Dongping Yang, editor. The China Environment Yearbook, vol. 4, Tragedy and Hope: From the Sichuan Earthquake to the Olympics. Leiden: Brill, 2010. xxvi, 367 pp. Hardcover, $169.00, ISBN 978-9-004-18241-7.
While many countries are slowly recovering from the global economic downturn that started in 2007, China continues to experience rapid economic growth. Its gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 10.3 percent in 2010 and is forecast to increase by another 9.0 percent in 2011. (1) This growth has brought about severe pollution and soaring energy consumption. For example, an article in the New York Times reported that air pollution in China causes hundreds of thousands of deaths annually and that nearly 500 million Chinese do not have access to safe drinking water. (2) As of 2007, China had overtaken the United States in emissions of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) from fossil fuels. (3) In response to these conditions, the Chinese government's Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010) set targets of a 10 percent reduction in pollutant discharges and a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption per unit GDP, both by 2010. (4) According to the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), carbon dioxide emissions per unit GDP are to be lowered 17 percent and energy consumption per unit GDP, an additional 16 percent, by 2015. (5)
The China Environment Yearbook, vol. 4, Tragedy and Hope: From the Sichuan Earthquake to the Olympics examines the state of China's environment in 2008 and discusses ongoing actions to address environmental concerns. (The first three volumes of the China Environment Yearbook series were previously reviewed in China Review International?) This book is the translation of Huanjing lu pi shu: Zhongguo huanjing fazhan baogao (2009) ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ), edited by Yang Dongping ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) and published in Beijing by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2009. Yang is a cofounder and president of the Friends of Nature, China's first official environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO). Altogether, the book has twenty-seven contributors, including university faculty, graduate students, NGO staff, and journalists.
Volume 4 consists of an introduction, twenty-two unnumbered chapters, and an appendix. The introduction provides a brief context for and overview of the book. The first chapter, "We Are All Victims of Pollution and Responsible for Our Planet," is a synopsis of China's main environmental issues in 2008, including climate change, pollution, and biodiversity. The remainder of the book is organized according to six parts: "2008: An Eventful Year," "Ecological Protection," "Pollution," "Policies," "Green Economy," and "Appendix."
Part 1 looks at two key events of 2008: the Summer Olympics and the Sichuan earthquake. While Beijing's air quality improved in 2008, the city still faces problems with air pollution and water shortages (Li Hujun, pp. 43-54). The earthquake in Sichuan damaged hydropower projects and chemical plants, thereby causing secondary environmental impacts (Fan Xiao, pp. 55-70).
Part 2, with five chapters, covers ecosystems. According to Feng Yongfeng, the decentralization of forestry management--by leasing state-owned forests to rural households--may harm forest biodiversity and ecosystems (pp. 73-82). The 18 million hectares of plateau wetlands are vulnerable to human exploitation (Tian Kun, pp. 83-95). Gai Zhiyi attributes the shrinkage and degradation of China's grasslands to policies that favor farming and industry (pp. 97-106). Zi You discusses regulations relating to, and public acceptance of, genetically modified crops (pp. 107-114). Piao Zhengji and Shen Xiaohui present case studies of how road construction has impacted wildlife in nature reserves (pp. 115-127).
Pollution is the theme of part 3. Peng Yan notes that efforts to improve air quality for the 2008 Olympics have transformed air quality management into a regional and health-based approach (pp. 131-144). As shown in Tables 9.1 and 9.2, the prevalence of agricultural pollution is highest in Central and South China and lowest in Qinghai and Tibet (Liang Shumin, pp. 145-160). Recent threats to the marine environment include new urban development and chemical industrial plants along the coast (Yu Chen, pp. 161-174). Qie Jianrong identifies the obstacles that China faces in meeting the energy consumption and emissions targets set forth in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), although some progress had been made by 2007 (pp. 175-190).
The contributors to part 4 are interested in legislation and institutions. Environmental legislation in 2008 addressed topics such as ecological compensation, permit restrictions, and the development of a circular economy, but legal liability and public participation remained limited (Feng Jia, pp. 193-205). Zhang Shiqiu writes about the upgrading of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) to the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) and its implications for China's environmental protection system (pp. 207-217). In March 2008, a total of ninety-six proposals on natural resources, energy, and the environment were submitted to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (Chen Hongwei, pp. 219-231). Mao Da describes the difficulties encountered in implementing the policy to restrict plastic shopping bags (pp. 233-245). Lu Zhongmei discusses the history and future of environmental public interest litigation (pp. 247-259). Despite China's adoption of the Measures on Open Environmental Information (for Trial Implementation) ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), no polluting enterprises disclosed their discharge data and none were punished by local governments for their violations (Wang Jingjing and Ruan Qingyuan, pp. 261-275).
In part 5, Hu Kanping traces developments in environmental economic policies, including green credit, green insurance, green trade, green securities, and taxation (pp. 279-292). Zhuang Guiyang summarizes Chinese policies and interest regarding the development of a low-carbon economy, which is characterized by high economic growth with low carbon emissions (pp. 293-300). The subject of Zhang Ke's chapter is China's experiences with ecological compensation (pp. 301-315). So Jianhua and Guo Peiyuan assess the environmental performance of enterprises from perspectives including pollution, energy conservation, and information disclosure (pp. 317-330).
Part 6 is a two-part appendix. First, twenty-one figures and eighteen tables depict trends in air quality, water quality, solid waste, economic growth and energy consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, and investments in pollution control. Second, a glossary explains many of the concepts mentioned in the text.
This yearbook retains the reader-friendly features found in volumes 2 and 3: chapter abstracts, lists of key words, translators' notes, lists of figures and tables, and an index. As was done in volume 3, Chinese characters are given for place names and titles of legislation. A welcome addition is that Chinese characters are now also consistently provided for personal names.
A few changes would improve this volume even more. Because the contributors mention place names throughout the text, maps would orient those readers who are unfamiliar with Chinese geography. The addition of a few photographs would complement the text and enhance the book's visual appeal. There are scattered editing errors in the translation, but these can be easily corrected in any new edition.
Like its predecessors in the China Environment Yearbook series, volume 4 contains extensive data and many case studies to update Western readers about China's environmental challenges and how they are being addressed. The contributors suggest numerous actions to remedy deficiencies in existing policies and further improve the environment. It remains to be seen whether these recommendations are implemented.
This reviewer hopes that China's government agencies, NGOs, and citizens alike will continue to emphasize the importance of environmental protection while pursuing economic growth. As Li Hujun aptly writes:
Although China has done some work in protecting the environment and addressing climate change, more important work is yet to be done. Listening to the opinions of stakeholders, promoting more participation of civil society, and ensuring the transparency of environmental governance are all essential if sustainable development is to be achieved. (p. 54)
(1.) The World Bank, East Asia and Pacific Economic Update 2011, vol. 1. Available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/ INTEAPHALFYEARLYUPDATE/Resources/550192-1300567391916/ EAP_Update_March2011_fullreport.pdf (accessed on May 29, 2011).
(2.) Kahn, Joseph, and Jim Yardley. "As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes." Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/ world/asia/26china.html (accessed on June 4, 2011).
(3.) Available at http://cdiac.ornl.gov/ trends/emis/tre_prc.html (accessed on June 4, 2011).
(4.) Available at http://www.gov.cn/english/2006-03/ 06/content_219504.htm (accessed on June 4, 2011).
(5.) Available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/ english2010/china/2011-03/05/c_13762230.htm (accessed on May 29, 2011).
Herman F. Huang holds degrees in environmental science and urban planning and is employed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. A community planner, he specializes in the impacts of transportation projects on the human environment.…