Economy vs. Environment

18 Feb

China has the world’s biggest population and is one of the world’s biggest economies, set to overtake the United States by 2020 (The Economist, 2013). However this has come at a cost, China has unprecedented environmental degradation thanks to the constant, overwhelming pressure it places on its environment and resources. This pressure is reinforced by increasing consumption thanks to growing incomes and rapid urbanisation.

Environmental issues in China have been well documented- the smog of Beijing has become somewhat iconic. Water pollution from factories and cities have left 40% of China’s river systems unfit for human consumption and exacerbated eutrophication problems. Furthermore a quarter of critically endangered species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) are found in China.  Health problems are growing as air pollution found in North China has reduced life expectancy of inhabitants by five and a half years. (WWF, Undated)

It is clear that something needs to change. China must find a way of developing sustainably in order to prevent further damage not only to its national environment but also to its people and the rest of the world. This is not an easy task, especially when there seems to be little alternative to aid China’s development. It must not be forgotten that the West grew from industrialisation and is only recently altering its focus to ‘clean up’ the environment. (The Economist, 2013b) Is China not just following in its footsteps? Waiting to ‘clean up’ after it is fully developed?

Some may say ‘yes’, however problems have been recognised by the Chinese government. In 2008 a Ministry of Environmental Protection was established and 20 significant anti-pollution laws have been passed. China is also looking to double its investment in wind and solar power; in fact China is one of the largest economic contributors to renewable energy. In 2012 $67 billion was invested. China is also looking to reduce its carbon emission y 40-45% by 2020. (The Economist, 2013b)

It will be very interesting to see how China balances its pursuit of further economic growth but at what cost this will be to its environment.  The Chinese prime minister, Li Keqiang sums these conflicting ideas up when he said ““It is no good having prosperity and wealth while the environment deteriorates,”—but then said it was just as bad to have “poverty and backwardness in the midst of clear waters and verdant mountains.” (The Economist, 2013)


The Economist, The East is Grey, 2013. Available at:

WWF, Environmental Problems in China, Undated. Available at:


2 Responses to “Economy vs. Environment”

  1. squouse February 27, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

    It is embarrassing for China that the life expectancy in its Northern cities are 5.5 years lower thanks to pollution. I know some Chinese students studying in Europe who are concerned about going back to live and work in China because of the problems associated with pollution (as well as the rapid transformation of previously rural landscapes into sprawling cities). I feel that people are beginning to wake up to this reality and this is shown by the increasing unpopularity of the Ministry for Environment which is under criticism for refusing to publish results on pollution issues. It’s important to remember that public protests are becoming more frequent, for example that of Shifang in July 2012, and young people are using micro-blogging to spread the word. Local authorities are having to respond to these by making concessions and abandoning unsustainable industrial projects in order to maintain stability. At a time when the anti-pollution masks many people wear are being questioned over their effectiveness, there are calls to circumvent the inadequacies of government agencies by allowing citizens to bring their own actions in enforcing the law, which I think is a good idea, as it is largely agricultural workers with close ties to the land and natural resources who are most affected. China needs to encourage them to stay working in agriculture by providing subsidies and investing in rural infrastructure. I think the concerns of the public, particularly the younger generation, will be a huge consideration in the government’s plans for how development can be ethically pursued.

  2. squouse February 27, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    P.S. Here are some amazing pictures of the destruction:

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