By Kasper Sulkjær Andersen
This article is a part of a master's thesis from 2013.APPENDIX C – CHINA’S ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
China has become a world leader in air and water pollution and land degradation and a top contributor to some of the world’s most vexing global environmental problems (...)( Economy, 2007:38)
Environmental degradation in China has within the last decade reached unprecedented and disturbing heights prompting some scholars to characterise this countrywide degradation as an environmental crisis
(Economy, 2007, 2010; Economy and Lieberthal, 2007). Thirty years of high economic growth rates have taken their toll on the state of the Chinese environment. Particularly, the fact that China’s growth is predominantly predicated on coal has had a devastating impact as coal is the most emission intensive fossil fuel. Adding to this, lax environmental laws and low environmental capacity coupled with heavy industry has caused widespread pollution and severe deforestation. Although not all China scholars would characterise the current situation as a crisis there is, nonetheless, a widespread consensus that concerns over the degrading environment has prompted the central Chinese government to afford a higher priority to environmental issues. China’s environmental crisis has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of the CCP as continued economic growth is wholly reliant on the availability of natural resources. Most importantly, sufficient amounts of water and arable land are needed to support China’s growing industry and agricultural production. In terms of the effect that the environmental degradation has on public health air and water pollution are the two most frequent causes of cancer and premature deaths in China, affecting a large number of people (World Bank, 2007).
Delving deeper into the facts underpinning China’s environmental crisis it is estimated that 38 percent of China’s land mass is currently affected by erosion reducing the availability of arable land (Delman and Odgaard, 2011). The level of deforestation has been so severe that forest areas now only account for 18 percent of China’s land mass further exacerbating erosion. In terms of water resources it is estimated that approximately 70 percent of surface water in China is polluted to such an extent that it is posing health risks (Economy 2007) and that 43 percent of the water comprised by China’s seven largest rivers is now so polluted that it is unsuitable for human purposes exacerbating problems of water scarcity. Further, it is estimated that a whole 25 percent of the population is without access to clean drinking water (Delman and Odgaard, 2011). The quality of air in China exhibits the same characteristics as the case with water. The air is highly polluted; roughly 13 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are situated in China and a third of the population is exposed to highly polluted air on a daily basis.
In economic terms the costs of China’s declining natural environment is estimated to fall within the interval of 8-12 percent of GDP per year (Economy, 2007; Delman and Odgaard, 2011) which is extraordinarily high by any measure.