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Wang Yi China’s Environmental and Developmental Issues in Transition CHINA HAS SEEN RAPID ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AS WELL AS SEVERE environmental degradation over the past two decades. Although the Chinese government has made a great effort to provide environmen­ tal protection, it has been stymied by China’s economic development pattern, which follows the traditional industrialization mode of low efficiency in resource use and considerable pollutant discharge. In other words, China achieved its rapid economic growth at the cost of deplet­ ing natural resources and environmental quality. Should comprehen­ sive and effective actions not be undertaken in the next 15 years, the pollution pressures will exceed China’s environmental carrying capac­ ity and lead to an irreversible environmental crisis. Should this occur, environmental issues would become not only the greatest obstacle to China’s achievement of a xiao kang society and undermine China’s international image,1 but would also have a severe effect on the global environment. THE ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT China’s environmental concerns are complex, regional, and chronic. China rapid economic development period began in the 1980s and the country has quickly passed through the development stages that have taken the developed countries a century. A fragile environment social research Vol 73 : No 1 : Spring 2006 277 and unbalanced regional development accompanied by an excessive population increase, a traditional development model, and a question­ able policy orientation have resulted in severe environmental damage. Environmental issues that should have been seen at different develop­ ment stages appeared simultaneously. The current environmental issues are significantly different from those in 1980s in terms of their type, scale, structure, and nature. The severity of the issues stems not only from the volume of pollutant discharge and the scale of the ecosystem degradation, but also from their complexity, and the threat and risk they pose. Their impacts on the ecosystem, human beings, economic devel­ opment, social stability, and national security are chronic. They have become major constrains on sustainable development and the peace­ ful rise of China in the world. The complexity of the environmental issues confronting China was not seen in the industrialization process that the developed countries underwent. A holistic and comprehensive approach is urgently needed to address these issues in China. A Fragile Natural Environment and Expanded Ecosystem Degradation Arid and semi-arid areas and mountainous land account for 52 percent and 65 percent, respectively, of China’s land area (the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, the Loess Plateau, and the Karst areas comprise, in order, 2 million, 640,000, and 900,000 square kilometers). The fragile environ­ ment finds it hard to support population and development pressures. Some human activities have led to decreased functionality of ecosys­ tems as well as severe and enlarged ecological degradation. As a result, the area suffering water and soil erosion totals 3.56 million square kilometers or 37 percent ofnational land. Desertification affects some 1 million square kilometers (SEPA, 2004). In the 1970s, around 1,560 square kilometers of land was desertified annually and in the 1990s it increased to 3,436 square kilometers. The forest cover­ age in China is lower than that of the world average. The age struc­ ture of forest coverage is unhealthy, with primeval forest making up less than 10 percent. The quality and ecological functionality of forests 278 social research are decreasing. The area available for harvest is also being reduced. A few other remarkable facts: 62 percent of grassland was degraded at the end of 1990s; groundwater was overextracted by 90 billion cubic meters in the Haihe River plain by 2002 and the subsidence area was around 20,000 square kilometers; biodiversity is decreasing and the intrusion of exotic species threatens ecological safety, causing major economic loss. Trends in Regional and Basin-based Hybrid Pollution China’s environmental issues are significantly different when compared with those that were discussed two decades ago. In fact, the issues are in “transition.” This is evidenced by the expansion of pollu­ tion from land to offshore areas and from surface water to ground­ water, and the overlaying of point pollution and nonpoint pollution, and distinction between domestic and industrial sewage. The pollut­ ant composition includes both toxic...


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