How successful has China been in managing its environmental pollution today?
With economic reforms by Deng XiaoPing after 1978, China had since seen tremendous growth in its economy whereby its GDP grew on average 10% each year for more than a decade until 2015. However, this growth did not come without sacrifices. With China’s maxim of ‘development first, environment second’, Chinese leaders are now well aware of the cost of economic growth in terms of environmental degradation. Despite China’s attempts in implementing new environmental laws, it has not succeeded in tackling its energy and environmental problems due to continuing air and water pollution problems, and also due to lack of viable clean energy resources to replace coal. Therefore, I disagree to a large extent that China has not been successful in tacking its environmental pollution.
- Air pollution
China’s air pollution shows that China have not been successful in managing its environmental pollution today. As of 2014, only 3 out of 74 Chinese cities met air quality standards and annual average levels of PM2.5 reached 106 micro-grams which was more than 10 times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) safety limit of 10. As the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, China is responsible for 1/3 of the earth’s greenhouse gas output. Furthermore, with Beijing recently issued its first pollution “red light” in 2014, it shows the severity of this environmental pollution. Despite China pledging to spend $76 billion to improve their air quality in 2014, the air pollution continues to persist up till today. Therefore, China has not succeeded in tackling its environmental pollution today.
- Lack of viable clean energy sources to replace coal
Similarly, China has not succeeded in tackling its environmental pollution due to uncontrolled building of coal-fired electric power plants and local industries have been building their own in-house diesel generators in order to attract investments and secure high GDP without proper authorization from central authorities. China’s coal-fired power plants are the main cause of the rapid increase in greenhouse gases and emissions, the world’s largest after the US. Central government officials acknowledge that out of the 440 gigawatts of generating capacity in place at the beginning of 2005, 110 were illegal power plants that never received construction approval by the responsible central government agency. As such, this poses as a large problem as the given the large number of coal plants that are unregulated. Although China has imposed new laws to close down any coal factories which exceeds the amount of harmful pollutants into the air, up till today many coal factories are still up and running. Therefore, China’s energy policy is incoherent which shows that China has not succeeded in tackling its environmental problems.
- Water pollution
China has not succeeded in tackling its energy and environmental problems due to water pollution. China’s shrinking water sources have been polluted by industrial and agricultural waste. As of 2016, 4/5 of China’s water from wells are deemed “unsafe because of pollution”. The number of rivers with significant attachment areas has fallen from more than 50,000 in the 1950s to 23,000 today. Although the Ministry of Environmental Protection of China issued a plan to cut down the polluting of underground water resources in 2011 by the end of the decade, little success have been seen with the water crisis turning China’s arable lands into deserts, claiming around 27.5% of China’s total land mass. Thus China has not succeeded in tackling its environmental pollution.
- Efforts in Clean Energy reform
However, some energy reform is taking place. The National Development and Reform Commission, the government’s power economic planner is promising substantial increases in clean energy capacity and pricing reform to drive changes in the use of conventional fuels. Political, economic and environmental interests increasingly aligned around the search for cleaner energy. In 2013, the NDRC promised a 52 gigawatt increase in installed capacity for clean energy as compared to 36 in 2012. Furthermore, in 2016, the CCP issued a major policy announcement “Document 625” on renewable energy, aimed at reducing the high levels of curtailment of energy from wind, solar, hydro and other renewable resources. Therefore, showing that some energy reforms being carried out by the government but it is too soon to tell whether it is successful or not.
- Implementation of more environmental policies
In addition, the government has mapped out ambitious environmental initiatives in the recent Five-Year Plans. Since 2014, the CCP has required 15,000 factories, including large State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to publicly report real time figures on their emissions and water discharges, with the government pledging to spend $275 billion over the next five years to clean up the air. Furthermore, China’s legislature also amended China’s Environmental Protection Law to allow for stricter punishment against companies or individuals caught polluting the environment whereby those who cause environmental damage may also be held “criminally responsible”. This law has led to the closing of several steel and nickel pig iron factories in China, a sign that environmental reforms are taking place, however it may be too soon to tell if it is successful.
In conclusion, despite China’s attempts to manage its environmental pollution with energy reforms and the implementation of more environmental policies, it is difficult to access the effectiveness of these actions by the Chinese government, Given China’s long adopted stance and belief with regards to its environment, it would take a long time before China successfully revert from its old ways and to manage its environmental pollution.