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The Economic Might of China – Building with BRICS – Part 3

Cue China, the newest country to join the circuit of world superpowers and an extremely important member of BRICS. The economic might of the country has grown considerably since the cultural revolution and now rivals that of the United States.

Through the many meticulously tailored “five-year plans”, China’s main focus is centred on economic development. The positive long term effects of economic development would be achieved through: industrialisation, urbanisation, marketisation and globalisation, which means that China has no intention of abandoning the continuation of such intensive methods. Unfortunately intense development through 11 consecutive five-year plans has not left China without a myriad of environmental issues.

Image obtained from Flickr. Photo rights: Bazril


The types of environmental degradation in China varies from city to city and province to province. There is severe air pollution in Beijing, severe water pollution in the Yangtze river and growing desertification in inner Mongolia, to name but a few. By naming only some environmental issues happening in China, consequences of the extent of intensive economic development are easily seen. These, however, are not China’s most serious problems. The most threatening issue that China faces is the depletion of natural resources such as: petrol, metals, coal, and many more. These resources are crucial to sustaining China’s economic development and without these resources they are nothing.

Being the third biggest economic power in the world right now and anticipating a larger boom in economics to come in fifty years, China is nearly at the peak of its power. Industrialisation, one of the sole means as to how China became what it is today, limits the ability for a one hundred percent sustainable environment. Consumption of resources increases yearly as it depletes at the same time, if not faster. For China’s sake this means that the protection and conservation of natural resources takes priority. For Rio+20, we can understand that China’s stance is focused on setting up a “green economy”.

The concept of a green economy is still a work in progress, although the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that it is:

“one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive”.

The official national submission from China to the UN for Rio+20 neatly sums up the definition as:

“A new way of approaching economic decision making, one that emphasizes potential synergies between economic and social development and environmental protection, identifies new green growth opportunities and shifts investments to capture them, and treats investment in protection and sustainable management of the natural resource base as an integral part of poverty eradication strategies.”

By analysing the given text submitted by China one can assume that a green economy to China is protection of its economic assets. They have also exclusively illustrated that a green economy should not become a pretext for “green protectionism”, contrary to the original UNEP definition.

The people of China would benefit greatly if China focuses on making a green economy a pretext for green protectionism. There are so many issues happening right now all over China where lives are being meaninglessly lost. In the city Qiugang of the Anhui province, 1,900 people have suffered from pollution in the river, air and environment, a result of runaway pollution from the factories situated in the area. The people have repeatedly fought for a cleaner environment and eradication of pollution but have been met at every turn with corrupt officials and bullying.

The lack of major green movements in China is not due to the fact that people don’t care, it’s the fact that the government workers outside of Beijing are corrupt. They will adhere to any progress or movements that constrict the abilities of factories to work smoothly. They also put economic development and money at the forefront and its people behind. Disregarding the commonplace corruption in China, there are formations of grassroot movements picking up around the country.

Major organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF are a few tending to the movements and providing people with the skills they may need. Though action is only one part of the solution to pressure China from the inside, more education for its people, especially students is needed for them to acknowledge and understand the consequences of prolonged industrialisation without limit.

Not all is lost though, despite this very concise and rigid stance that China held at Rio+20 and the trouble activists in China must succumb to, there is still hope. The report for the eleventh five-year plan compiled by Premier Wen Jiabao has not forgotten the environment. The mention of the environment and actions needed to conserve resources also allude to other environmental issues. As the eleventh plan nears its end and the twelfth five-year plan is already being discussed new objectives are illustrated. One of the main objectives that will take it’s place in the plan is that they will “actively respond to climate change…intensify the protection of farmland and the environment, strengthen ecological development and systems to prevent and mitigate natural disasters, and comprehensively build our capacity for sustainable development.”


Image obtained from Flickr. Photo rights: Rita Álvarez Tudela

How can we define the role China played at Rio+20? Follow what experts say about the outcome of Rio+20 with a focus on China’s role:

After Rio, a new consensus by Xu Nan (25 June, 2012)

Reframing Rio+20: revisiting children in Guangzhou, China – Video (25 June, 2012)

Rio+20 side events become the main event by James Fahn (22 June, 2012)

Rio+20: Nick Clegg blames China for ‘disappointing text’ by Louise Gray (21 June, 2012)


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About The Author(s)

Anna Zhou

Anna Zhou


Still a highschool student but quite ambitious as well. Co-founder of "ndoto." a not for profit conference taking place in Hong Kong and India aimed at inspiring creativity, innovation and change within young people today for the future. She is also a pretty dedicated blogger on everything related to the environment and the human interactions that take place, positive or negative.

Diêgo Lôbo

Public Relations and Blogger

Diêgo works with communications and fundraising for CESE, a Brazilian NGO. He is Chief-in-Editor of "E esse tal Meio Ambiente?", a 3-year-blog addressing environmental issues formed by young professionals with different backgrounds and skills, from all over the country. As a result of this work, he has published a book, participated and covered several events and also received national and international recognition. He is interested in discussions regarding climate issues, communication, social movements, human rights and so on.

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

Pabitra Mukhopadhyay

Civil Engineer

Pabitra is an amateur blogger and environment enthusiast. He has to his credit more than 100 international publications of online articles as independent reporting stories, analyses and in-depth reviews of contemporary issues. He is a contributor author in EJC and a winner of competitive blogging. Pabitra networks with writers and organizations working in the field of Environment and is adviser to Indian Knowledge Networking Platform Climate Himalaya. He writes about almost anything in his personal blog Pabitraspeaks too. Pabitra is an Honors graduate in Civil Engineering and a Fellow of the Institute of Engineers, India under Royal Charter. He works and lives in Kolkata, India with wife Sumana and son Diptarka.

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