China at Crossroads: Balancing The Economy and Environment

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The Third Plenum promises a “unified” land market to address the huge losses of farmland to urbanization through unbridled real estate development. With about half of municipalities’ current revenue dependent on land sales that often involve large-scale corruption and little compensation for local farmers, economic reform of land transfers will occur. While details are lacking, reforms should feature new property taxes and municipal bonds that will provide increased fiscal support to local governments to help wean them off profits gained from paving over arable land. [stextbox id=”custom” float=”true” align=”right” width=”300″ bcolor=”efefef” bgcolor=”eaeaea” image=”null”]Solving China’s problems ‘requires an approach that integrates ecological and social planning,’ according to one expert.[/stextbox]

So far in China, the government has never allowed market pricing of energy and water. But as part of the Third Plenum’s market efficiency directive, look for changes in energy pricing policy to come soon. What is needed? Tying price reform to new rules that promulgate incentives for government officials who meet energy and water delivery efficiency targets and strengthen implementation of already existing green urban building codes. China must also embrace a paradigm shift in water policy from a focus on engineering solutions, such as massive canal and dam projects, to an ecosystem-based approach that encourages coordination between government institutions. 

Few would deny that China over the last decade has made great strides in addressing environmental and social problems. But shot through all this history is the troubling reality that China’s closed command-and-control decision making system lacks most of the characteristics that experts identify as key to making progress on reforms that must go far beyond mere economic adjustments: open information exchange, government transparency, institutional coordination, and public and private sector participation. As Xu Jianchu, director of the East Asia office of the World Agroforestry Center, makes clear, “Solving China’s 21st century problems requires an approach that integrates ecological and social planning.” To date, China has largely failed to do this. 

China has already proven that it can build a powerhouse economy and pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Now comes another huge challenge — constructing an adaptive state under 21st century conditions of dwindling resources, greater social inequality, and climate uncertainty. The tasks are daunting: China must reboot its economy, revamp environmental policies to reverse decades of decline, and rekindle its social contract to citizens in the face of unprecedented urbanization. 

There may be too much on China’s plate for the new leadership to make immediate progress, but given the history of Communist Party successes the question is not whether change will occur soon but whether it will occur soon enough. Even before the Third Plenum, Xi and Li had given the Chinese people something more important than plenum pronouncements: With their invocation earlier this year of the “Chinese Dream,” they have created great expectations that the party will finally solve pollution problems, control corruption, and inject more equality into society. It is now time for the leadership to set about accomplishing these tasks. 

FIRST POSTED ON 14 NOV 2013  by Yale Environment 360http://www.e360.yale.edu

 


GLOBE 2014-SmallChina, Our Shared Future” will be a major topic at GLOBE 2014, the next in the celebrated GLOBE Series Conferences on the business of the environment taking place in Vancouver Canada, March 26-28, 2014. Reserve your place now. Check here for more details


 


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