Despite the serious environmental toll extracted over the last two decades of phenomenal economic growth in China, a new report by the World Bank says the Government can build an environmentally sustainable future, but only by changing its development strategy.
The report, entitled "China: Air, Land and Water - Environmental Priorities for a New Millennium," points to three areas of success: broad-based and absolute reduction in industrial air and water pollutant emissions during the second half of the 1990s; the reversal of deforestation through massive investments in reforestation and afforestation; and the reversal of secondary salinization in irrigation areas through major control and prevention programmes.
"These achievements are arguably unprecedented in any country at China's state of economic development," said Yukon Huang, the Bank's Country Director for China. "Yet," he added, "the battle is not even close to being won - environmental challenges are likely to get far greater and more complex over the next 10 years and the Government will have to re-orient its approach if it wants to make further progress."
The report, prepared by a World Bank team and assisted by technical specialists from 10 Chinese research institutes, universities and other organizations, reviews the state of the environment, assesses the effectiveness of the Government's environmental protection work over the last 10 years, and makes recommendations on how to address the new challenges which will face the country in the near future.
Among its proposals, the report urges moving from the current approach of mainly fixing the harmful effects of other development decisions to a more proactive strategy aimed at avoiding or minimizing the adverse environmental effects of development in the first place.