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The Greening of China

The Greening of China

13 February 2013

On 13 February 2013 the EU-Asia Centre held a policy briefing on ‘The Greening of China’ with Isabel Hilton, Editor of China Dialogue. The briefing was chaired by Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre. Discussants were Jiang Shixue, Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Artur Runge Metzer, Director of DG CLIMA at the European Commission, and Bartosz Cieleszynski from the European Commission (DG Environment).

Isabel Hilton looked at the main environmental challenges China was facing. She named resource inefficiency as the main problem. The major factor related to that was water scarcity and its uneven distribution and pollution. This, in turn, led to several other problems such as soil and food pollution. Hilton pointed out that the pollution and the lack of government transparency when issuing warnings led to increased distrust between the citizens and the Chinese leadership. Hilton further stated that the 12th Five Year Plan stressed sustainable development as major priority, however, she emphasised that the main underlying issue was that of governance. Despite good laws in place more enforcement, a robust rule of law and improved regulation were needed to tackle the issues.

China’s future energy supply would be conditioned by water stress and China’s continuing dependence on coal was unsustainable. Not only was it severely polluting, but it demanded more water than would be available. Whilst expanding energy supply would be difficult, Hilton said it was crucial to control demand. In order to fulfil China’s hopes for social stability better environmental protection was required.

Professor Jiang named five major impediments to better environmental protection in China: lack of implementation of the 1989 Environmental Protection Law, ‘growth at any cost’ mentality of officials, lack of public awareness of the issue, lack of development which required increased use of coal in rural areas, and geographical factors. He suggested the EU to help China by transferring more technology and helping the Chinese government and NGOs to carry out educational programmes. Jiang further brought up the controversy about the role of developed countries in the worsening of developing countries’ environment.

Artur Runge Metzer agreed that the main issue in China was that of governance and that the main steps needed to be taken by the government: regulation, enforcement and transparency. It was also necessary to find a balance between development and environmental protection. Metzer highlighted the EU’s experience with regulation for environmental protection which could be passed on to China, especially in the field of emissions trading. Another possibility for partnership between China and the EU would be in the area of environmentally friendly mobility in municipalities. Finally, Metzer argued, China had the ultimate responsibility to take decisions and to be part of a global solution.

Bartosz Cieleszynski referred to the growing importance of environmental issues within EU-China relations. He accentuated the EU’s interest in a more resource-efficient industrial policy in China, but also stated that China had become increasingly aware of the fact that the current development pattern was not beneficial for the economy. Cieleszynski also saw environmental awareness within society as of key importance.

The following discussion centred around the role of corruption and civil society, the rotation system of Chinese officials which decreased officials’ responsibility and accountability, the importance of implementation of regulations and the focus on innovation and research.