Green China: A Quixotic Vision

Despite an overarching negativity where China and the environment are concerned, it is set to become the leading power in the green economy. However, it is the political elective which must make the policies to make China’s future green. As a one-party-state there is very little green opposition should environmental reforms not be put into practice.

China has long been plagued by a variety of environmental issues due to its booming industrialisation and urbanisation. Since its open policy began in 1978, China has developed at an unprecedented rate, but this hasn’t come without consequences. The environmental impact has been greatly accelerated over a short period of time where other countries have experienced similar problems more gradually.

Richard Balme (FR), researcher at the Centre for European Studies and Comparative Politics, evaluates in his article in Cogito. See below for a short summary of the arguments he puts forward in his work. 

Perhaps the greatest challenge posed to the environment is a demographic one. This is particularly important in China's case as it houses 22% of the world’s population yet it only has 9% of the world’s arable surface. With many mouths to feed, China must meet agricultural demand somehow. However this has led to a dangerous reliance on pesticides and fertilisers, and can produce water shortages. In addition, the huge population is left exposed to industrial activity in cancer cities. Life expectancies are shortened by the astronomical levels of pollution, and the expansion of industry only means that there is less space to grow crops needed to meet human demands. Naturally, such environmental problems cause social inequality. It is the poorest who are forced to live in direct contact with some of the most harmful industrial enterprises. 

However, pollution and climate change are not simply sidelined by the government. It has become a key focus for China on a domestic and international level. To keep the people happy the government must be at least seen to be making some headway into improving the environmental situation. In fact, it is exactly this threat to the Communist Party’s power which has brought about environmental legislation and regulations, and China is a key player in major environmental treaties and bilateral and multilateral cooperation programs. 

Yet, words do not directly translate into action. The legislation remains powerless due to the nature of Chinese growth. There are a number of reasons for this the Chinese economy is largely based on manufacturing activity and physical transformation of the environment; next, the asymmetrical demands and conflicting objectives between environmental protection and growth policies; the decentralization of decision-making to the provincial and especially local level, where collusion between economic and political interests directly affects the CCP. There is no real electoral competition or a Green party to influence the Communist Party agenda. There is no effective political challenge to the CCP, rather, the massive population is the threat which the party seeks to placate. Additionally, regional authorities rarely have the resources to engage with the CCP’s country-wide initiatives. 

That said, China is also making steps in the right direction. It is instrumental in the up and coming electric vehicle industry, and it is investing in and developing renewable energies all the time. Simply put though, any positive changes made to reduce CO2 emissions and improve the quality of life for the Chinese people are quashed by unparalleled democratic expansion and bureaucratic governance. 

Selective bibliography

Balme, Richard. 2014. “Mobilising for environmental justice in China.” Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration 36 (3): 173-184.

Balme, Richard and Tang Renwu. 2014. “Environmental governance in the People’s Republic of China: the political economy of growth, collective action and policy developments – introductory perspectives.” Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration 36 (3): 167-172.

Discover more Cogito research 

Pesticides: What is the Real Cost for Health?

Sign up to Cogito 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Erasmus Generation

Erasmus Generation

The Jeunes Européens is a student association at the heart of Sciences Po which over the past few months has focused its efforts on increasing interest in questions about Europe and encouraging students to vote. Of course they love Europe, but they do not hesitate to broach areas for reform. They await with anticipation the results on the 26 May 2019 which could change the political colour of the Union. Interview with Maria Popcyzk, the President of the Jeunes Européens Sciences Po.

More
From Sciences Po to the European Parliament

From Sciences Po to the European Parliament

Charlotte Nørlund-Matthiessen did her undergraduate studies on the Dijon campus, which hosts the European specialisation programme with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe, before enrolling in the European Affairs Master’s programme at Sciences Po. Since graduating in 2012, she has worked on multiple projects inspired by her drive to build a stronger Europe. Today she works as a Parliamentary Assistant for a French MEP at the European Parliament in Brussels.

More
The Monti Government & The Europeanisation of Italian Politics

The Monti Government & The Europeanisation of Italian Politics

The fall of the Berlusconi government in 2011 was a game-changer in Italian politics. The prominent role taken by the EU in the succession of the events was unprecedented and contributed to catalyse the attention of the public on the European level. The magnitude of the change was clearly visible in the 2013 elections, which had a novel “Europeanised” character.

Article by Gabriele Furia, originally featured in the Sciences Po Library dossier "A European Political Life"

More
Is Europe at the End of its Rope?

Is Europe at the End of its Rope?

Editorial by Christian Lequesne, researcher at the CERI Sciences Po.

Continual Low Turn-Out Expected Despite Change in Political Landscape

The campaign for the European elections has difficulty getting started in France. The situation is similar in all EU member states. In the United Kingdom, voters supporting Brexit have difficulty admitting that they have to go to the polls, whereas the decision to leave the European Union was adopted by referendum three years ago.

More
Is Tolerance Political?

Is Tolerance Political?

Denis Lacorne is the author of The Limits of Tolerance. Enlightenment Values and Religious Fanaticism (Columbia University Press, 2019), the English translation of Les limites de la tolérance (Gallimard, awarded the Prix Montyon by the Académie Française). In his book, Denis Lacorne traces the emergence of the notion of tolerance from early thinkers to the Age of Enlightenment and finally questions the notion and its various understandings through more recent events in France and the United States. What is tolerance? Is tolerance political? Interview by Miriam Périer, CERI.

More
Eco-travel With Stop & Go

Eco-travel With Stop & Go

Stop & Go is a student association at Sciences Po that is bringing hitchhiking back into fashion. Trips, weekends away, or a hitchhiking festival - so many fun activities carrying an ecological message. Interview with the President of Stop & Go, Apolline Tarbé de Saint-Hardouin. 

More
Committed to Life

Committed to Life

Arturo is a 2nd year undergraduate student studying on the Poitiers campus. He was born in France but has lived the majority of his life in Mexico. He got his baccalaureate from a Franco-Mexican school, and he chose Sciences Po because social engagement is an important part of the curriculum. Read the interview with Arturo who is engaged and committed, well beyond the confines of the campus, to mental health issues...

More
Fact Checking: Between Beliefs and Knowledge

Fact Checking: Between Beliefs and Knowledge

Article by Émeric Henry, Associate Professor in Sciences Po’s Department of Economics.

“Fake news”, or infox, have become the great animators of recent elections, from the pro-Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom to the election of the new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, and including various elections in Europe and in the United States. While the casual relationship to truth is not a new fact, what marks a new era is the scope of the phenomenon in terms of the number of actors involved (robots, traditional media, platforms, etc.), and especially the speed of the dissemination of this fake information.

More