Climate Justice in China

Climate Justice in China

China is home to 55 ethnic minorities. While many live in rural areas affected by poverty and lack of employment opportunity, environmental or climate (in)justices are not exclusive to them. The divide of who suffers from environmental pollution runs along income and rural-urban lines. And China sees itself internationally as a victim of climate injustices caused by the development in the West.

For decades, China has been the dumping ground for plastic and e-waste from the developed world as labor costs for sorting were cheaper in China. Socially the weakest, Chinese children could be seen sitting on mounds of e-waste, sorting for precious raw materials in hazardous conditions. Toxic chemicals from unprofessionally stripped e-waste and unwanted plastic leaked into soil and waterways, causing various environmental and health issues.

Exploitation of the weakest members of society for economic profit at the expense of human and environmental health is a phenomenon of 30 years of prioritizing economic development in China. It led to so-called Cancer Villages, where high rates of cancers occurred that were linked to pollution from production close to those communities. High-polluting manufacturing, e.g. paper mills, were settled in poorer rural areas to spur economic development.

Some factories were moved to places far from their original location in advanced cities in an attempt to crack down on air pollution. For years, unfiltered emissions and effluence were uncontrollably discharged into rivers and the air. Local governments of poor communities turned a blind eye as they were measured on GDP, not on environmental health. The rural-urban income divide also drove millions of migrants from underdeveloped provinces to the cities to work as laborers in construction or garbage collection. Stories of occupational hazards due to unsafe practices abound.

After 3 decades of prioritized economic development, China’s government finally realized during the 2000s that the environmental and health consequences may hurt future growth and social stability. The last two Five-Year-Plans prescribed sustainable development as the path forward, integrating development with environmental protection.

Relevant authorities have improved their efforts to capture environmental complaints through e.g. whistle-blower functions on their websites and through social media, but NGOs are still often the go-to point for concerned citizens to lodge complaints as they are perceived more trustworthy and engaged with the topic. Many environmental NGOs in China, operating on a wide range of topics from e-waste mitigation to reforestation, work closely with and have access to public entities.

China has also developed mechanisms for participatory practices and information dissemination. In 2013, the environmental authorities required all provinces to create online platforms for disclosing factory emission data and the IPE’s[1] “Blue Sky” App makes emission data accessible to a broader public. Consultative meetings, public hearings, advance briefings, surveys, and solicitations of opinion have become part of the feedback repertoire.


Activity Rating:  * Falling Behind

The Chinese central government has over the past decade increasingly reacted to public complaints, intent on building a stable, “harmonious”, and “moderately prosperous” society. The Central Government’s heavy leaning in 2015 on the municipal government to thoroughly resolve the issues behind some very vocal village demonstrations illustrates the interest of China’s leaders to keep the peace: villagers protested against the alleged resettlement of PX (paraxylene) producers into a chemical park close to rural communities in Southwest Shanghai. PX production had over the years become the poster-child of chemical accidents in China; villages protested against such dangers in their backyard.

The Central government has also sought to strengthen its ability to effectively respond to pollution and to untangle local environmental governance from local administration: the Environmental Tax (2016) seeks to make pollution economically nonviable by moving from a one-time fine to a daily penalty for each day the polluting action continues. In 2018, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was given greater powers to govern and punish with local environmental authorities now reporting in a direct line to the ministry, instead of to local administration.

China’s government is committed to very pragmatically tackle its environmental problems, from re-forestation to cleaning up its water bodies to waste management, with the aim to keep social stability while continuing economic development.

However, the discussion of who suffers most from the consequences of climate change and who within China is mostly responsible for the emissions that cause climate change, has not gained much traction yet. The climate justice discussion is in a nascent stage and evolves within NGOs and think tanks that are internationally involved in the climate change debate.

It can only be hoped that a constructive debate about climate justice will find its way into the public realm, as millions of residents in Guangxi and along the Yangze River are currently suffering (again) from heavy flooding caused by “unusually” heavy rains.  So far, the question of what the relationship of increasing CO2 emissions from additional coal-fired power capacity in the far Northeast and unusually heavy rains in the Southwest is, has not been discussed. While coal mining and the coal-based industry is still the backbone of livelihood for many workers in the economically underdeveloped Northeastern provinces, reducing reliance on coal in favor of less CO2 emission-heavy power generation is an absolute necessity to combat global warming and mitigate freak weather phenomena like flooding. Now may be a good time to start that discussion.


Take Action

Message:

Dear Minister/Premier,

The efforts that China has made to tackle its pollution issues such as reducing air and water pollution, as well as pursuing a re-greening strategy to restore forest coverage are truly impressive. At the same time, with China’s Southwest again suffering from heavy flooding due to unusually heavy rains, it is time to look at the more indirect causes and consequences of pollution. Climate Change and how it affects those who are not even causing the CO2 emissions that lead to temperature warming and freak weather phenomena. The majority of China’s CO2 emissions stem from coal-based industries like energy generation, steel or cement production. While we understand the need to provide employment to workers in structurally weak provinces, it is equally important to consider Climate Justice for those suffering the consequences. It will be paramount for China to step up its efforts and investments to reduce reliance on coal and coal-based industry in favor of more innovative industries. These efforts should be coupled with re-skilling programs for workers in the old industries, so that they can continue to be productive contributors to China’s drive to become an innovation and sustainability leader.

Contact:

Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China / 中华人民共和国生态环境不 

(for Chinese): http://www.mee.gov.cn/hdjl/bzxxzs_1/

(For English) english@mail.gov.cn 

National Development & Reform Commission / 中华人民共和国国家发展和改革委员会

Chairman Lifeng He / 何立峰主任

(for Chinese) http://xf.ndrc.gov.cn/xf/2019/ly.jsp

(For English) english@mail.gov.cn 

 

The State Council, 中华人民共和国国务院总理
Share your ideas with China’s Premier (in English)

Premier Keqiang Li /  李克强总理

http://topic.media.gov.cn/topicdata/en/2020/index.html

premier@mail.gov.cn


This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach


Learn More:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327931829_China_Climate_Justice_without_a_Social_Movement; https://brill.com/view/journals/cjel/1/2/article-p263_263.xml?language=enhttps://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2018/11/china-ban-plastic-trash-imports-shifts-waste-crisis-southeast-asia-malaysia/https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es802725m https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/04/china-villages-cancer-deaths

https://www.eu-china-twinning.org/2015/12/2015-hangzhou-capacity-building-seminar-climate-change-social-and-environmental-justice/

https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2017/0317/China-embraces-public-activists-in-battling-pollution

Jingjing Zeng; Meng Yuan; Richard Feiock: “What Drives People to Complain about Environmental Issues? An Analysis Based on Panel Data Crossing Provinces of China” https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwitzcPPoNzqAhXIg3IEHVcUC5cQFjANegQIBxAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mdpi.com%2F2071-1050%2F11%2F4%2F1147%2Fpdf&usg=AOvVaw2C9XlFGnIKekvcbvwv4ykJ

[1] Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs



中国的环境及气候公正

中国有55个少数民族。 其中虽然很多人生活在农村,经济艰难,就业机会短缺,而环境或气候(不)公正并非他们独有的困境。事实上遭受环境污染影响的群体跨越了收入和城乡界限。在国际舞台上中国将自己比作因西方经济发展造成的气候不公正之受害者。

几十年来,中国一直是发达国家塑料和电子垃圾的堆放场,原因是分拣劳动力成本较低。作为社会最弱的分子,中国儿童经常被拍到坐在电子垃圾堆上,在有害条件下挑拣有用的原材料。非专业剥离的电子废弃物里包含着有毒的化学物质和丢弃的塑料,渗入了土壤和水路,带来各种环境和健康问题。

为了社会利益而剥削弱势群体,以牺牲人类和环境健康为代价,是30年来经济发展凌驾于一切之上的状况。它造就了所谓的癌症村,高污染的生产诱发了临近社区的高癌症率。重污染制造业,如造纸厂,大多建造在贫穷的农村地区来刺激当地经济发展。又或者,为改善空气污染,工厂从原先较发达地区搬去了千里之外。多年以来,未经过滤处理的有毒气体和污水源源不断地排入空气与河流。贫困地区的地方政府唯GDP的政绩观,对环境健康视而不见。城乡收入差距也驱使数百万农民工从欠发达省份大规模流入城市,从事建筑或垃圾收集工作。因缺乏安全意识的操作行为而引起的职业危害事例比比皆是。

经过30年的经济优先发展后,中国政府终于在进入21世纪时意识到,环境和健康后果可能会拖累未来的经济增长和社会稳定。之前的两个“五年计划”已将可持续发展定为主调,经济发展与环境保护相结合。

有关政府部门为体现对环境投诉的重视,在其网站上及社交媒体开设了举报功能,但非政府组织仍常常是热心公民提出投诉的首选,其被认为更值得信赖且参与度高。在中国,许多环保非政府组织的工作主题宽泛,从减少电子废弃物到植树造林,都与公共机构携手紧密合作。

中国还创建了参与式实践和信息传播机制。 2013年,环保部门即要求所有省份创建在线平台,公开工厂排放数据;而公众环境研究中心开发的“蔚蓝地图”应用程序更让普通民众得以获取排放数据。协商会议、听证会、事前简报,调查和意见征询已成为反馈系统的一部分。

活动打分:

过去十年里,中国中央政府对公众投诉的反应越来越积极,其目的在于建立稳定、和谐、中等繁荣的社会。中央政府在2015年强烈要求地方政府彻底解决某些声势浩大的村庄示威背后的问题,则极大说明了中国领导人维护稳定的决心:上千村民抗议将PX(对二甲苯)化工项目搬迁至上海西南角的化工区。多年来,PX类似项目俨然已成为中国化学事故的众矢之的,村民们抗议在其家园或将出现的危险。

中央政府还寻求增强其有效处理污染的方式,并收回地方行政部门对当地环境的管理权:环保税(2016年)的出台把对违法排放污染物课税从一次性罚款改为按日连续处罚,提高排污的经济成本。到了2018年,生态环境部被赋予了更大的管理和处罚权力,地方环境保护主管部门则跳过了地方行政部门,直接向生态环境部汇报。

中国政府决心以务实的态度解决环境问题,从退耕还林到清理水域再到废弃物管理,目的是在经济持续发展的同时保持社会稳定。

但是,关于谁受气候变化的影响最大,谁该为造成气候变化的碳排放负主要责任的讨论还处于初级阶段。气候(环境)公正的探讨尚且刚刚开始,该议题目前仅在某些活跃于国际气候变化辩论的非政府组织和智囊团内部发酵。

现在我们只能期待,气候(环境)公正相关的建设性探究能涉及公共范畴。当下广西和长江沿岸的数百万居民正遭受“罕见”大雨引起的洪涝灾害。到目前为止,还没有人讨论过远在东北地区由燃煤发电量增加而导致的二氧化碳排放量增多与西南地区降雨反常的关系。尽管煤炭开采和煤炭工业仍然是经济欠发达的东北省份许多工人的谋生之道,但减少对煤炭的依赖以降低二氧化碳排放量(重型发电)毫无疑问是对抗全球变暖和减少异常天象(例如洪水)的必要条件。现在,应该是开始探讨的好时机吧!

行动指南:

尊敬的部长/总理:

无疑,中国政府为解决污染问题已付出巨大努力,例如改善空气和水污染以及推行退耕还林战略以恢复森林覆盖率,等等措施确实令人印象深刻。然而西南地区又因异常大雨而再次遭受洪涝灾害,那现在该是研究造成污染间接源头和后果的时候了。二氧化碳大量排放引起了温度升高和异常天象,气候的变化影响了众多未曾参与制造污染的无辜人民。中国大部分碳排放源于能源、钢铁和水泥生产等煤炭基础重工业。我们明了向结构薄弱省份的工人提供就业机会的必要性,但对于深受其害的人们来说,气候公正同样重要。我们认为,持续加大投资以减少对煤炭和煤炭工业的依赖,转向创新型产业,对中国尤为重要。这些工作应结合淘汰行业工人的技能再培训计划,方便他们继续为推动中国成为创新和可持续发展的领导者而做出贡献。

中华人民共和国生态环境不  

(中文): http://www.mee.gov.cn/hdjl/bzxxzs_1/

中华人民共和国国家发展和改革委员会

何立峰主任

(中文) http://xf.ndrc.gov.cn/xf/2019/ly.jsp

中华人民共和国国务院总理
李克强总理

http://topic.media.gov.cn/topicdata/en/2020/index.html

premier@mail.gov.cn

此文由Climate Scorecard国家经理:Annette Wiedenbach攥写

Translation/翻译:Jolin

电邮:awiedenbach@gmx.de

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