文章 Articles

China's green province

For much of China, economic development means ecological disaster. But the coastal province of Jiangsu may be a rare success story, says Wang Dongying. Can the country learn from Jiangsu's example?

Article image

Three decades of economic growth have significantly boosted China's international standing. The country now boasts the world's fastest growing economy, expanding by 10.7% in 2006, its fourth consecutive year of double-figure growth.

China's rapid industrialisation has attracted the attention of the west. But over time, some of this focus has shifted to the impact that this growth is having on the environment. Both Chinese and international media increasingly view China as a classic example of failure in balancing the country’s economy and environment; a story seen repeated in other large developing countries such as Brazil and India.

But something different is happening in Jiangsu province. Situated on China's east coast, the province has been described as the flagship of the country’s green development, and is now attracting international attention in its own right.

A leader in sustainable development

Located on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and Huai River, and with a coastline on the Yellow Sea, Jiangsu is less than half the size of the UK, at 100,000 square kilometres, but has a population of 75 million – much higher than Britain's 60 million.

Jiangsu’s contribution to China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has consistently ranked among the country’s top three provinces. The province’s economic growth in 2006 was 14.9%, China’s highest. Last year, it was also one of only two provinces that met national targets on pollution reduction and energy efficiency.

In 2006, emissions of major pollutants in Jiangsu province dropped by 3.3%, far surpassing the national target of 2%. Jiangsu’s power consumption per unit of GPD also fell by 4.02%, just over the target of 4%.

Four of the six cities that were first awarded the title of “Ecological City” by China’s State Council are in Jiangsu province. All four – Zhangjiagang, Changshu, Kunshang and Jiangyin – are among China's ten richest city and county-level economies.

Eighteen cities in Jiangsu have been designated “Environmental Protection Cities”, one-fifth of the nationwide total and more than any other single province. Yangzhou was given the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award in 2006.

On March 21, Jiangsu Party Secretary Li Yuanchao spoke at a meeting held in the UK's House of Commons, where he described the province as a role model for the country’s efforts to achieve a balance between economic growth and environmental protection. But in interviews he also pointed out that the province's double-digit GDP growth has incurred heavy environmental costs.

Li discussed China's most recent thinking on development. He explained how the country is seeking comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable growth; he also emphasised how the conservation of resources and environmental protection will allow growth that is both rapid and sustainable. In particular, Li stressed the importance of “four priorities”: wealth creation, science and education, environmental protection and conservation of resources.

Market forces

Of particular interest are Jiangsu's environmental pricing reforms, which include emissions trading and emissions pricing policies.

The concept of emissions trading was first put into practice in the US to control atmospheric and water pollution. It has since been adopted in Germany, Australia and the UK. The system aims to encourage companies to reduce their overall pollution emissions, either by cleaning up the local environment or adopting more efficient production processes. They can then sell any surplus emissions allowances. On the whole, this has proved more effective than traditional government curbs on pollution. Jiangsu’s city of Nantong was the first place in China to adopt an emissions trading scheme; and in 2002, the system was rolled out across the entire province.

Jiangsu’s experience in ensuring that polluters pay and that businesses can benefit from cleaning up their act is now being applied nationwide. Shi Zhenhua, head of Jiangsu's Environmental Protection Office, speaking at the recent National Peoples' Congress in Beijing, said that many companies are now “making money from environmental protection.” He pointed out that in the last five years, not one manufacturer of environmental protection equipment or sewage treatment equipment in China has made a loss.

The province now hopes to raise the cost of emissions further, to dissuade those companies who would sooner pay for their emissions than reduce their pollution. According to reports, companies that continue to pollute can still end up paying a tenth of what it would cost to cut their emissions, and only one-fifth of the losses caused by the resulting environmental damage. 

Despite the province’s outstanding record, a recent opinion poll in Jiangsu found that only 56.5% of respondents were “satisfied” or “basically satisfied” with pollution control; in contrast, the national average last year was 60.2%.

Towards the end of his speech, Li Yuanchao said he believes that all of China's provinces will achieve the binding targets specified in the 11th Five Year Plan – to reduce power consumption per unit of GDP by 20%, and emissions of pollutants by 10% by 2010.

A Herculean task

But despite Li's optimism, the overall situation does not look good. Power consumption per unit of GDP fell by only 1.23% last year, and emissions actually rose. State media recently reported the World Bank and China’s State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) as saying that the annual losses caused by environmental pollution may be equivalent to around 10% of GDP.

Speaking at the National People's Congress earlier this month, premier Wen Jiabao stressed that China's economy still faces problems caused by high power consumption and pollution. The latest figures show that in 2007, the continuing growth of power-hungry industries may have caused China's electricity consumption to jump by as much as 20%.

In comparison with most of China's provinces, Jiangsu has unmatched advantages. And it is those regional differences which make the goal of repeating Jiangsu's successes elsewhere in the country such a formidable task.

Jiangsu is known as China's land of rice and fish, with ideal conditions for agriculture and a solid economic, technical and educational base. GDP per capita is US$3,500, a good deal higher than the nationwide average of US$2,500. The total value of imports and exports last year was US$284 billion, almost one-sixth of the national total.

One in four of every dollars of China’s inward investment ends up in Jiangsu province. In 2006, around US$16 billion of overseas investment was put to work in Jiangsu, the nation’s highest for the fifth year running. Fortune 500 companies have started 685 firms in the province.

There are more port berths and greater port capacity here than anywhere else in China, and three of the country's 10 ports that have shipped more than a billion tonnes are in Jiangsu.

Such advantages are little more than dreams for many of China's provinces, particularly those that have less-developed productive capabilities, a lack of funds and of technology and that still rely on heavy industry.

China's scarce resources, its lack of environmental awareness and undeveloped environmental laws continue to hold back the country's progress towards sustainable development.

The green dragon?

A survey published earlier this year identified the environmental issues that Chinese people identify as most worrying: food safety, drinking water contamination and air pollution.

For most Chinese people today, climate change is little more than a scientific discussion, but they know first-hand the environmental pollution that economic growth has brought.

This has also brought both domestic and international pressure to bear on the Chinese government; many are urging China to move faster towards green development.

But we should not forget that western countries only started to control their pollution after 200 years of industrialisation. For instance, it was only in 1956 that the UK, the home of the Industrial Revolution, introduced the Clean Air Act. Thirty years after China’s economy opened up to the world, the country is now realising the importance of environmental protection, and is putting measures in place accordingly.

China has already achieved its first miracle – the country has managed to lift 200 million people out of poverty. Now it needs another miracle to save 1.3 billion people from the effects of a worsening environment. But to know how long this will take, we must wait and see.

Homepage picture by Marc van der Chijs


Dongying Wang worked for Xinhua News Agency as an editor in Beijing and correspondent in Egypt, before joining chinadialogue in 2006 as managing editor.

Now more than ever…

chinadialogue is at the heart of the battle for truth on climate change and its challenges at this critical time.

Our readers are valued by us and now, for the first time, we are asking for your support to help maintain the rigorous, honest reporting and analysis on climate change that you value in a 'post-truth' era.

Support chinadialogue

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文。 最大字符 1200。

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200.

评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Wrong statistics?

In the article it is reported that currently in China the cost of breaking laws (penalty) is less than 10% pollution control cost and less than 20% of environmental damage cost.

So this implies that pollution control could be twice that of the environmental damage cost. Are the statistics wrong?


Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous







Re: Wrong statistics?

Your understanding is right, that is pollution control cost could be higher than that of environmental damage. Part of the reasons is pollution's environmental impact (cost) is usually underestimated.

Meanwhile, the author compared the three costs to show the weakness of China's environmental laws.

It is not as simple as you understand regarding the comparison between pollution control cost and environmental damage cost.

So far, it is still an unsolved issue regarding the methods of calculating the cost of enviromental damage. This is also the issue facing Green GDP accounting.

Even if pollution control costs more than damaging the environment, this should be the reason for us not to take measures to protect our environment.

by Dongying Wang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Gap between the rich and poor

To solve the environmental problems in China,
the country needs first to narrow the disparities between the rich and poor provinces.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Jiangsu's achievement at cost of other poor areas

Though I haven't investigated, I still think that Jiangsu's success in envivronmental protection is achieved at cost of underdeveloped provinces in China.

Pollution is usually transferred from rich to poverty-stricken areas, from developed countries to developing nations. This phenomenon is a commonplace.

Jiangsu is one of the affluent provinces in China, so the province could be a case of the phenomenon.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous






Re:re:wrong statistics?

I understand what you say. I think the sentence is misleading, that is why I pointed it out.

How to achieve accurate environmental damage cost has been a hot international topic, and a thorny issue as well. So far, there are no satisfactory calculating methods yet.

But under the current situation with poor technology support and impact of market factors, we should make it clear that it is difficult to calculate environmental damage cost. And obviously, actual cost of environmental damage is higher than figure issued.

In most cases, especially in China, which is highly polluted, its marginal cost in pollution control is lower than that in developed countries with less pollution, and also much lower than the marginal environmental damage cost.

This is because marginal cost in pollution control will rise along with decreasing pollution situation in a country, meanwhile marginal cost of environmental damage will rise along with the rising pollution situation.

Otherwise, to the public it means pollution control costs more than environmental damage.
Then polluters will choose to pollute instead of taking costly actions to control pollution, and then they could just compensate for the environmental loss.

Of course, what I mention above is based on that the environmental cost is not underestimated.

Environmental protection does not aim to ban pollution, but to control it within the capacity that the nature is able to accommodate, and to minimize its impact upon ecosystem.

Zero pollution is impossible. What really makes sense is to identify the pollution extent (limit) which is moderate and tolerable. Then the pollution within the limit would not cause devastating impact upon ecosystem and natural resources. Meanwhile, we could avoid too high social cost to cut the pollution which the nature is capable of coping with.

China is facing tasks to help people out of poverty and meanwhile to deal with its serious pollution. The market system is introduced to deal with pollution control. Under these circumstances, it is of great importance to identify the pollution limit.

In conclusion, we should not compare the pollution control cost with that of environmental damage. Otherwise, readers will be misled.


Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


第四号评论员提出了一个有趣的观点---为了看明白江苏的成就是否来自当地政府和公司的良性运作,我们有必要探究一下江苏的工业企业都有哪些行业组成并且与其它的省份做个对比。是否它的行业中污染工业比较少呢?还是行业的组成有比较类似,只是运用了更成功的管理方法来减少污染?Andrew Stevenson

Re: Jiangsu's achievement at cost of other poor areas

Commenter number 4 has an interesting point - in order to be sure that Jiangsu's success is really the result of good practices by government and business, we would need to compare Jiangsu's industrial composition to that of other provinces. Does it benefit from a cleaner mix of less-polluting industries? Or does it have a similar mix of industries but a more successful approach to ensuring they pollute less?

Andrew Stevenson

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


江苏没有污染么? 不是,大家可以去搜索下2001年盛泽污染事件,这件事受到中央领导的高度重视.可见江苏算是吃一堑,长一智. 另一方面.江苏的水质直接影响到上海的水质.上海又是重要的经济中心,世界大都市.来自上海和浙江的影响让江苏不得不治理污染.
本人就是来自于人居城市- 扬州.扬州作为一个消费旅游型城市,污染少是因为它的经济收入来源多数是旅游收入,房屋出租等,工作多数为服务行业,工业很少.

persanal opinion

Is there no pollution in Jiangsu?the answer is no,you can search the "Shengze Pollution Event" which has drawed high
attention from the goverment leaders.so Jiangsu did learn the motto "a fall into the pit, a gain in your wit".
on the other hand,Jiangsu's water quality exert a direct influence on Shanghai's,and Shanghai is a economic center,metropolis
the pressure from Shanghai and Zhejiang forces Jiangsu to take effort to reduce pollution.
I studied environmental science,the reason why the pollution and treatment cost account for hazard cost 20% but only occupy
treatment cost 10% is that we failed to build a perfect pollution hazard assessment system,it is not easy to quantify the
long term impact on ecology and also it is impossible to restore the original entironment level.
from certain aspects,it is unevaluable for the pollution-caused hazard to the ecology,because that is the impact on species for
generations,which can not be seen right now.
I am from a beautiful city-Yangzhou,as a consuming and tour oriented city,most revenues are from tour industry and house rent
less heavy industry,more service industry, so that's the reason why there are less pollution.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


首段如下:“排污权交易是一个世界难题,南通早在2001年就试验成功了。但在接下来的四年里,只成功进行了5起交易,是什么阻挡了排污权交易的实施? ”


Can Jiangsu's pollution rights trade be applied province-wide?

In August 2005, the Chinese Resource website published an article stating that Jiangsu province's pollution rights trade was experiencing difficulties. The opening passage read: "The pollution rights trade is a complex global dilemma. Although Nantong already ran a successful experiment in 2001, it was only able to carry out five trade transactions in the ensuing four years. What stood in the way of implementing the pollution rights trade?" You can access this article here I harbor serious doubts about Jiangsu province's ability to turn around this difficult situation within the short space of a year. Although I welcome public debate that focuses on environmental conservation, the above article serves no purpose unless it comprehensively relates all the facts.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


这篇文章看来是由中外对话的职员所撰写的。然而,我必须承认这的确令人非常失望。这只是和一般地方上报章的文章没有差别 – 确实性的消息为最佳决定的选择。我本身对这篇文章根本就没有信心。Yin

This article is disappointing

Looks like this article is written by staff of China Dialog. However, I have to admit that it is very disappointing. It is like any article you can find in the typical state-owned newspapers - cherry picking facts and figures. I personally have no slightest confidence in this article.