China: security risk climate change

Environmental problems endanger the political and social stability of the country

Read out

China's environs are a threat to political and social stability in the country. This is the conclusion of the new report World in Transition - Security Risk Climate Change, published by the Scientific Advisory Council Global Environmental Change of the Federal Government. According to the researchers, crises and conflicts are inevitable if the environmental problems become worse in the coming years.


China is already paying a high price for its economic success. "Today, the country is struggling in all areas with visible environmental problems that have earned it the image of being one of the most polluted countries in the world and with the US the polluters in terms of greenhouse gases, " say Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Heberer and Anja-Desiree Senz from the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE). The two China experts analyzed the current situation in the world's most populous country and gave an assessment of the crisis potential until 2020.

Air pollution and pollution of the waters

Major problems in China are mainly the high air pollution, acid rain, pollution of the water - including untreated sewage - the questionable drinking water quality, waste management (including nuclear waste), the progressing desertification, over-fertilization, dehydration and erosion and loss Biodiversity. In their report, the UDE scientists list at length problems and causes, also in connection with the social and political system.

The environmental damage not only produces costs - according to the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency, the total cost of pollution (€ 170 billion) is about as high as annual economic growth, but also causes disease and poverty: while many rural residents benefit from the rapid economic development Every year, about ten million farmers fall below the poverty line due to ecological changes. According to World Bank estimates, more than 300, 000 people per year die in China as a result of massive environmental pollution. Not to mention the natural disasters caused by climate change, such as flooding or drought. Among them, hundreds of millions of people suffer in the Middle Kingdom every year. display

Numerous environmental conflicts

Where the environmental changes threaten the existence and supply of the population, there are already conflicts today. According to the Chinese Environmental Protection Agency, in 2005 alone there were more than 500, 000 violent conflicts in response to environmental pollution, "explains Professor Heberer. They could even increase, because according to World Bank calculations, global climate change is likely to cause further problems for China: the rise in sea levels affecting, in particular, the prosperous coastal areas with their 90 million inhabitants, decreasing precipitation in the north, rising in the south and so on Drought or flood disasters and migration or decline in agricultural yields.

Thus, Heberer and Senz also see three areas of tension until 2020: water, the urban-rural contradictions (economic, social and also ecological, since the rural regions bear the main burden of the economic upswing) as well as the political structures that allow many actors at the local level to prevent or prevent the enforcement of laws or the observance of minimum standards.

While awareness of the problem generally increases in China, understanding of the regional, global dimension of environmental problems is lacking, the UDE scientists note. The Chinese government sees this as an internal matter, investing just one percent of the gross domestic product in environmental protection. People, too, do not view their actions as part of the problem. "Most are hoping for a fast-paced economic development, Western living standards, they dream of their own car or air travel, without thinking of the ecological consequences of this prosperity, " says Senz.

Conclusion: dialogue with China important

One of their recommendations for action is directed by the two political scientists of the UDE to the West: He must lead the dialogue with China on an equal footing. Admonitions to the emerging industrialized nation that it can not balance the West's use of resources ("not every Chinese person can drive a car") made little sense. "Numerous problems in China have also arisen only through their entry into the world market, with which Western industrialized countries and companies share responsibility", Senz and Heberer point to concerns. "In terms of resource and environmental protection, the West, which in recent decades has not exactly become a cological model, should see itself as an important partner in China."

The two experts recommend supporting China in its administrative reforms, strengthening the weak Chinese environmental authority, promoting the use of renewable energy, or providing know-how, as well to restore existing environmental damage. Just for German companies there would be many opportunities in China. In addition, the export-oriented Chinese economy should be encouraged by the target countries to align products and production with environmental standards.

Whether China will overcome its environmental problems? Heberer and Senz are cautious about their prognosis: There are many positive approaches. However, the level of environmental damage is so grave, and at the same time, the country has many other problems, especially social problems, that can easily upset the system. Supporting the slow and peaceful change of the Chinese system must therefore also be in the West's interest

(idw - University of Duisburg-Essen, 26.06.2007 - AHE)