The Great Leap Backward? – Elizabeth C. Economy

From Foreign Affairs (September/October 2007):

China’s environmental problems are mounting. Water and water scarcity are burdening the economy, rising levels of air are endangering the health of millions of Chinese, and much of the country’s land is rapidly turning into desert. China has become a world leader in air and water and land degradation and a top contributor to some of the world’s most vexing global environmental problems, such as the illegal timber trade, marine , and climate change. As China’s woes increase, so, too, do the risks to its economy, public health, social stability, and international reputation. As Pan Yue, a vice minister of China’s State Administration (SEPA), warned in 2005, “The [economic] miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.”

With the 2008 Olympics around the corner, China’s leaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric, setting ambitious environmental targets, announcing greater levels of environmental investment, and exhorting business leaders and local officials to clean up their backyards. The rest of the world seems to accept that Beijing has charted a new course: as China declares itself open for environmentally friendly business, officials in the United States, the European Union, and Japan are asking not whether to invest but how much. [Full Text]

Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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