China and Sustainable development


In the past few years, the progress of the Chinese economy has been peaking my curiosity. As a result, I have been reading literature about the rise of China. Recently, I read an article named “China’s Agriculture causing environmental degradation” from the Xinhua News Agency. The article discusses the challenge that Chinese farmers have overcome. At the detriment of the environment, they were able to feed 22% of the world’s population with less than 10 per cent of Arable land. The statistics of pollution communicated in the article are astonishing. For example, China uses on average 400 Kg of fertilizer per hectare of land, almost double the recommended limit of 225 Kg. The director of the Chinese ecology institute discusses China’s need to reduce its polluting practices. In addition, the article communicates that China has taken positive action on the sustainable development front by attending a conference signing the Sino-Italian cooperation program with Italy for environmental protection available at .

However, the definition of sustainable development provided by the Bruntland commission stipulates the requirement to address the needs of the poor. The article seems to be a little biased as it strictly focused on the positive steps of sustainable development taken by China. Although China has succeeded in feeding the majority of its population, it may be able to increase efforts to improve the quality of Work Life of its workers. For example, Toy workers in China are paid 30 cents per hour, live in dormitories occupied by 15 employees per room and are exposed to toxic minerals all day. In addition, most of these employees are women between the ages of 17-23.

This agreement appears to focus strictly on environmental protection. What is troubling is the perceived tolerance of these working conditions. Legislation may be in place but Chinese literature indicates inadequate enforcement. China has a large population and Chinese firms seem to operate in a cowboy economy with respect to their workers. This cowboy philosophy towards human life is troubling. Directing fifteen people to sleep in the same room increases their likelihood of sleep deprivation. Sleep is a critical human need that may be denied to many workers in China. In addition, their poor wages prevent them from accumulating any financial reserves, which, according to Maslow, is a safety need for human beings.

The United States, Canada and other western nations have expressed concern about human rights in China. On the other hand, Western Countries may be contributing to the problem by developing business relationships with Chinese industries such as the toy industry knowing that Chinese workers seem to be overexploited.

04 July 2006
Xinhua News Agency
(c) Copyright 2006 Xinhua News Agency
BEIJING, July 4 (Xinhua) — China is being warned that it faces further environmental degradation from the overuse of chemical fertilizers, a bitter fruit its people are literally being forced to swallow, says a leading Chinese expert on the ecology.
It’s the result of the country’s long-boasted miracle of being able to feed 22 percent of the world’s population with only seven percent of the world’s arable land, said Gao Jixi, director of the Ecology Institute with the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.
“It costs us dearly. Intensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides have led to severe soil, water and air pollution,” he said.

Gao offered a grim list of agricultural side effects at a forum being sponsored by “Sino-Italian Green Week”. “More greenhouse gases are being produced. Accumulating heavy metals are hardening the soil and reducing its fertility. Surface water is over-enriched with nutrients and groundwater is polluted by nitrates,” he said.

Chinese farmers use 41.24 million tons of chemical fertilizers every year, for an average of more than 400 kg per hectare of farmland, far above the safe limit of 225 kg per hectare in developed countries, said Gao.

“Only 40 percent of nitrogen fertilizers, a heavily used chemical fertilizer in China, is being applied efficiently. Almost half of it evaporates or runs off before being absorbed by crops, causing water, soil and air pollution,” Gao said.

Statistics show that from 1985 to 2000, China saw 141 million tons, or nine million tons per year, of nitrogen fertilizers washed away and turned into pollutants.

About 75 percent of the country’s lakes and 50 percent of groundwater are polluted.
China is also suffering serious side-effects of chemical pesticides, which has been deemed as the most effective means combating plant diseases and pests in decades.

“Overuse of pesticides has destroyed the ecological balance and biodiversity in cropland. Pesticide residue deposited in farm plants may poison humans and livestock,” Gao said.
“Many farm produce are blocked or returned in foreign trade for failing to meet standards in pesticide use, resulting in millions of yuan of economic losses,” Gao said.

China reported an annual use of more than 1.2 million tons of pesticides, which has contaminated 7 percent of its arable land.

Plastic films have been widely applied in farming in China. But Gao noted that most of the films are undegradable and may hinder roots to absorb water and prevent groundwater from oozing.

Even degradable mulch remnants will generate new toxicants during their decomposition, he added. China produces 1 million mulch films every year, about 10 percent of which are left in soil after use.

Gao also pointed out that 90 percent of China’s livestock breeding farms haven’t undergone any environmental impact assessment and 60 percent are short of necessary pollution prevention and control facilities.

China should realize sustainable development of agriculture by reducing use of fertilizers, employing integrated pest prevention and management system and using biodegradable mulch films, he said.

“We should take the entire farm ecosystem into consideration and make the best use of natural factors against plant diseases and pests.” Gao said.

“Sino-Italian Green Week”, co-held by Chinese and Italian governments, will put on show a series of activities, such as environmental forums and exhibitions of Italian architecture and design, from July 3 to July 6.

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Posted in ecological degradation, sustainable development
3 comments on “China and Sustainable development
  1. Jason Charron says:

    Here is an excellent site for your enjoyment…

  2. Linh says:

    I completely agree with you about the working conditions in China, they need to be improved without a doubt.
    My grandma, who was born in China, use to tell me her memories about her childhood, about how she started to work at four years old, about how she never stepped in a school, about how she was physically abused by her boss, about how every day, she wondered if she would have a bowl of rice to eat tomorrow… Yet, she still optimistically told me that she survived and that was how things were back then… As you can see, priorities were not the same at that time, it was all about survival.
    Looking back at our own history, working conditions were no better during the Industrial Revolution (child labor, overtime, etc.) but things change along with the country’s growth, from generation to generation. Sometimes, I wonder if we (from economically developed countries) are actually really entitled to criticize China (not to mention that western corporations are benefiting from all this) as they are following our path… Working conditions are deplorable but as Fawad and Professor Wiliams mentioned before, I think it is about choosing the lesser of two evils in a country that is in development.

  3. Ron says:

    I agree with your article. I think China is selling itself and its environment for economic growth. An economic growth rate of 10% per year is not sustainable. They seem to want to become a Western coutry, however they do not yet have the infrastructure nor the framework to operate as a Western country.
    I am interested to hear for solutions from you. I believe they must first make changes to their macroeconomic policies, and have a floating currency. A floating currency would be the regulating mechanism to slow the economy and reduce pressures on their environment and ecology.

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