Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Harbin and China's Environment

Writing in the aftermath of the Harbin disaster, Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations paints a grim picture of China's environmental problems . She argues that:
It is easy to blame China's rapid economic growth for this devastating situation. Scant attention has been paid to the costs of pollution or resource degradation engendered by this dramatic economic development. Central government investment in environmental protection remains well below the 2.2% of GDP Chinese scientists claim is the minimum necessary to prevent further deterioration. Pollution fines are so low that factories often elect to pay them rather than take corrective measures. Water is typically priced far below replacement cost, discouraging recycling or conservation.

Fault, however, also rests deep within China's political system. While officials in Beijing routinely pass laws to protect the environment, local officials and factory managers collude to evade them. Many enterprises and municipalities are so confident in their ability to ignore the law that even when they possess appropriate waste-treatment facilities, they elect not to use them in order to avoid operational costs. Local environmental protection bureaus and courts are also beholden to local governments rather than to central government agencies, making them particularly susceptible to political and economic pressure. With few incentives for factory managers and local officials to do the right thing and even fewer disincentives to do the wrong thing, environmental officials face an uphill battle.
Sadly, this does not, prima facie, sound that different from India. If readers are aware of any quantitative environmental assessments of the two countries, please let us know.


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