China’s industrialisation has been exceptionally fast, exceptionally productive (for the country’s financial centres), and exceptionally damaging in its contribution to global environmental issue. In this blog I’ll attempt to gauge whether China’s massive pollution is doing an injustice to all of those nations who are looking for cleaner, greener solutions to protect the planet, or whether China is being done an injustice by being labelled an ‘eco-villain’ by nations who could be doing more.
There is a massive case for China being a major environmental rogue. The heart of China’s environmental concerns is the dependence on coal fired power stations for much of its industrial output. Coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels contributing 90% of sulphur dioxide emissions and 80% of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere in China which contributes alarmingly to the global atmosphere. The handbook of energy statistics, a Japanese publication has ranked China as the second highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind the US. Global warming and climate change are subjects that many people across the whole world have become accustomed with in recent decades and China’s emissions from coal burning power stations will contribute to the projected increase in our planet’s temperature, the melting of the polar ice and subsequent rising sea levels, the expansion of desert habitats, the spread of disease due to favourable bacterial conditions and the increased concern over scarcity of future resources (water, crops, fossil fuels) for the next generation. Not only would these outcomes deeply impact their sustainability, but the country (if they continued to pollute at the same rate) would be doing an injustice to a world that is looking to clean up its act.
However, although China is a rapidly developing nation, polluting and degrading its own nation’s environment, I can’t help but feel a sense of thank goodness that’s all it’s doing. China is predominantly self sufficient when it comes to its resource use, whereas the developed world especially the US is reliant on other nations. The US import energy resources from across the globe: Nigeria, Canada, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and the Middle Eastern nations of Bahrain and Qatar. The US is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the largest consumer of energy per member of its population and yet it is the country with the most money to do something about it! The US’s GDP being almost three times that of China’s according to IMF statistics. Furthermore, when it comes to Global policy the USA are not the most cooperative. They outright declined the Kyoto protocol on capping emissions in 1997 due to China’s omission, whereas China both signed the UN’s policy in 1998 and ratified it 4 years later in reducing emissions (Bleisch, 2009). China has committed to reducing their environmental impact, the government’s 11th 5 year plan they targeted reducing energy consumption by 20% per unit of their Gross Domestic product, the 12th 5 year plan has aimed to cut carbon emission per unit of GDP by 17%.
Ultimately, the United States won’t sign any global policy unless they get comparable leniencies as China has been given in countering global warming. I come back here to my first blog and the definition’s of justice. China, although a heavy polluter, is trying and succeeding in reducing its emissions doing itself and the rest of the world justice. However, the more the US rejects such policies, the less credible they look and the more people, myself included, could start to question whether they are doing themselves justice in protecting the global environment.
Bleisch, W. (2009) ‘China ‘unfairly seen as Eco-villain,’’ BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8100988.stm
Whu, F. Zhong, J. and Zhang, L. (2006) ‘China’s Energy and Environment’, IEEE power and Energy Magazine 4 (4), p. 20-31