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Backgrounder: Wet politics in China

Seungho Lee

Readinch

China’s water crisis is crying out for better policy and politics, argues Lee Seungho.

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Will China succeed in shifting its water policies onto a more sustainable basis? That really depends on its ability to make decisions on socio-economic and environmental grounds. By contrast, the Three Gorges Dam and the south-north water transfer project are examples of political considerations taking priority over the needs of water users and the environment.

The biggest debates on the south-north scheme have been about its huge expense. It is true that the central government has cleverly devised the financing structure so as to lay more of the burden on those local governments that benefit from the project. But doubts about its economic feasibility encourage the suspicion that it is being shaped by political factors.

Part of the problem is the involvement of too many players, at the national and local level. Within the national government, Water Resources is the principal ministry, but there is a real need to bring all the various bodies together and gain consensus – including the NDRC, SEPA and other relevant ministries such as construction, agriculture and forestry. At present, there’s a pretty diverse range of views. The water resources ministry, whose main goal is the management and development of those resources, sees Three Gorges as a big achievement, whereas SEPA has always been sceptical on environmental grounds.

As things stand, policy making and implementation are often incoherent, and there are overlaps in investment. And, although China does have a framework of laws on water management, they are not always properly enforced. This not only puts water assets in serious danger -- it also raises questions about the state’s capacity to tackle the huge challenges it faces.

In the end, China’s allocation of so much scarce water to low-productivity agriculture is not sustainable. If it’s to tackle the grave dangers of water vulnerability, the leadership will have to abandon the myth of self-sufficiency in essential foods.


The author:
Dr Seungho Lee is a specialist in water policy at the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.

This article appears in “Greening the Dragon: China’s Sustainability Challenge”, a special supplement produced by Green Futures magazine, published in September 2006. www.greenfutures.org.uk

Homepage photo by Magalie L'Abbé

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水坝

有史以来, ‘水灾’夺走了中国数万条人命。建造三峡大坝和任何水坝建设的花费一度被认为是明智之举。看来这长远的规划是经过精心策划。张博士

Water dams

Floods had skilled millions since history of China. It has been wise to have built the Three Gorges dam and other water conservation projects whatever they cost. It seems that the long range planning was also prepared meticulously and carefully. By Dr. Zhang Hoojoon


水政策

我再次读了这篇文章。李先生显然无视中国发洪水的历史——每十年左右就有数万人失去生命和家园。水利工程建造之前经过了精心规划和广泛的咨询,包括外国工程师们。李先生把这种广泛的咨询看作一种缺点,相反地,我认为这是一种民主的途径,一种解决问题的方法。这种基础性的咨询、讨论和规划不仅扩大了参与解决问题的知识领域,而且在公民中体现了民主精神。三峡大坝的修建不但解决了长达千年的洪水,还非常环保:使用和发展替代能源节省数万吨煤,少排放大量温室气体。by Dr. Hoojoon Zhang

Water policy

I have reviewed the above article by Mr. Lee, who, apparently disregarded the history of floods in China, which every ten years or so had killed and displaced millions. Meticulous planning and broad base consultations had been carried out prior to construction, to the extend of using foreign engineers. Mr. Lee, on the other hand looked upon these broad base consultation as a short coming which I, on the otherhand had seen a decentralization and democratic approach and solution of the problem. The grass root consultation and discussion and planning not only had raise the wide and broad knowledge base to solve the problem, but has also spread the democratic base of the society and citizens. Construction of the three gorge dam not only is seen as a way to tame the thousand years abd aged old flood problems, but also enviromentally replace million tons of coal, sulfa and green house gas by using and advancing the alternative energies.
by Dr. Hoojoon Zhang


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