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  • The China Environment Yearbook.Volume 5, State of Change: Environmental Governance and Citizens’ Rights
  • Herman F. Huang (bio)
Yang Dongping, editor. The China Environment Yearbook. Volume 5, State of Change: Environmental Governance and Citizens’ Rights. Leiden: Brill, 2011. xix, 292 pp. Hardcover $151.00, ISBN 978-90-04-18302-5.

After three decades of unabated growth, the size of China’s economy, as measured by its gross domestic product (GDP), is now second only to that of the United States. Rapid economic expansion has been accompanied by increasing levels of pollution and energy consumption. For example, an article in the New York Times reported that air pollution in China causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually and that nearly 500 million Chinese do not have access to safe drinking water.1 As of 2007, China had overtaken the United States in emissions of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from fossil fuels.2 The Chinese government’s Twelfth [End Page 253] Five-Year plan (2011–2015) set a target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP by 17 percent. Additionally, energy consumption per unit GDP is to be reduced by 16 percent.3

The China Environment Yearbook, Volume 5, State of Change: Environmental Governance and Citizens’ Rights examines the state of China’s environment in 2009 and discusses ongoing actions to address environmental concerns. This book is the translation of Huanjing lü pi shu: Zhongguo huanjing fazhan baogao (2010) (环境 绿皮书: 中国环境发展报告 [2010]), edited by Yang Dongping (杨东平) and published in Beijing by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2010. Yang is a cofounder and president of the Friends of Nature, China’s first official nongovernmental environmental organization (NGO). Altogether, the book has thirty-two contributors, including university faculty, graduate students, NGO staff, and journalists.

Volume 5 consists of an introduction, twenty-two unnumbered chapters, and an appendix. The first chapter, which serves as a volume overview, presents the key government, citizen, and NGO actions undertaken in 2009 (Li Dun, pp. 9–28). The remainder of the book is organized according to six parts: “Public Policy,” “Litigation,” “Pollution and Health,” “Consumption,” “Ecological Protection,” and an appendix.

In part 1, Zhang Ke remarks that environmental protection efforts may be weakened in the current economic crisis as companies and government choose economic growth over environmental protection (pp. 31–45). A total of forty-six proposals pertaining to a low-carbon economy were submitted to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in 2009 (Chen Hongwei, pp. 47–57). Despite regulations calling for the disclosure of environmental information, the level of transparency differs greatly among cities (Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and Natural Resources Defense Council, pp. 61–69). Readers can also learn about the Regulations on Environmental Impact Assessment for Plans (Wang Shekun, pp. 71–79) and China’s participation in international climate change negotiations (Yu Jie, pp. 81–92).

Part 2 contains four chapters. An NGO filed public interest lawsuits seeking to end the illegal construction of two hydropower plants and to recover environmental damages (Xia Jun and Qie Jianrong, pp. 95–105). Lin Yanmei highlights the breakthroughs and challenges in the development of environmental public interest litigation (pp. 107–120). Zhang Jingjing identifies the difficulties faced by plaintiffs in three lawsuits pertaining to pollution and health (pp. 121–129). Feng Jia maintains that environmental protection laws should be amended and enforced (pp. 131–138).

Qie Jianrong begins part 3 with a discussion of five occurrences of heavy metal pollution (pp. 141–149). Yu Chen describes the environmental problems resulting from the growth of four cities in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Shaanxi Province, and the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (pp. 151–161). Yang Yong [End Page 254] comments on the environmental threats associated with resource development in western China (pp. 163–175). Cai Yongfei examines the pollution impacts of the Home Appliances in the Countryside program, which encourages farmers to buy government-subsidized electrical appliances (pp. 177–184).

The theme of part 4 is consumption and waste. Supporters of waste incineration tout power generation and reduced waste disposal in landfills, while opponents cite health concerns (Yang Changjiang, pp. 187–196). Although the Chinese government advocates sustainable consumption, actual government and...