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Year : 2006  |  Volume : 4  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 36-54

The Evolution of Environmental Policy and its Impact in the People's Republic of China

History Department, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of China, China

Correspondence Address:
Maohong Bao
History Department, Peking University, Beijing 100871, People's Republic of China
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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009


Though environmental problems in China are well known world­wide, particularly critical issues such as the Three Gorges Dam Project, acid rain and dust storms, they are misunderstood by foreign politicians and scholars. This article introduces Chinese environmental policy and its effi­ciency from a Chinese environmental perspective. I will examine the evolution of Chinese environmental policy and its gains and losses in the context of a transforming Chinese economy, society and politics. The first part of this arti­cle describes the formation and development of Chinese environmental policy. The second part analyses the implementation of Chinese environmental policy and its impact. The third looks at the obstacles and questions that stand in the way of development and implementation of environmental regulation and pro­tection in China. My argument is that Chinese environmental policy is im­pressive and comprehensive, but its implementation is incomplete.

Keywords: environmental policy, China, environmental consciousness, envi-ronmental regulation, environmental history

How to cite this article:
Bao M. The Evolution of Environmental Policy and its Impact in the People's Republic of China. Conservat Soc 2006;4:36-54

How to cite this URL:
Bao M. The Evolution of Environmental Policy and its Impact in the People's Republic of China. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 Mar 29];4:36-54. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2006/4/1/36/49257

   Introduction Top

ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS in China were dealt with from the perspective of many disciplines, such as political science (Smil 1993; Shapiro 2001; Yi 2002), however, these studies mostly lack historical background. Though China's environmental history is a rising sub-discipline in China and outside, it focused on ancient environmental history (Elvin et al. 1994; Marks 1997; Elvin and Ts'ui-jung 1998; Bao 2004; Elvin 2004). In this article I analyse the evolution of China's environmental policy and its impact in a historical con­text. I argue that policy evolution was closely related to the context of China's political, economic and social development. Without understanding these cir­cumstances, it is difficult to analyse the growth of China's environmental pol­icy. In this article I examine the evolution of environmental policy and its gains and losses in the context of a transforming Chinese economy, society and politics. I will discuss the reasons why China's environmental policy has been misunderstood by foreign politicians and scholars. [1]

Environmental policy in China was transformed from an administrative in­strument first to a legal system and second to the integration of economic in­struments within the legal system. This was in harmony with the historical trends that China was experiencing as it transformed from the socialist planned economy to a socialist market economy. In comparison with ad­vanced industrial countries, China's environmental policy was formulated and implemented from top to bottom; the grassroots did not participate in this formation. This too was a result of China's centralised socialist political sys­tem.

The Formation and Development of Chinese Environmental Policy

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Chi­nese Communist Party (CCP) launched a mammoth socialist movement under Marxist, Leninist and Maoist thought. This movement was also, in essence, an activity designed to save the environment since China had accepted Stalin's (1962) views on nature completely. The slogans of this era reflected this de­sire, such as:

The foolish old man removes the mountain;

Create farmland by encircling the lake;

Man must conquer heaven;

With many people, strength is great;

Cultivate on the top of the mountain, plant rice at the center of lake; Actively smelt steel and iron;

How much courage you have, how much yield it has;

Don't worry about not doing, just worry about not thinking;

To struggle against the heavens is endless joy, to struggle against the earth is endless joy, to struggle for the people is endless joy.

These activities violated nature and resulted in serious environmental pollu­tion and ecological damage. Since China's leadership purported to employ the mechanism of unified planning with due consideration for all aspects of the economy and the society, which was supposedly more superior than in a capi­talist system, the Chinese government did not recognise environmental prob­lems. The aim of socialism was to satisfy the needs of the masses, so how could it damage the masses? It was only in a capitalist society, where capital­ists received profit at the cost of environmental destruction regardless of the welfare of workers and peasants that environmental problems existed. How­ever, there was the question of why the Soviet Union had environmental prob­lems, where socialism was built for the first time in the human history. It was believed that the Soviet Union became a revisionist country. In the context of the ideology of this era, China did not have an environmental policy, even if environmental problems had already appeared. Indeed, both Professor Yunchu Ma, who advocated the control of population growth, and Professor Wanli Huang, who opposed the construction of the Sanmen Xia dam on the Yellow River, were criticised. These attitudes resulted in the serious environmental damage.

Fortunately, this situation changed in 1972. Several factors brought about a change in consciousness about the environment. First, several serious envi­ronmental accidents took place. For example, fish were found to have a foul smell in the polluted Guanting Reservoir, sea life died in the polluted Dalian Bay, and Minamata disease appeared in the Songhua River (Japanese Society for China Environment 2005-2006). These problems caught the attention of the Chinese leadership. Second, Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations improved. Chinese leaders felt the gravity of environmental problems and the rise of environmentalism in these countries when they met American and Japanese guests. Premier Zhou Enlai stated, 'Industrial pollution is a fresh question. If industrialisation begins, this question becomes more and more se­rious. Now pollution is becoming the biggest problem in the world'. One par­ticularly important turning point was the meeting of Premier Zhou with a famous journalist who specialised in reporting on pollution in Japan. As a re­sult, Chinese leaders paid more attention to environmental problems. They thought that USA and Japan, as capitalist states, could not solve environ­mental problems. They believed that China, as a socialist country, could solve environmental problems. Third, the United Nations held the conference on human environment in Stockholm. It was an opportunity for China to portray its environmental consciousness in the international political arena. The Chi­nese government sent a big delegation to attend the conference. As a result, Chinese leaders were motivated to undertake environmental policy work after the delegates reported to them on this conference. It was the interaction of these three main factors that started the formulation and implementation of Chinese environmental policy for the first time.

The watershed was the first national conference on environmental protec­tion held on August 5-20, 1973 in Beijing. Before this conference, Premier Zhou put forth a systematic theory and principle on environmental questions. He argued: 'Capitalist states were unable to solve their industrial pollution problems due to their system of private ownership, the anarchism of their pro­duction and their orientation towards profits. We can definitely solve indus­trial pollution because our socialist planning economy serves the masses. While we are engaged in economic construction, we should pay closer atten­tion towards solving this issue and avoid doing something absolute, which may leave troubles to our descendants. '[2]

What was the best way to wipe out industrial pollution? Zhou argued: 'we must promote comprehensive utilisation and turn the three harms to three benefits. While we are engaged in capital construction, in order to avoid trou­ble, we should pay more attention to this problem from all kinds of projects, equipment and technology. Otherwise, we would take a roundabout course in our work. We will not follow the course of capitalist industrialisation, we should also avoid the roundabout courses. '[3]

To do this, Zhou Enlai advocated the following policy: 'We should use our heads, learn from workers and arouse the masses to discuss; we should solve the problem one factory by one; we should take charge of one-third of every kind of project and problem first, and then set examples from which every­body can learn. '[4]

Three important achievements were made at the first national conference on environmental protection. First, the fact that there were serious environmental problems in China was nominally recognised. This was difficult to do during the Cultural Revolution. Second, the guiding principle of environmental pro­tection was passed at the conference. Zhou stated: 'Plan comprehensively, dis­tribute rationally, use synthetically, turn harm to benefit, depend on the masses. Everybody starts work; protect environment; bring benefit to people'. Third, the first document of environmental protection in P.R. China entitled 'Some Regulations on Protecting and Improving the Environment' was passed (Zhang 1994: 7).

According to the spirit of this document, the first official organisation in the history of China's environmental protection, 'The Leading Group of Environ­mental Protection in the State Council' was established. This group formulated a series of effective policies by promulgating regulations such as 'The Essentials of Environmental Protection Program' and 'The Trial Implementation Standard of Industrial Three Wastes Effluent', which were the first standards in the history of Chinese environmental protection concerning solid waste, polluted air and polluted water (Zhang 1994: 15). A committee of experts was called to draw up the 'Ten-Year Program of Environmental Protection' (Zhang 1994: 12, 75). These policies included:

  1. The Three Synchronisations (literally meaning three-at-the-same-time) System. The Three Synchronisations policy called for the following meas­ures: 'When any enterprise and institution established new factories, or expanded and modified their existing plants, the design, construction, and operation of pollution treatment facilities were to be coordinated with the design, construction and operation of the main part of the project. Depart­ments responsible for the work, together with the unit of environmental protection and the unit of health, etc., were to investigate the design and strictly oversee the completed project.' This fundamental policy not only reflected the principle of 'Prevention First' but also controlled the emer­gence of new pollution sources. It was also the first law that the Chinese government created by itself, an instance of effective regulation of envi­ronmental management with Chinese character.
  2. The Limited Time Treatment System. This policy entailed the central gov­ernment ordering all related work-units to treat the sources of pollution and pollutants within a limited time by creating a treatment plan and a treatment notification deadline. This policy was mainly aimed at pollution practices that were widespread and resulted in serious negative reactions among the masses. Of course, this type of advanced pollution management could only occur in enterprises that had more mature treatment technol­ogy, adequate treatment investment and enterprises that could expect im­mediate results.
  3. The Synthetic Utilisation System. Beijing also encouraged enterprises to treat the three wastes by way of favourable financial and tax policies. If any of the other other units could use the untreated three wastes as raw material, the effluents were to be supplied freely. In turn, the receiving units could have their taxes reduced or exempted if these units experi­enced difficulty in paying taxes due to treating the waste material. It was recommended that the supply of fuel and raw material necessary for the treatment of wastes should also be a top priority.
  4. Finally, a joint working group or special organisation whose responsibility was the supervision of trans-branch and trans-regional pollution manage­ment was instituted for the first time. For example, in the case of Baiyang­dian, a joint working group was set up which consisted of the nine ministries of the State Council. The objective of these policies was to con­trol pollution within five years and solve the pollution problem in ten years.

In summary, during this formative stage, the main characteristic of the Chi­nese environmental policy was to realise an unrealistic objective by practising administrative and planning methods. The Chinese government recognised environmental problems, although it still insisted on the dogmatism of social­ism. This was a result of Chinese politics and society at that time. The major defect of this system was to ignore the enthusiasm of local-level work-units in treating pollution. The local-level units were placed in a passive position where they merely had to execute orders from higher authorities. As invest­ment was tight and supervision was not strict, these policies were often not implemented. Indeed, the rate of implementation of the Three Synchronisa­tions was less than forty per cent in large and medium-sized enterprises. [5]

Ultimately, the general aim of this first era of pollution treatment failed. China entered a new stage after the 'Gang of Four' was arrested in 1976 and Deng Xiaoping implemented reform and open door policies in 1978. The Chi­nese environmental policy evolved rapidly and entered into the development stage. The symbol of the beginning of this new stage is the constitution of the People's Republic of China that was passed at the first meeting of the Fifth National People's Congress. It included the following clause on environ­mental protection: 'The State should protect the environment and natural re­sources, prevent pollution and other environmental disruption'. This was the first constitutional regulation on environmental protection in Chinese history and laid an actual foundation for the legalisation of an environmental protec­tion policy. Simultaneously, the central committee of CCP approved and transferred to lower-level government agencies new administrative policies embodied in the 'Main Points in the Report of Environmental Protection Work' (Zhang 1994: 20). Authored by a leading group of the State Council, it was the first instruction on environmental protection in the history of the CCP. Committees of the CCP at all levels actively responded to the request '...to eliminate pollution and to protect environment were the main part of building socialism and realising four modernisations'. On the basis of this, the 11 th Standing Committee of the 5th National People's Congress (NPC) prom­ulgated, 'The Law of Environmental Protection in P.R. China' which became the basic law of managing the cause of environmental protection. The second national conference on environmental protection, which was held from De­cember 31, 1983 to January 7, 1984, announced that environmental protection was a strategic task in the process of modernisation and that it was a basic na­tional policy. The cause of environmental protection was prioritised at an un­precedented level.

Besides enforcing former effective environmental protection policies, some new policies were also announced. An important new policy was 'The Three Simultaneities and Three Unifications system'. This policy held that economic construction, urban and countryside construction and environmental construc­tion were to be synchronised with the design, operation and development of construction projects so that they should result in unified economic, social and environmental benefit. This meant that Chinese environmental protection policies moved from post-pollution treatment to a new stage of emphasising harmony amongst the three benefits. Another new policy was the environ­mental impact assessment system. This was mainly used to control the forma­tion of new pollution sources and to prevent the harmful environmental impacts of proposed projects. It was also helpful in supervising and managing projects. The third new protection policy was the waste discharge register and permit system. This embodied the principle, 'Prevention first through the in­corporation of prevention and treatment', and unified the end-of-pipe treat­ment and all-process treatment. Next, the pollutant discharge fees system was put into place. Using the 'Polluter pays' principle of the Organization of Eco nomic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as an example and inspiration, enterprises were asked to be primarily responsible for pollution treatment. As to the exploitation and use of natural resources, the policy emphasised simul­taneous development, utilisation and protection, which included the following concrete measures: Who develops, should protect; who destroys, should re­cover; who uses, should compensate. The discharge-fee system became the double-fees system. The pollutant discharge fee was divided into two parts: The first was based on the amount of concentration of the pollutant; and the second on the amount which exceeded the effluent discharge standard for those pollutants. These fees have only been used for the development of envi­ronmental protection. Finally, the management system was strengthened. In the context of limited investment and backward technology, to intensify the management system was a good way to confront environmental problems. Measures included, for example, the environmental responsibility system, an­nual assessment of urban environmental quality, etc.

Compared to the first stage, the characteristics of this stage included:

  1. Legalisation of environmental protection. Besides the constitution and laws of environmental protection, the National People's Congress (NPC) promulgated eleven individual laws, including the law of forestry, law of grassland, law of fishery, law of mineral resources, law of land manage­ment, law of water, law of wildlife protection, law of water and soil con­servation, law of prevention of water pollution, law of prevention of air pollution and the law of protection of sea environment. The Chinese cen­tral government also signed several international conventions on environ­mental protection, such as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the Basel Convention, and the Convention on Biological Di­versity. The State Council promulgated more than twenty-three regulations of environmental protection. Local governments and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued many local and professional regulations.
  2. Economic instrument and market principles. These included new regula­tions such as the directive that eighty per cent of the pollutant discharge fees was to be used to treat waste through corporate investment; the re­mainder was used for the local environmental protection bureaus.
  3. The participation of the CCP at all levels strengthened the enforcement of the environmental policy.
  4. Chinese environmental protection was changing from the simple treatment to harmonised development.

Although much advancement in the field of policy happened at this stage, several problems still existed. These included the lack of supervision of rural construction and the lack of strict implementation and compliance with envi­ronmental laws. The great flood in 1998 and increasingly serious dust storms threatened the life and property of the Chinese people. Coincidentally, China successfully applied for the 2008 Olympics and promised to hold an ecologi­cally sound event. China also launched the strategy of the Great West Devel­opment in order to balance the gap between the eastern and western parts of the country. Finally, China began to adjust economic structure and to practice the strategy of cutting down internal demand, especially after the Asian finan­cial meltdown of 1997. All of these factors together pushed the policy of envi­ronmental protection to a new stage.

This change in policy, however, also required theoretical justification. The CCP and the Chinese government searched Marxism and found theoretical justification in the 'Dialectics of Nature' by Friedrich Engels (1971). The Chinese environmental protection policy entered a period of rapid improve­ment. The new, concrete policies included:

  1. Strengthen former policies further. For example, the fines and fees levied were so low that they could not serve as an incentive to clean up the three wastes, but now the government increased the fees and penalties and real­istically approached the standard that reflected the 'polluter pays/treats' principle.
  2. Discharge permit trade system. Although this system was mandated in 1984, it was actually implemented in just a few trial spots. It explored whether the emission quota could be exchanged beneficially. This experi­ment would generalise this policy.
  3. Promulgating policies that were responsible for rural environmental man­agement. In river/lake and desertification areas, the central government enforced new policies such as converting farmland into forest, converting farmland into grassland and converting farmland into lakes, by means of paying money and distributing grain to the farmers on this farmland. The central government also allocated huge funds for ecological construction, such as harnessing wind and sandy sources around Beijing and Tianjin and the deforestation prevention project in northeast, northwest and north China.
  4. Prohibiting pollution transfer. The central government strictly forbade the east to transfer its polluting industries to the west in the name of western development. It also announced that China would not accept industries with serious pollution emissions in the process of absorbing foreign in­vestment on the southeast coast.
  5. Strengthen environmental cooperation with international organisations and states around China. This measure was important in gaining international support to administer regional and global environmental problems. Inter­national cooperation was helpful in forming the new open-door pattern of environmental protection.
  6. Advocate sustainable and cyclical economic development. More ecologi­cal agricultural practices were encouraged in China. Cleaner production practices aimed at saving energy, decreasing exhaust and reducing pollu tion were employed. The measure employed to achieve this objective was to find 'clear and civilised factories' and 'model enterprises of environ­mental protection' and to publicise their experiences.

A number of important milestones were achieved during this period. These are mentioned below:

  1. The economic instruments within environmental policies were strength­ened and incorporated within the legal system, and the institutionalisation of environmental management was improved.
  2. The phenomena of focusing on urban environmental problems and ne­glecting rural environmental problems ended; the new environmental poli­cies tended to emphasise rural ecological construction.
  3. New industries were developed in the process of environmental protec­tion. The environmental industry included ecological tourism, sand indus­try, development of environmental technology and so on. The economic structure was also adjusted. For example, the style of animal husbandry was also changed from seasonal pasture to barnyard raising. Rather than just growth-orientation, economic development alsostressed on quality and benefit orientation. This change created not only economic value, but also social value. China followed the road of integrating economic, envi­ronmental and social benefits.

The Implementation of Chinese Environmental Policy and its Impact

The implementation of China's environmental policies also experienced a complicated process of evolution. The main practice in its initial phase of de­velopment was to issue an administrative order; its typical model was the working group that consisted of various departments working under the guid­ance of a national planning committee or state council. Working groups for­mulated plans, transferred funds and verified implementation directly. The working group was a centralised and vertical implementing system; its main focus was on rapidly solving concrete questions. At the same time this was unavailable for generalisation. The second stage was structured around the simultaneous use of legal and economic instruments. The main units for pol­icy implementation were the court, tax bureaus and Environmental Protection Agencies. The importance of artificial factors in this process decreased. The main practice in the third stage was to emphasise the integration of party par­ticipation, along with legal and economic measures. The dynamics of policy enforcement were strengthened. Moreover, since investment corporations also participated, fund turnover increased and new benefits appeared. Environ­mental law, along with the improvement of law consciousness throughout so­ciety, was strengthened. General Secretary Jiang Zemin asked party committees and leaders at all levels to lead and participate in the work at the Conference on Population, Resources and Environment. Central government leaders were to be responsible for implementation. They were to be investi­gated and charged with dereliction of duty if they were not qualified through examination. [6] The strengthening of the party and the administrative participa­tion had actually reflected the stagnation of reform in the Chinese political system since 1989. It was different, however, from the pure administrative or­der of the first stage. In particular, it was the implementing system that inte­grated the economic, legal and party and administrative instruments under an authoritarian control system.

After the development of environmental governance for thirty years, some successes were achieved in the process of implementing environmental pol­icy. This is evident in many areas. The first success was that the rate of pollu­tion emission to unit production was brought down in some sectors, while the acceleration of environmental pollution, in some cases, was controlled. Com­pared to the state of environment in 1998, the total amounts of primary pollut­ant emissions dropped in 2002. The emission of SO 2 dropped by 10.3 per cent, the emission of smoke by 26.1 per cent, the emission of industrial powder by 35.3 per cent, the emission of CO 2 by 10.3 per cent and the emission of indus­trial solid waste by 58.9 per cent. Ninety sewage-treatment plants were built in the areas of 'three rivers' and 'three lakes'. One hundred and seventeen automatic monitoring stations of water quality were built, and 486 automatic monitoring systems of air were built in 179 cities. [7] Although this was just the beginning of control of environmental pollution, nonetheless it was an achievement that was not easy for the Chinese government. Initial pollution control was undertaken in China at a time when the growth of GDP was 8.3 per cent and per capita GDP was less than US $800.

Another success was the increase in the number of nature reserves (State Environmental Protection Administration 2006). Vegetation cover also in­creased (State Environmental Protection Administration 2002). At the end of 2001, there were 1551 nature reserves covering 129.9 million hectares (12.9 per cent of the national territory). China notified thirty-one natural wetlands and nine man-made wetlands with a total area of 65.9 million hectares (not in­cluding rivers and ponds), which amounts to 10 per cent of the world's wet­lands. This wetland system is the fourth largest in the world and the largest in Asia. The vegetation and species in the wetlands also gained protection. The reforestation area was raised to 5.3 million hectares in 2001. Hillsides closed to facilitate forestation increased by 6.1 million hectares. Currently, forest coverage is 16.6% of the national area. Since the project of converting farm­land to forest started, the cumulative area conversion reached 2.2 million hec­tares in 2001. The central government invested 314.1 million Renminbi (RMB, Chinese yuan) to construct wildlife reserves and nature reserves in the areas of origin of three rivers and invested 400 million RMB to carry out 65 projects for recovering and restoring natural grassland vegetation. [8] All these efforts restrained the acceleration of damage to nature.

Next, large amounts of energy were saved as a consequence of dealing with environmental pollution. The main source of energy in China is coal that con­tains large amounts of sulphur. Most air-borne pollutants are related to the practice of coal burning. This means that pollution prevention is also related to energy saving. The essential way is to improve the technology including the centralisation of heat supply in urban areas, the rationalisation of distribu­tion and use of gas and coal in cities, increasing the productivity of burning installations and the cleaning of smoke. Emissions from coal-burning indus­trial and power plant boilers and coal consumption reduced drastically after new standards for smoke emissions were enforced. The energy consump­tion/ten thousand Yuan GNP was decreased by 39.7 per cent, from 2.5 tonnes standard coal in 1995 to 1.5 tonnes in 2001. From 1990 to 2001, Beijing saved 91.5 million tonnes of standard coal. [9] In the life of urban residents, the coal­savings per year was about 3.5 million tonnes with the use of honeycomb bri­quettes. The total savings for standard coal reached 13.5 million tonnes at the end of 1989 with the implementation of a centralised heating supply. The av­erage saving in coal per year was 3.2 million tonnes after urban residents changed from burning coal to coke-oven gas (Zhang 1994). As environmental technology and standards were improved, the rate of energy savings continued to improve.

Another positive development was that the implementation of environ­mental standards and policies promoted the rapid development of technology and the industry of environmental protection. Leaders at all levels emphasised the role of science and technology in the cause of environmental protection. They believed that controlling environmental pollution and improving envi­ronmental quality depended on the advancement of science and technology. They asked to improve the comprehensive technology that was used to man­age the most widespread environmental problems. The strategic idea, that the essential path to solving the problems of environment and development lay in the advancement of science and technology, was issued after the United Na­tions Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. The central gov­ernment allocated 175 million Yuan for research projects of environmental science and technology that belonged to the instructive plan, which meant that these projects were funded by the central government through the socialist planned model. Achievements were obtained in some fields, including paper­making, printing and dyeing, the processing of high-density organic waste wa­ter, the treatment of urban sewage and its recycling into resources, cyclical vulcanisation, removing smoke and dust effectively and incineration of harm­ful waste. Since these fields were at an advanced stage, they were easily trans­formed into productive forces. The environmental protection industry also developed quickly by taking advantage of the national structural adjustment of the industry. The number of units engaged in design and manufacture of envi­ronmental protection increased to 2529. By 1998, they created an output-value of 3.79 billion Yuan per year. In the nineties, the environmental protection in dustry grew by 15 per cent every year; its output value reached 160 billion Yuan. It is estimated that the environmental protection industry will continue to grow by 20 per cent. [10]

In addition, the environmental consciousness of urban residents also im­proved. Environmental consciousness got rooted in the minds of people dur­ing the process of implementation of the environmental policy. Ordinary people then turned the embryonic environmental consciousness into conscious activity through publicising the environmental policy. Some training courses, advancement classes and discussion seminars were conducted for personnel responsible for environmental protection. Environmental education entered kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college and university. The news and deep analysis of environmental problems appeared in various forms of the media. Some environmental NGOs propagated and organised the masses to protect the environment in their communities. According to a 1993 study, 63.2 per cent of the people who participated in the study thought that environmental problems affected the quality of the lives of Chinese people (Dachun 1995).

Moreover, 58.5 per cent and 57.9 per cent of the people, respectively, thought that 'strengthening the environmental education' and 'implementing the related laws strictly' were the first ways to improve the environment (Dachun 1995). According to a national study in 2002, 98 per cent of Chinese people are concerned about the problem of environmental protection and most participated in the activities of environmental protection; 48 per cent of them thought citizens should play a greater role in environmental protection, ex­ceeding that of the government, business houses and NGOs. These findings reflect the growing environmental consciousness of the Chinese people.

Another positive development was that cooperation and exchange with in­ternational society and environmental organisations was strengthened by for­mulating and implementing new environmental policies. One of the main dynamics that promoted the development of the Chinese environmental policy was to learn from international society, especially from the developed coun­tries. In turn, cooperation and communication with international society im­proved during the process of policy implementation. China signed several international environmental conventions and agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol. China is also a standing member of the UN Environmental Pro­gramme. In order to coordinate the standpoints on environment and develop­ment of developing countries and publicise China's views, the 'Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development of Developing Countries' sponsored by the Chinese government was held in 1991 in Beijing. It issued the 'Beijing Declaration' and made contributions to the United Nations Con­ference on Environment and Development in 1992. The increasing coopera­tion for implementing Chinese environmental policy and international environmental conventions was formulated with the United Nations Devel­opment Programme (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. China also signed various bi­lateral agreements on concrete environmental problems with the United States, Great Britain and Germany. For example, China and USA signed the 'Convention for Cooperation of Environmental Protection in Science and Technology' in 1980. Regional environmental cooperation was improved with neighbours. For instance, a meeting of environment ministries of China, Japan and South Korea was organised. Japan and South Korea also actively took part in the Chinese project of dust bowl management (Bao 2003). The devel­opment of international environmental cooperation provided not only the fi­nancial assistance for the implementation of the environmental policy, but also a new momentum for strengthening and revising the environmental pol­icy.

The positive impact of the Chinese environmental policy increased along with its development and implementation. The cause of environmental protec­tion in China won not only more and more domestic support but also more in­ternational understanding and cooperation. In other words, at least theoretically, China is following the path of sustainable development that in­tegrates economic, social and environmental benefits. Lester Brown in his book Who will feed China? (Brown 1995), expressed anxieties about the envi­ronmental problems faced by China and his fear of its harmful impact on the world. Six years later, Brown is no longer worried about China's food prob­lem. On the contrary, he praised China for striving for sustainable develop­ment (Brown 2001). This change in attitude reflects the increased positive impact of implementing the environmental policy.

Challenges in the Development and Implementation of Chinese Environmental Policy

Although some achievements were made in the development and implementa­tion of a Chinese environmental policy, it has not achieved the expected re­sults. The state of the environment in China is unsatisfactory [11] and the future of the environment is still rather grim and does not allow for much optimism. The total amount of pollutant emissions is still high, the level of pollution is rising, the environmental quality of many cities is deteriorating, the pollution of surface water is widespread, the demand for water far exceeds supply, the quality of rural environment is falling and the degradation and desertification of grassland is increasing. These concerns seemingly contradict the achieve­ments described above, but, in fact, both are two sides of the same coin be­cause various elements of the environment are not only independent subsystems, but also integral parts of a whole system. Furthermore, these con­cerns were the environmental reflections of deep contradictions that devel­oped in the course of practicing the reform and open door policies of the 1980s and 1990s. For example, the transformation from a traditional agricul­tural society to a modern industrial one and Chinese national rejuvenation in international structure, were root causes. From this perspective, we can better understand the difficulty of environmental management and restoration. In turn, the obstacles and concerns that have existed in the process of implement­ing the environmental policy are also some of the most important factors, which resulted in this dilemma.

The first problem is bureaucratic fragmentation. The various organisations that are responsible for formulating, implementing and supervising environ­mental policy have overlapping functions and unclear rights and responsibili­ties. This situation has greatly interfered with the efficiency of policy implementation. The National People's Congress is the highest legislative body. The Committee of Environment and Resources is responsible for craft­ing law on the environment and natural resources. It mandates that the na­tional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafts environmental legislation because the members of this committee are usually retired officials from the CCP and administrative organisations who are not themselves quali­fied to undertake investigation and to draft law. The national EPA is the high­est administrative organisation that is responsible for implementing environmental protection policy. Currently, however, it is not only responsi­ble for drafting law and some regulations on environmental protection issued by the State Council, but it is also in charge of its implementation and super­vision. The National Committee of Environmental Protection in the State Council, which consists of the members from various ministries and commit­tees, is in charge of harmonising the environmental affairs of related depart­ments. It also supervises the State Council in creating the national policy of environmental protection within the context of drawing up a national eco­nomic plan. The Committee of Environment and Resources of the National People's Congress has started supervising and checking. It is obvious that these three organisations have no separate functions and lack the mechanism of supervising each other. Various ministries and committees have their own environmental bureaus that are not subordinate to the national EPA (it was approved as a ministry in 1998). From the perspective of administrative rela­tions, these bureaus generally follow the regulations of their own ministries and committees when the ideas of the national EPA and its own ministries dif­fer. Local environmental protection bureaus at all levels have incomplete ver­tical relations with the national EPA. While the national EPA leads the professional work and policy decisions of the local bureaus, local party com­mittees and governments allocate their personnel and administrative funds. When local authorities push for high economic growth and pursue administra­tive goals, local environmental protection bureaus are often unable to imple­ment environmental protection policies. In certain cases, some even become accomplices of the polluters they are supposed to oversee. This system cannot ensure the effective implementation of the environmental policy.

The second problem is that environmental protection is in conflict with economic growth. The core work of the CCP and the central government still focuses on the economic development of China. This means continuing to seek high economic growth, while trying to follow sustainable development. Promotion for officials at all levels is mainly based upon their ability to pro­mote economic growth. Under such circumstances, environmental policy is mainly an economic instrument. Therefore it has defects. First, there were previously no available concrete environmental policies for townships and vil­lage enterprises that were developing rapidly. The discharge fee and penalty system were aimed mainly at state-owned enterprises. They were allowed to add this fee into the cost of the product and transfer it to the price of the prod­uct. The increase in price did not affect its sale because most of these enter­prises were monopolies. The rural township and village enterprises depended on the low price of products to scramble for market shares because they lacked monopoly privileges. Once the fee was added to the cost of product, the enterprise was less competitive. Therefore, these enterprises attempted to escape the fee levy system by every means possible. Since the number of rural township and village enterprises was very large and dispersed, the local envi­ronmental protection bureaus were unable to manage these enterprises, which often lacked their own environmental protection departments. Serious envi­ronmental problems also took place in private enterprises. These defects re­sulted in rampant environmental deterioration in the countryside. Second, the standard of discharge fee and penalty is far too low to push enterprises to treat environmental pollution actively. For example, the discharge fee of noise is only 0.3 per cent of the cost of product in a levied enterprise. The discharge fee of sewage is only 0.03 per cent of gross production and 0.05 per cent of the total cost of a levied enterprise. The discharge fee of SO 2 for industrial coal is only 0.20 Yuan/kg. These penalties are low especially when compared with a growing national economy and the per capita income. In a sense, main­taining these standards seems to mean that the ideas of 'growth first' and 'de­velopment is the only truth' still play a leading role. Finally, the scope of the levy is narrow. As to the pollution caused by burning coal, only suspended particulates and SO 2 were levied a fee, other pollutants caused by burning coal such as CO 2 and NO x were excluded. It is true that China intends to fol­low a sustainable development strategy in principle, but this approach needs to be more strictly and persistently implemented.

The third problem is the structural contradictions or defects within the sys­tem of law and its implementation of environmental protection standards and practices. China's environmental law system contains eleven sources (Alford and Shen 1998). They are: the constitution of the People's Republic of China; the international agreements that China has signed; the basic law of environ­ment enacted by the National People's Congress (NPC); other laws related to the environment issued by the NPC's standing committee; interpretations of the constitution and the basic law issued by the standing committee; adminis­trative regulations having the force of law issued by the State Council; minis­terial regulations and national environmental standards issued by national ministries and commissions; interpretations issued by the State Council, na­tional ministries and commissions, the Supreme People's Court and the Su­preme People's Procurer to carry out their work; environmental regulations issued by the People's Congresses at the sub-national level; regulations and other legal orders issued by the executive branch of the people's governments at the sub-national level; individual cases decided by the Supreme People's Court and lower level courts. Confusion between law and administrative regu­lation weakens the seriousness and authority of law, while also reducing the efficiency of administrative regulation. For instance, the discharge permit li­cense system was not codified within the body of law for prevention of air pollution and the law for prevention of water pollution until recently. This made it difficult to implement these regulations without the support of the law. Furthermore, administrative regulations were aimed mainly at the work­unit, not the individual. During the 1990s, more and more individuals sepa­rated themselves from their former units and became part of the migrant popu­lation within the practice of strengthening reform and the open door policy. The result of this was that administrative regulations could not curb the envi­ronmental pollution caused by economic activities. Second, courts and procu­ratorates at all levels have the right to interpret law and regulation in the process of implementing and supervising laws and regulations. The Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate should have had the highest right of interpretation, but all the courts and procuratorates at sub­national levels offer their interpretations in the light of locally specific condi­tions. Thus various explanations resulted in confusion and lower efficiency of law implementation and local protection. Additionally, since the funds and salary of courts at all sub-national levels are allocated by the local govern­ment and they are answerable to (because the court is appointed by the local people's congress) the local people's congress, party committee and govern­ment, the judiciary could not be independent and was heavily influenced by local officials. The implementation of environmental law often served the so­called overall situation of local economic development. Thus, environmental law lacked the power of criminal punishment and its standards were seriously distorted. Ultimately, the efficiency of its implementation was seriously dam­aged. Environmental targets and goals were not completely complied with.

The fourth problem is that peasants need to turn their environmental con­sciousness into practice and grassroots environmentalism should play a more prominent role in environmental decision-making. Traditionally, Chinese peasants have a nice and simple environmental protection consciousness, such as 'Harmony between the heavens and humankind', but it has been destroyed since the liberation in 1949. Under Mao, peasants became the main force who fought against heaven and earth and tried to conquer and remake nature. Un­der Deng, peasants cultivated new value orientations that include 'Looking toward money in everything' (Shapiro 2001). Peasants over-cultivated and over-used chemical fertiliser and pesticides in their contracted land; herdsman overgrazed in contracted pastures; peasants created farmland in the contracted waste hillsides. The only aim of these activities was to get rich actively, which not only resulted in the exhaustion of fertility in contracted land, deg­radation of vegetation, soil erosion and desertification in contracted grassland, but also created a serious 'tragedy of the commons' in public land. Since they did not carry forward new measures for rural reform, especially with respect to the right of property, the task of improving the rural ecological environ­ment is still extremely arduous (Menzies 1991; Yeh 2000). Grassroots envi­ronmentalism only appeared in urban areas and peasants were hardly involved. The first environmental NGO in China was set up on March 31, 1994. It was the Academy for Green Culture (now called the Friends of Na­ture) established by historian Liang Congjie. Another is the Global-Village Environmental Culture Institute of Beijing (Global Village of Beijing, for short) established in 1996 by Liao Xiaoyi, which won the Sophie Award in 2000. Over 2000 environmental NGOs were established by November 2001. [12] These NGOs gradually united and organised the 'Chinese Environmental NGOs Network' and the 'Earth Day 2000: China Action'. China's environ­mental NGOs have devoted themselves mainly to reclaiming wasteland, ob­serving birds, planting trees, protecting endangered animals, establishing green communities and launching green consumption, etc. It has been difficult for them to register and to get adequate funds. Membership is composed mainly of the middle class; ordinary people and peasants have not taken part in them. Thus, the efficiency of their activities has been unsatisfactory (Bret­tell 2000). Environmental NGOs can play a more prominent role in China only by combining environmental protection with poverty elimination. The weakness of environmental awareness amongst Chinese peasants has seriously affected the implementation of the environmental protection policy in China.

   Conclusion Top

The formulation and development of China's environmental policies experi­enced a process which grew from a weak foundation, and evolved from an administrative instrument as the main measure to the integration of the party and administrative, economic and legal systems. China formulated some com­prehensive environmental policies and a few achievements were made during their implementation. To realise the unification of economic, social and envi­ronmental benefits, however, China truly needs to overcome some structural issues. The experience of the development and implementation of China's en­vironmental policy indicates that environmental problems are not just scien­tific and technological questions; they are integrated with China's social, economic and political development. The formulation, implementation and ef­ficiency of environmental policies are the reflection of China's reforms and open door policies in the area of environment.[23]

   References Top

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