China can 'grow green' says Bank

Posted: 2 October 2001

The last 20 years have brought swift economic growth to China and have taken a heavy environmental toll, but a new report issued by the World Bank says if the Chinese government changes its development strategy, an environmentally sustainable future is possible.

The report, China: Air, Land and Water - Environmental Priorities for a New Millennium, outlines some of China's successes and points to areas where the researchers see improvements are needed. It credits China with "broad-based and absolute reduction in industrial air and water pollutant emissions during the second half of the 1990s."

"Given the importance of China's biodiversity resources and the level of threat they are facing, priority has to be given to significantly strengthening the approach to biodiversity protection and management," the authors advise.

Nature reserves

The key is the establishment of an independent, state level Nature Reserves Service to manage nature reserves of national and global significance, develop a centre of excellence for nature reserve management, represent the country in international conservation forums, and set standards for counterpart institutions at provincial and lower levels, the report suggests.

An active strategy to avoid or minimize the adverse environmental effects of development in the first place, would be much better than the present approach of trying to fix the harmful effects of previous development decisions.

Olympic Games

Now that Beijing has been chosen to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the eyes of the world are on China, which has promised to clean up its capital city in time for the event.

There has been some progress towards sustainability during the 1990s, the report finds, noting a "reversal of deforestation through massive investments in reforestation and afforestation." Also to China's credit, there has been a reversal of secondary salinization in irrigation areas due to "major control and prevention programmes," the authors report. "These achievements are arguably unprecedented in any country at China's state of economic development," said Yukon Huang, the Bank's country director for China.

"Yet," he added, "the battle is not even close to being won - environmental challenges are likely to get far greater and more complex over the next 10 years and the government will have to re-orient its approach if it wants to make further progress."

Girl with melons in China's most populous province, Sichuan. Credit: FAO/Peyton Johnson .

Administrative and political considerations are identified as posing the most serious barriers to the more integrated, river basin approach that is needed to sustainably manage water resources in the most heavily conflicted catchments, mostly in north China, technical experts agree.

The report urges China to increase environmental expenditures, especially for basic capacity building. "Less haste and more thought on environmental improvement programmes," is the authors' advice. Donors should work to reduce overlaps and pay closer attention to the priorities outlined in China's Five Year Plans, the report says.

Environmental NGOs are just starting to develop in China, the authors note. "As public interest in environmental issues grows, their role should increase substantially in the future. This is another area in which foreign donors could play a role through training and technical assistance, brokering partnerships with external NGOs, and provision of material support."

Based on the review underlying this report, and taking account of the government's environmental strategy for the 10th Five Year Plan, investments likely to be of importance are:

  • rural development projects that combine poverty alleviation with environmental protection and sustainable natural resources management, with emphasis on grasslands, hilly and mountainous areas
  • urban pollution control and environmental management, including support for sustainable development of urban environmental infrastructure
  • biodiversity conservation and development of new approaches that integrate rural development with biodiversity conservation
  • development of new approaches to management of wastes from small scale rural enterprises such as establishment of industrial development zones with centralized waste collection and treatment.

To download the report, click here.