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Sustainable Development in China


With the heavy burdens of climate change, environmental degradation and rising populations competing for resources, many countries are looking to sustainable development initiatives. Sustainability serves to meet the needs of both developing and developed populations while limiting their harmful impact on the environment so that future generations may live comfortably and prosper. Further, sustainability seeks to reuse precious resources in such a way that their access or function shift from a limited supply to an alternating, enduring resource. 

With a population of over 1.3 billion, China would do well in the 21st century to develop programs that sustain the environment and its people for generations to come, and potentially bolster their image on a global scale.  China could have the world’s largest economy by the year 2030, and their position as an economic leader ensures that the world will follow the trends they set.  There is a great responsibility to lead and usher in a more sustainable future, not only for China’s rise as a global political power, but as its industrial sector begins to take off and flourish. 

According to a recent report, since 2001, China has answered the worldwide call to develop responsibly across a broad spectrum of areas including: economic restructuring, health and lifestyle improvements, resource conservation and environmental protection.  But there are still many challenges ahead. A developing industrial sector has forced China to become an extreme polluter as many companies are forced to choose cheaper (and dirtier) methods for production. 

The Global Markets Project, a conglomeration of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, has spearheaded China’s effort to make major shifts in economic, political, social, and global development to ensure a forward-thinking agenda is omnipresent in all of China’s decisions regarding production, consumption, trade and infrastructure.  They produced studies in 2008 outlining many of the issues facing sustainable development which must be overcome in the following years. 


  • China’s poverty rate declined from 10.2 percent in 2000 to 2.8 percent in 2010.
  • Energy consumption declined 26 percent from 2005 to 2010.
  • China is developing global forest product chains that imports and exports raw materials that try to comply with patterns of sustainability.  

Challenges Ahead:

  • GDP only ranked 100th in the world and there are still over one hundred million living in poverty.  
  • There is uneven sustainable development across regions.
  • China has weak scientific and technological capacities.
  • China’s global forest product chain development is impeded by trade policies, poor governance and incompetent business practices.  
  • Global cotton and textile product chains must be stronger.  The cotton industry needs to shift to areas that favor sustainable production.  
  • Further problems in sustainability involve carbon storage, biodiversity, water regulation and cultural heritage.

Potential Solutions:

If China becomes more involved in the global community through trade and resources, then it will gain stronger global partnerships that will increase the viability of sustainable development. An amalgamation of International Relations expertise combined with much of the findings in the aforementioned study found that:

  • China must match forest product commodity chain sustainability through better management, marketing and by matching foreign productions standards.  
  • China must strive to increase technology funding and implementation.
  • Create systems in which coal consumption decreases by as much as 670 million tons in three years, by 2015.  
  • Reduce reliance on energy intensity by 21 percent in 2015.
  • Overhaul their global cotton and textile production industry by relocating the industry to more sustainable areas; exporting production; improving the demand for sustainable products; improve production standards; and initiate green trade policies and sustainable initiatives that are mandated and governed responsibly.  
  • China’s electronics and electronic equipment manufacturing sector needs to be improved through regulatory standards and management during e-product manufacturing, during e-waste collection, dismantling and disposal, and require improved resource management, energy use and green initiatives in production standards.

By outlining a sustainable and energy efficient strategy, China could reduce its dependence on industrial antiquities and be successful.  Imagine a China that is less reliant on fossil fuels and factories that produce harmful waste.  This would benefit not only China and its people, but the world.  

- Anisha Sekar: EarthAction Contributing Writer

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