narrow economic and parochial interests will, inevitably, be a long-term, difficult process. End comment.
Page numbers refer to the first edition of Grave Concerns published as a volume of the China’s Problems series by the Today’s China Publishing House [Jinri Zhongguo Chubanshe] in October, 1998.
Additional background information on Chinese environmental issues can be found among the ninety unclassified Embassy Beijing reports posted on the U.S. Embassy web page at http://www.usembassy-china.gov/english/sandt/index.html Some informal translations from the Chinese press bearing on the Chinese environment are available at http://www.usembassy-china.gov/english/sandt/sandsrc.htm
SUMMARY TRANSLATION BEGINS
China Has Many Options
Careful selection of sustainable development options means looking at not just what is desirable but what is desirable over the long term and what is doable at present. Here are some examples of this in China today.
Air Pollution in Benxi, Liaoning
Benxi, an industrial city of 1.5 million people in eastern Liaoning Province, became known during the 1970s as a heavily polluted steel making center. Water pollution and air pollution from heavy industry were gradually brought under control during the late 1980s early 1990s. The determination of the people of Benxi that the pollution that threatened their lives and health must be reduced proved to be the critical driving factor in the changes. People reported pollution constantly to the city authorities. The authorities didn’t try to hide problems but actively criticized polluters and took pollution reduction goals into account in city planning. [Note: The willingness of local governments to be frank with the public about air pollution varies very widely. See the U.S. Embassy Beijing report The Fading of Chinese Environmental Secrecy End note]
Eco-Agriculture in Jingshan, Hubei Province
The development of eco-agriculture in Jingshan County in Hubei Province is another example. Incomes rose after reform began there in 1981, but just a few years later ecological damage, loss of soil fertility and erosion, and the damage to the forests had become severe. Maintenance of water conservancy systems declined, floods increased and state investment in agriculture declined. During the mid 1980s, changes in farming methods including promotion of organic fertilizers, aquaculture, and agricultural byproducts helped boost farmer incomes and cut losses to soil erosion by 80 percent.
The Shanghai Minxing economic development zone established in 1983 made clean manufacturing and environmental protection among its top priorities, including environmental impact analysis, planning for the processing of the wastes of each plant and environmental monitoring.
An Economic, Environmental No Regrets Policy
The right sustainable development policy must be a win-win no regrets policy which is beneficial both for the economy and for the environment. Sustainable development strategies must very greatly by locality to match very different local conditions. In some cities, environmental protection and clean production are an important tool for attracting foreign investment. Especially in rapidly growing new cities, environmental considerations can be integrated into the city plan and stricter management standards. Some of these cities apply stricter environmental standards than in other areas and serve as model cities for the rest of China. This is perhaps true nowhere more than in China. China is like a “little Earth” — in China there is every kind of geographical type and every conceivable stage of development. [pp. 206 – 218]
Nearly every city and region has a regional development strategy. Although these strategies have promoted economic development, they often ignore important issues such as resources and environmental capacity, and markets. How can so many regions leapfrog ahead of the rest simultaneously? During the early 1990s, many companies were losing money, there was considerable duplication of plant capacity and the ecology deteriorated (especially in places like the Huai River).
Xinjiang Cotton: A Shortsighted Agricultural Policy
The problem in some cases is policy. Cotton growing policy in Xinjiang is an example. For some year policy makers have pushed cotton production in Xinjiang as the region’s motor of economy growth. Yet agricultural experts warn that the ecology of Xinjiang is very fragile and that the biggest problem in Xinjiang is short-sighted agricultural policies. Examples include applying too much fertilizer year after year (up to 2700 kg. per hectare). This results in short-term gains but in soil and fertility deterioration over the longer term and a gradual decline in economic marginal return for cotton. The widespread use of pesticides killed some insect pests but created conditions for others to flourish. Thus for the last two years tens of thousands of people have had to hunt down cotton bollworms in the fields. Many agricultural projects compete for water. A new project upstream cuts off the flow downstream, turning a field into wasteland. [pp. 219 – 220] [For some background information on the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, see Xinjiang Reading Notes: Population, Economy, Environment, Minorities Policy ]
The World Bank’s Prescription for China
In September 1997, the World Bank released its report “Clear Water, Blue Skies” [Translator’s note: This report, part of the World Bank’s China 2020 series, [website: www.worldbank.org] was also published in the PRC in Chinese translation and were discussed in the Chinese media. End note]. The report concludes that if China does not make major changes in its environmental policy and in the forcefulness of environmental enforcement, it will not achieve its goals for air and water pollution reductions for the year 2010. No change in policy doesn’t literally mean no change but a policy of relying on market-driven changes and current environmental policy to improve environmental quality.
Profit-Seeking Drives Chinese Energy Efficiency Gains
For example, improvements in industrial energy utilization efficiency in China occurred as a result of companies striving to become more profitable. Between 1980 and 1995 the efficiency of Chinese industry per unit of production doubled. The World Bank concluded that this market-driven trend towards energy efficiency will not be enough to enable China to meet its environmental goals.
World Bank: Air and Water Pollution Will Worsen Through 2010
A World Bank study of 30 Chinese cities concluded that, if China’s present policies do not change, between 1995 and 2010 air pollution will worsen in most Chinese cities (excepting Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Wuhan which will improve significantly). Sulfur dioxide emissions will climb steadily. Carbon dioxide emissions will rise from 800 million tons in 1995 to 2.38 billion tons in 2010. Industrial pollution will become less important but the number of residential and consumer point sources of pollution will increase greatly through 2010.
The World Bank estimated the cost to human health from air pollution at 13 percent of Chinese GDP by 2010. The thirteen percent figure does not include other large pollution costs such as intelligence loss in children due to lead poisoning, acid rain, and water pollution.
Economic Solutions: Make Prices Reflect Costs and Scarcities
The energy conservation policies of the Chinese government have played an important role in energy conservation but are no longer suitable for the rising market economy. Chinese experts say energy pricing policy is the greatest shortcoming in China’s energy conservation policy. Current pricing policy does not reflect the sulfur and ash content of coal and many small mines ignore safety regulations and environmental damage and sell cheap and dirty coal. Administration intervention has kept the price of natural gas low (price subsidies for the chemical fertilizer industry and residential use) but at the expense of depriving that industry of the capital it needs to grow in order to replace coal. [pp. 226 – 227]
The report “Research on China’s Energy Strategy 2000 – 2050 [Zhongguo Nengyuan Zhanluue Yanjiu] in Section 60 “Evaluation and Suggestions for Chinese Energy Policy” concluded:
- China is good at using administrative measures (energy quotas, project design, energy conservation demonstrations, etc.).
- The energy pricing system is the weakest link in China’s policies and measures for energy conservation.
- Demand side management is an important policy tool that still needs to be studied and implemented in China.
- Relying on laws to conserve energy is one of China’s very weakest links. Law reflects the collective will over a fairly long period. It doesn’t change when personnel change and is relatively little affected by economic trends.
- Ensuring that there are funds available for energy conservation is an essential energy conservation measure. [p. 226]
Higher Water, Coal Prices Can Cut Pollution and Waste
Water is one of China’s scarcest resources but prices have not been set at the level needed to support the supply and treatment of water. The result is tremendous waste of a scarce resource. In some areas the unwillingness of officials to “take the risk” of raising prices is based on any scientific principle or discussions with the people but just a bureaucratic attitude: “if I don’t try, I won’t fail”. [Translator’s note: The price of water in northern Chinese cities is gradually rising. Water in China’s northern cities costs 1 RMB per ton [USD 0.12 per ton], just one-fifth of the 5 RMB which Chinese hydrologists estimate as its average cost. The price of water in Beijing has doubled since December 1997. See the U.S. Embassy Beijing report PRC Water: Waste A Lot, Have Not — The Problem Is Policy, Not Technology End note] Water leakage from Chinese irrigation systems is 60 percent while the water re-utilization is half the rate of developed countries. [p. 227 – 228]
Some Chinese experts propose raising the price of coal (200 RMB per ton) to reflect the damage to health and the environment externalities which by themselves exceed 200 RMB per ton. Beijing is replacing coal with coal gas in many urban districts. The World Bank reports that if the costs assessed to air and water polluters were to be increased by five percent each year a sharp reduction in pollution could be achieved over the next two decades. If fees to water polluters were to increase by 10 percent annually, water pollution could be cut by 70 percent by 2020. [p. 228]
Vehicular emissions are a growing part of the problem. Small Chinese cars emit ten to fifty times the pollution of U.S. and Japanese made vehicles. Chinese auto emission standards for carbon monoxide are 40 times the U.S. standard and for NOx eight times. Even these standards are not vigorously enforced. [pp. 229]
World Bank Report Shortcomings: Ignores Bureaucratic Obstacles, Shortchanges Water Pollution
The World Bank report gave Chinese energy and resource economists the benefit of an outside opinion and outlined the consequences if China does not change its policy. The report has the strengths of being practical and making proposals that don’t call for everything to change all at once. “Yet the World Bank report also has shortcomings. For example it paid far more attention to air pollution than to water pollution. The report didn’t pay any attention to the coordination of policy within and among various departments. If this is not considered, any policy breakthrough not matter how good it looks from a social standpoint, cannot succeed.” Policies which do not mesh are ineffective.
Special Interest Groups: The One-Use Chopstick Lobby
There are interest groups behind many current policies. One-use only chopsticks are an example. Japan is often criticized in China for importing wood and not chopping down its own trees, but that evades the real question: don’t blame the Japanese but the Chinese who sell them the lumber! In China, there are many departments from production to processing to restaurants that will protect each other and resist any effort to ban one-use chopsticks. This just an example. In many problems there is a small group of people who vigorously resist changes that are in the interest of society. [pp. 236 – 240]
Desulphurization Is Tough If You’ve Got No Money
In January 1998 the State Council approved an acid rain and sulfur dioxide pollution control plan which raised the priority of sulfur dioxide pollution control. If China’s energy efficiency were to match that of the developed countries, China’s energy consumption would fall by one-third and sulfur dioxide emissions by one-quarter. Low electricity prices reduce the incentive for energy conservation. Desulphurization equipment on industrial plants are sometimes not used because the plant (and especially high power consuming plants such as aluminum smelters) doesn’t not want to pay for electric power and other operating costs of the desulphurization equipment. Thus the “sulfur dioxide control plan” which started out as an environmental plan was taken over by a special interest group for its own purposes.
China Has Good Technology But Can’t Commercialize It
Some say that the basic problem is that China doesn’t have good pollution control technology and foreign technology is too expensive. Prof. Hao Jiming of Qinghua University disagrees, saying “Chinese technology for coal combustion desulphurization technology is already basically mature.” He explains:
- Plant technicians often don’t achieve the same results as environmental engineers because the technicians don’t have adequate training and a small plant is unwilling to purchase the necessary instrumentation. Desulphurization equipment is only turned on when inspectors come. Stopping and starting this equipment reduces its efficiency and shortens its life. There is much counterfeit equipment on the market, buyers want kickbacks and local governments interfere. All this gives Chinese equipment a bad reputation.
- Chinese desulphurization technology does not lag far behind that of the developed countries. The biggest problem is the lack of operating experience in large projects for Chinese desulphurization equipment. Only through experience in big demonstration projects can Chinese domestic technology become mature enough for commercialization. China lacks a mature venture capital system and many local officials insist on foreign technology. This makes it very hard for Chinese technology to compete. [pp. 240 – 243]
The Power of the Special Interests Must Be Broken
It is very hard to draw distinctions between economic, resources and environment, and social policy on the one hand and sustainable development policy on the other. Sustainable development policy is formed during the process of transforming the present system to give higher priority to values of resources, the environment, and the individual interests of members of society in order to focus on sustainability. In order to achieve this, the current balance of interests in society must change. The first, easy steps are no regrets policies. Then come policies to increase the overall welfare at the expense of some members of society who should be compensated. Local interests do not necessary correspond to the interests of the whole and what is optimal today may not be optimal over the long term. [pp. 243 – 248]
Inertia is the Greatest Enemy
Sustainable development is the enemy of people who want to make quick profits at a high long term cost. It is also the enemy of inertia and ignorance. In China today breakthroughs are badly needed in areas such as resource and water pricing, financing waste water treatment, energy conserving and clean production technology, If upstream water use and soil conservation is ineffective, people downstream will suffer badly. Wildcat mining and illegal timber harvesting are repeatedly forbidden but still continue. China needs to establish policies to halt ecological destruction caused by pollution from the township and village industries; environmental damage from big engineering projects and the illegal conversion of agricultural land to other purposes; and the domination of the consumer market by producer rather than consumer interests.
Can A New Development Path Prevent Disaster for China?
Can China find a new path to development and avoid great losses and disaster in the coming years? These choices can only be made if the many millions of Chinese share an awareness of the dangers they face. This will also depend on a devotion to the public interest and knowledge of our situation. Our experience has certainly shown that it is only people devoted to the public interest who will make the right choices. [pp. 248 – 249]
END OF PART III OF SUMMARY TRANSLATION
PRC Environmental Woes Arise From System: Grave Concerns – Part 4
A March 1999 report from U.S. Embassy Beijing
Summary: Environmental degradation and the waste of scarce water resources reflect structural problems in China’s political and economic system. New policies are not needed since China has had good economic policies for over two decades. Better policies are lost in a black hole created by local governments and ministries that put their own selfish interests above the good of society. Corruption and blocking of environmental enforcement by local government, not inadequate policies, caused environmental degradation of the Huai River and of Lake Taihu, devastation of the virgin forests of Yunnan Province and the now annual drying up of the Yellow River. In part four of a summary translation of “Grave Concerns? two Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Environmental and Development Institute researchers conclude that only by overcoming the barriers between local governments and between and within government ministries and enforcing rules based on a proper understanding of the national interest can China’s environment and natural resources be saved.
Grave Concerns — Problems of Sustainable Development for China [Shendu Youhuan — Dangdai Zhongguo de Kechixu Fazahan Wenti] is a volume in the influential China’s Problems Series. Grave Concerns was published by Today’s China Publishing House in October 1998. Authors Zheng Yisheng [STC: 6774 2496 3932] and Qian Yihong [STC: 6929 5650 4767] are the Vice Director and the Secretary-General of the Environment and Development Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Today’s China Books Controversial, Widely Available
Grave Concerns is the fifteenth volume in the China’s Problems Series published by Today’s China Publishing House under the sponsorship of former Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Vice President Liu Ji. Another book from Today’s China Publishing (not part of the China’s Problems series), Political China attracted much criticism from party ideologues for its tough criticism of China’s political system yet the book is still widely available in Beijing today. Outside Beijing, the conservative breezes are often weaker. Several books discussing the problems of the Chinese system have been great commercial successes and inspired many imitators including publishing houses in Inner Mongolia and Qinghai.
China’s Problems Policy Books Reflect Party, Government Think Tank Views, May Foreshadow Policy Changes
Books (especially the good stuff buried deep inside) are often much better sources of information and analysis than are Chinese periodicals which are monitored more closely by the authorities. While some of these books are hard-hitting, the China Problems series books are not produced by dissidents but rather by scholars who work in Communist Party and government think tanks such as Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Like the nationally circulated Guangdong Communist Party paper “Southern Weekend [Nanfang Zhoumou], the official connection makes these books more rather than less interesting. The October 1996 book Speaking Heart to Heart with the General Secretary written by a group of CASS scholars seems to have foreshadowed some of the initiatives of the Fifteenth Party Congress. Similarly, the fifteen books published thus far in the China Problems series may hint at changes to come.
[Note: Embassy Beijing has sent summary translations of two books in the China Problems Series: China Doesn’t Want to Be Mr. No (http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/chimrno.htm) and “Competition in the Pacific?http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/paccpca.htm) End note]
Page numbers refer to the first edition of Grave Concerns published as a volume of the China’s Problems series by the Today’s China Publishing House [Jinri Zhongguo Chubanshe] in October, 1998.
Additional background information on Chinese environmental issues can be found among the ninety unclassified Embassy Beijing reports posted on the U.S. Embassy web page at http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/index.html Some informal translations from the Chinese press bearing on the Chinese environment are available at http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/sandsrc.htm Several reports on new pathbreaking books available in Beijing is available at http://www.usembassy-china.org.cn/english/sandt/bjbkwrm.html
SUMMARY TRANSLATION BEGINS
The Unavoidable Problem: The System
Problems built into the system itself cannot be ignored. Let’s look at the story of water pollution on the Huai River — a microcosm of China — to understand the conflict between the environmental protection and the economic development departments. Here we see the consequences of putting the interests of individual bureaucracies ahead of the public interest. During 1994 and 1995 repeated serious water pollution incidents on the Huai River resulted in tens of thousands of cases of contagious intestinal and skin diseases. This disaster resulted in the forced closing of many of the polluting plants. Looking more closely at the history of development and environmental enforcement along the Huai River pollution, we can see clearly that the problem wasn’t lack of good policy but that the policy was ineffective. [pp. 250 – 253]
Effective Policies Announced Early and Often But…
Important Huai River clean up policies preceding the 1997 pollution control committee approved by the State Council include a 1978 Huai River pollution control plan; a four province Huai River control commission set up in 1980; a four province Huai River water resources protection leading group established in 1988, a February 1989 order on preventing Huai River pollution issued by the State Council and four provinces; 64 pollution control projects worth 160 million RMB begun in 1990; and Huai River environmental protection surveys conducted in 1994. According to statistics from China’s Agenda 21 environmental white paper, by 1994 there were already four environmental laws, eight resource management laws, 20 environment and resource management regulations and 260 environmental standards. These already constituted a good framework for the protection of natural resources and the environment.
[Note: See for example the article examining the ineffectiveness of policy enforcement in the internal distribution edition of the Chinese Communist Party journal Fortnightly [Banyuetan] at Party Journal: More and More People Defy Central Government Notices End note.]
Good Policies Announced 20 Years Ago, Discussed Ever Since
We should know about all this so that no reader will think there wasn’t any policy or orders before the water pollution disasters of 1994. With all this in mind, it is hard to escape the feeling that all th