2007 was a significant year for China’s environment. An estimated 750,000 people in China died from respiratory illnesses related to air pollution, while approximately 60,000 died from waterborne diseases. China’s food processing and production sectors made headlines around the globe. Growing desertification in north and northwest China due to excessive water use and land mismanagement created more intense and frequent sand storms that affected the economy and health in China and Northeast Asia. In addition, China most likely surpassed the United States as the leading emitter of greenhouse gasses—and while the central government set laudable energy efficiency goals, it recently admitted that China had not met them.
These events have led to growing numbers of environmental health-related protests in China: 51,000 in 2005 and more than 60,000 in 2006. In June 2007, thousands of Xiamen residents protested the construction of a planned chemical plant. And last month, middle class residents of Shanghai took to the streets to oppose potential harm from an extension of China’s magnetic levitation train. As the Chinese government becomes increasingly concerned with the country’s stability, it is beginning to place greater emphasis on mitigating the effects of environmental degradation on its people. Read more about China’s environmental health problems—and what local and international NGOs, governments, and agencies are doing to address them—in China Environment Series 9, the flagship publication of the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum.
By CEF Program Assistant Linden Ellis.