China and World Bank Collaborate on Sustainable Future

WASHINGTON, DC, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - The last 20 years have brought swift economic growth to China and have taken a heavy environmental toll, but a new report issued by the World Bank says if the Chinese government changes its development strategy, an environmentally sustainable future is possible.

A more proactive strategy aimed at avoiding or minimizing the adverse environmental effects of development in the first place, would be most productive, the report advises, in contrast to the present approach of trying to fix the harmful effects of previous development decisions.

The report, "China: Air, Land and Water - Environmental Priorities for a New Millennium," does not cover every environmental issue facing China, acknowledges Kristalina Georgieva, director of the World Bank Environment Department.

It does not examine nuclear environmental engineering or the safety of genetic engineering, but focuses mainly on land, air, water and environmental administration. It does not investigate hazardous, toxic and solid waste management, which are important issues in China, says Georgieva, but "at the time this work was initiated were not frontline thematic issues expected to be addressed in the 10th Five Year Plan," which covers the years 2001 to 2006.

Now that Beijing has been chosen to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the eyes of the world are on China, which has promised to clean up its capital city in time for the event.

The report outlines some of China's successes and points to areas where the researchers see improvements are needed. It credits China with "broad based and absolute reduction in industrial air and water pollutant emissions during the second half of the 1990s."


1994 view from the fire protection tower of the Xinglongzhao Forest Farm in Inner Mongolia. The surrounding areas were replanted in 1976. (Photo by J.Y. Piel courtesy UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO))
There has been some progress towards sustainability during the 1990s, the report finds, noting a "reversal of deforestation through massive investments in reforestation and afforestation."

Also to China's credit, there has been a reversal of secondary salinization in irrigation areas due to "major control and prevention programs," the authors report.

"These achievements are arguably unprecedented in any country at China's state of economic development," said Yukon Huang, the Bank's country director for China.

"Yet," he added, "the battle is not even close to being won - environmental challenges are likely to get far greater and more complex over the next 10 years and the government will have to re-orient its approach if it wants to make further progress."

The research was a two year long collaborative effort involving the World Bank, the China State Environmental Protection Administration, and 10 technical and research institutions within China.

The report was written by task manager Robert Crooks, with Jostein Nygard, Zhang Qingfeng, Liu Feng, Jia Lanqing and Li Guo. Funding for the research and publication was provided by the government of Norway.


Fishermen harvesting adult carp from a pond at the Kwangchow Centre. These fish will be sold in the markets of Canton. (Photo by F. Botts courtesy FAO)
Based on this research and extensive consultations, the World Bank proposes a range of programs and policies that will help improve environmental quality despite new and emerging sources of pollution and challenges to natural resource management.

"Given the importance of China’s biodiversity resources and the level of threat they are facing, priority has to be given to significantly strengthening the approach to biodiversity protection and management," the authors advise.

The key is the establishment of an independent, state level Nature Reserves Service to manage nature reserves of national and global significance, develop a center of excellence for nature reserve management, represent the country in international conservation forums, and set standards for counterpart institutions at provincial and lower levels, the report suggests.

In contrast to the situation with natural resources management, institutional arrangements for carrying out the basic tasks of point-source pollution management and control are essentially in place in China, the investigators found. More training and funding is suggested for these programs.

Administrative and political considerations are identified as posing the most serious barriers to the more integrated, river basin approach that is needed to sustainably manage water resources in the most heavily conflicted catchments, mostly in north China, technical experts agree.


A young girl of China's most populous province of Sichuan with a basket of melons for her village market (Photo by Peyton Johnson courtesy FAO)
The report urges China to increase environmental expenditures, especially for basic capacity building. "Less haste and more thought on environmental improvement programs," is the authors' advice.

Donors, such as the World Bank Group, should work to reduce overlaps and pay closer attention to the priorities outlined by the government of China in its Five Year Plans, the report says. For its part, the government should put more staff in place in the Ministry of Finance to coordinate this effort.

Environmental NGOs are just starting to develop in China, the authors note. "As public interest in environmental issues grows, their role should increase substantially in the future. This is another area in which foreign donors could play a role through training and technical assistance, brokering partnerships with external NGOs, and provision of material support." Based on the review un

derlying this report, and taking account of the government’s environmental strategy for the 10th Five Year Plan, investments likely to be of importance are: