The Greener Side of China's Environment
Point of View by China Environment Forum Senior Associate Jennifer Turner, April 2007 Centerpoint
China is paying a heavy environmental and human health price for its economic success. Despite the grim statistics on pollution and natural resource destruction, there are domestic and international initiatives that potentially could improve the situation.
The Chinese central leadership has vowed to significantly reduce air pollution from the energy sector by passing ambitious laws and pronouncements prioritizing renewable energy and energy efficiency, including more fuel-efficient automobiles. China's notoriously weak environmental watchdog agency has been flexing its muscles more over the past two years, pushing for prosecuting firms for toxic chemical spills, cracking down on major polluters or environmentally damaging dam projects, and passing regulations to give the public a greater voice in environmental policymaking.
Chinese environmental NGOs have begun to take on more sensitive issues such as a national campaign to demand more transparency in dam building decision-making, assisting pollution victims in class action court cases, and creating an informative website about water-polluting industries nationwide. International green NGOs also are undertaking ambitious clean-energy and environmental protection initiatives that strengthen local regulators and society.
The American Bar Association has trained Chinese local officials on holding public hearings for environmental impact assessments. The China-U.S. Energy Efficiency Alliance is uniting California energy and public utilities commissions with counterparts in Jiangsu Province to create programs that improve energy efficiency. Other countries have expanded environmental aid and programs in China, though the United States lags behind.
In recent years, China's oil hunger and growing pollution problems increasingly worry Washington. Narrowly viewing China's energy and environmental problems as threats, however, ignores the significant opportunity for Sino-U.S. collaboration in these areas. The newly initiated Sino-U.S. Strategic Economic Dialogue has an energy and environmental component, which could become a vehicle for raising the priority of "green" bilateral cooperation.
It is strongly in the United States' interest to help China bolster its use of clean energy and energy-efficient technologies. The United States and China both must develop energy conservation strategies to help prevent intensified competition for limited global energy resources and further environmental degradation there. Since the United States and China share energy security concerns and confront many similar environmental challenges, cementing cooperation in these areas might offset tensions in other parts of the relationship and help secure broader U.S. foreign policy and domestic goals.