A harmful by-product of China's rapid industrial
development in the 1980s has been increased pollution. Although China has passed
environmental legislation and has participated in some international anti-pollution
conventions, pollution will be a serious problem in China for years to come.
China is an active participant in the UN
Environment Program and a signatory to the Basel Convention governing the transport and
disposal of hazardous waste. China also signed the Montreal Convention for the Protection
of the Ozone Layer in 1991.
The head of China's National Environmental
Protection Agency (NEPA) proclaimed in 1991 that environmental protection was one of
China's basic national policies, at the same time cautioning that environmental protection
must be coordinated with economic development. According to NEPA, $3.2 billion was spent
on pollution prevention and environmental rehabilitation from 1981-85, $8.8 billion from
1986-1990, and about $15 billion for the eighth five-year plan (1991-95).
China has sought to contain its increasing
industrial pollution largely through administrative procedures and efforts to increase
public awareness. The heavily polluted Pearl River delta is one of the first major
industrialized areas targeted for clean up. Officials hope that new sewage treatment
plants for cities in the delta area will enable the river to support an edible fish
population by the year 2000. A small environmental protection industry has also emerged.
However, in some areas of China, pollution has long been considered as one of the costs
associated with economic development.
The question of environmental damage
associated with the hydroelectric Three Gorges Dam project concerns NEPA officials. While
conceding that erosion and silting of the Yangtze River threaten several endangered
species, officials say the hydroelectric power generated by the project will enable the
region to lower its dependence on coal, thus lessening air pollution.
In March 1998, NEPA was officially upgraded
to a ministry-level agency, and renamed the State Environment Protection Agency,
reflecting the growing importance the Chinese government places on environmental
protection. The Chinese government recognizes the environmental situation in China is grim
and that increasing water and air pollution, as well as deforestation and desertification,
will threaten the base of China's economic development.