Environmental Problems and Pollution in China Essay Sample

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There is no country in the world that assumed an economic might as China that has not come with unprecedented environmental problems. The rise of Great Britain during the industrialization era came with a lot of environmental impacts. The same applies to rise of other economic powers like Germany, United States, USSR, and others. However there is no economy in the world that equals Chinese economy in terms of environmental pollution. [1]The legacy of environment pollution in China is so severe that it will take decades of efforts and the commitment of huge public wealth to undo the problem.  The magnitude of environment pollution in the country has stark repercussion on the domestic and international front. It is a major long-term burden on the country and a political challenge facing the Communist Party.  Ambient air pollution is not only a major threat the existence of the ecosystem but it is also a leading cause of thousands of deaths year.

The water system ahs been polluted to such an extent that more than half billion people don’t have access to clean and safe drinking water while cancer reign havoc on the life of  many Chinese. In deed, china environmental problem is thorn on its economic juggernaut. Any industrial growth needs to be regulated and the world, in reference to China, seems not to have learned from the past industrialization. In deed there has not been efforts to strengthen the institutions, polices and the mechanism to enforce those polices that would otherwise save the country from the menace. There are not efforts whatsoever to find a framework for technology transfer and environmental protection but instead all multinationals are running to China and the poor citizens oppressed by the communist rule have been the only voice heard concerning the issue of pollution. This paper would like to assert that the issue of pollution and environmental problems in China has a lot of impact on the world and it need to be addressed.

Historical economic development policies and environmental impact

[2]The record of China economic development has indeed shattered its precedent. China has emerged from an inward economy closed by socialism to a flamboyant world economy driven by free market economy. Since 1989 when the country finally opened to the world, China has maintained an economic growth averaging 10% that has led it to emergence as force to reckon with in the world.  It is estimated that by 2035, China will equal the United States economy and may even double it by the middle of the century.

[3]However we observe that this flamboyant economic growth has been unchecked. Government policies and tax exemption has attracted foreign investors and today china has the largest percentage of FDI driving its economy. Most of the multinationals goings to China is lead by the attractive Chinese government economic policies and therefore they have not been keen on the impact of their operation. In many cases, there are shoddy and corrupted feasibility studies that are done prior to the commencement of their operations. But whose problem is this? This paper would make it categorically that while the first casualties are the main Chinese population, the rest of the world is not far from that. As Chinese becomes a world economic world power, so does all its problems.

However a historical trace of the economic development of china reveals that the country has traveled a path ridded with various environmental and social impacts. we can therefore argue that lack of  a framework to address some of the problems that China currently faces may  be as a result of rapid economic development as many people have argued but it is due to lack of commitment to do so going  by its historic experiences.

Chinese civilization has come with a number of bad experiences that would have catalyzed the country to come up with clear guidelines on environment management issues in light of its economic development.  For example during the Three Bad Years between 1959 and 1961, there were more than 30 million people who lost thief life in the greatest famine in human history. This famine came as result of iron smelting economy that led to degradation of the environment.

[4]Couple with the problem of environment pollution is the high rate at which the population of the country has been growing. Currently China holds a sixth of the world population and lack of the environment planning measures along its rising economy has created unprecedented strain on the economic development of the country especially in   the exploitation of the natural resources.

China economic rise may be its undoing. It can be maintained for now but the future is bleak with no measures to balance the need for environmental preservation and the rising industrialization to achieve sustainable growth. In order to understand the problem well, we need to look deeply into the issue of environmental pollution in China.

Environmental pollution in China

Environment pollution in China is a great set back to its economic growth. Economic success in china may be its undoing and we can say that it is really choking on its success. Yet the economy has posted historical performances with successive double digit growth for more than a decade. However we need to enquire the cause and impact of the double digit growth.  This growth is coming from growth of heavy industries and increased urbanization which has come with increased demand for energy with a cheap option of dirty coal available.

The   country seems to have given priority to increased industrialization with little environment   impact assessment. The government has in deed acknowledged that the issue of environmental pollution is a major challenge to the economic growth of the country. The State Environmental Protection Administration  (SEPA) which is the official government agency that looks into the environmental matters has failed in its duty of conduction Environmental Impact Assessment (EIAs) leading to misplacement of major industrial projects. But the environmental problem in china has also been associated with the rising cases of corruption in the local authority which has given nod to some industrial projects which have gross environmental impact.

Paradoxically, some environmental woes that are taken as catastrophic in other nations are considered common in the country.   China is  perhaps the only country that thrives with industrial cities where residents may never enjoy  the sight of the sun taking into the  consideration that the county is not in the polar regions,  thousands  of its children  are killed or get sick on daily bases from the increased lead poisoning and other types of  air pollution,  the coast line  has  been swamped by red algal tides and  large section can no longer support any form of marine line, and yet, this is the rise to world economic  leadership. Sustainable development is yet to take root on this emerging world giant.

Environment problems in China are multifaceted. [5]China economic problem can be viewed in the thin lenses of it continued emission of green house gases, industrial affluent, and others which have a greater impact on the environment at large. Since the turn of the century, China has become the leading emitter of green house gases surpassing the United States. [6]Although this has been used as a symbol of its rising industrial power, it has serious implications on the environment. [7]For example in 2004, China accounted for about 18% of the total carbon dioxide that was emitted in the world compared to 22% that was emitted by the United States. However by 2007, statistics shows that China had overtaken the United States in emission.

In the last ten years, the energy demand in china has risen considerably. The county search for energy to support its industrial base has led to exploitation of energy outsides its borders taking its environmental problem beyond borders. Compared the United States, chains consumer twice as much coal consuming around 2.8 billion metric tons of coals every year. [8]Between 2001 and 2005, the amount of the sulfur dioxide emitted from coal in the country rose by more than 27% as it became the center of industrial power.  Sulfur dioxide emitted by Chinese industries fall as acid rain on other neighboring countries like Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo and others. According the Journal of Geophysical Research, it has also been estimated that most the particulate pollution over Los Angeles can be traced to China. The environmental problem of China is finally going global. Coal as a source of energy is leading source of environmental pollution and this may explain the reasons why unless there are strategic changes in sources of energy, environmental problem will continue.

[9]Emission of green house gases has a great health impact on the life of immediate Chinese population living the in polluted cities.  Cities in China are some of the most polluted cities in the world wrapped in toxic grey shrouds.  According to the European Union estimates, it is only one percent of the Chinese population that living in the cities that breathe air that can be considered safe by international standards. This means that a great percentage of the country 560 million city dwellers breathe polluted air.  However there have not been frantic efforts in the country that have been aimed at correcting the problem. It is only recently when Beijing tried to come up with a magic formula  to clears its polluted skies ahead of the  2008 Olympic games. But that having passed, the gains achieved through the use of meteorological dues ex machina may be quickly eroded.

The multifaceted problem of emission has also seen rapid rise water pollution. Water ways are important for transportation of people and industrial goods in the country. However there is increased risk of water pollution posing danger to millions of lives in the country. In comparison to other developed world, China has relatively lower amount of fresh water available for its use. For example it has jus a fifth as much water per capita compared to the United States.  The southern part of the country is wet and it houses more than half of the Chinese population. However, the relatively wet southern wet region has seen dramatic decline in amount of water available such that it may become dessert soon.

Two of its important rives, the Yellow River and Yangtze River have been polluted and environment degradation has led to reduced level of water in these rivers. According to the World Bank, Chinese industries uses around four to ten times more water in production than the industrialized nations. The corruption in the local authorities in China has seen many factories and farms dumping waste in Chinese surface water with no legal actions taken. According to China Environmental Monitor, most of the rivers including the vast great leaks Tai, Chao, and Dianchi have been rated Grade V which is the lowest lever of grading. This means that their water is not fit for industrial or agricultural use. For example Lake Tai, which has been for centuries supporting fish and important source for agriculture has been polluted with toxic cyanobacteria called pond scuma. As a result more than two million people who live around the canals, rice paddies and chemical plants by the side of the lake can no longer use the water for drinking or cooking.

[10]The increasing energy demand has led to the government to increase the output of hydro power by building Three Gorgeous Dam which comes with devastating effect on the environment. [11]By 2009, China is expected to launch its Yangtze power project which will be not only the largest and most expensive but with the huge consequences on water and ecological existence. More than 1.4 million people stand to be displace, 113,000 acres of fertile land lost, rare species will become extinct, and may other consequences. However its great impact will be on water supply as millions of city dwellers will be left with no water supply. Environment critics have consequently being jailed for their opposing to Yangtze River dam construction.

[12]The implication of air and environment pollution in china comes with grim statistics. It is estimated that environmental pollution leads to premature death of more than 300,000 people and this figure may reach to 400,000 by 2010. Indoor air pollution already leads to 350,000-400,000 deaths every year while an estimated 60,000 die from diarrhea due to dirty water

Dealing with the problem paints a grim picture ahead. The communist rule in the country has failed to address the problem by enforcing laws. [13]Continuous intimidation and arrest of the environmental crusaders and non government organizations casts doubt on the government plan to have a green economy. The local communist party bosses have more power than the institutions which are supposed to enforce environmental laws and the high level of corruption propels environmental pollution. [14]The 2004 endorsement of Green GDP term will not achieve its aims of alleviation of pollution on the economy and human health unless there are concerted efforts.


China has witnessed unprecedented rate of economic growth that has propelled it to a global economic power. However the country may be chocking its economic success by the increased environmental pollution. China’s economy is fueled by coal leading to emission of green house gases. Apart from being a leading emitter of green house gases, China has also polluted it water resources. The consequences of pollution are large with an estimated 350,000 to 400, 000 people dying every year from pollution. The authoritarian rule of the communist regime has made it difficult to enforce environmental laws.  Unless strict measures are taken, China will continue to pollute its environment which may be its own undoing.


Carlson, A. (2004):  Environmental NGOs in China: Roles and Limits. Pacific Affairs, March 2004

European Commission, (2008): Resource Pressure and China’s environmental challenges. Europe-China Academic Network

Gallagher, S. K. (2007): China needs help with climate change. CH, 2007, Retrieved 1st December 2008 from http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/files/Gallagher-Current%20History.pdf

Kahn, J. & Yardley, J. (2007): As china roars, pollution reaches deadly extremes. NYT, 2007, Retrieved 1st December 2008 from http://www.theledger.com/article/20070826/ZNYT03/708260426

Kahn, J. (2007): In china, a lake’s champion imperils himself. International Herald Tribune, October 2007. . Retrieved 1st December 2008 fromhttp://www.iht.com/articles/2007/10/14/asia/14china.php

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Park, J. (1995): China’s Environmental crisis: An inquiry into the limits of National Development. Pacific Affairs, 1995. Retrieved 1st December 2008 from http://www.fpri.org/enotes/200707.keidel.assessingchina.html

Qing, D. & Sullivan, L. R. (1999): The Three Gorgeous Dam and China’s energy dilemma. Journal of International affairs, Vol. 53

Tickell, C. (2007): The Chinese environment: Prospects and hazards. Retrieved 1st December 2008 from http://www.crispintickell.com/page119.html

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[1] Keidel, A. (2007): Assessing China’s Economic Rise: Strengths, weaknesses and implications

[2] Park, J. (1995): China’s Environmental crisis: An inquiry into the limits of National Development. Pacific Affairs, 1995

[3] Gallagher, S. K. (2007): China needs help with climate change. CH, 2007

[4] European Commission, (2008): Resource Pressure and China’s environmental challenges. Europe-China Academic Network

[5] Gallagher, S. K. (2007): China needs help with climate change. CH, 2007

[6] Kahn, J. & Yardley, J. (2007): As china roars, pollution reaches deadly extremes. NYT, 2007

[7] Gallagher, S. K. (2007): China needs help with climate change. CH, 2007

[8] Gallagher, S. K. (2007): China needs help with climate change. CH, 2007

[9] Tickell, C. (2007): The Chinese environment: Prospects and hazards

[10] Qing, D. & Sullivan, L. R. (1999): The Three Gorgeous Dam and China’s energy dilemma.

[11] Topping, A. R. (1995): Ecological Roulette: Damming the Yangtze. Foreign Affairs, 1995

[12] Kahn, J. & Yardley, J. (2007): As china roars, pollution reaches deadly extremes. NYT, 2007

[13] Kahn, J. (2007): In china, a lake’s champion imperils himself. International Herald Tribune, October 2007

[14] Carlson, A. (2004):  Environmental NGOs in China: Roles and Limits. Pacific Affairs, March 2004

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