"In some provinces, the age of the bicycle has passed in the last decade to that of the scooter, and millions now wait for their own car."1  For nearly two decades, China has experienced rapid economic growth of 8-10% per year. This growth is largely attributed to the economic reforms instituted by Deng Xiaoping after 1978 that increased the role of market mechanisms in the Chinese economy.2  China’s industrialization is powered largely by huge reserves of sulfur-rich brown coal, the dirtiest fuels in carbon emissions. In total, 80% of China’s energy comes from the breakdown of fuels.3  Thus, as China’s development increases so does its per capita income, consumer spending and pollution.  


Rapid economic growth is overwhelming efforts to protect the environment.  Foremost among its problems is air pollution. The World Bank reports that China is home to 5 of the world’s 10 most polluted cities. "In Beijing, the capital, a heavy, gray smog now hangs permanently over the city and is blamed for health problems- from eye irritation to asthma to other major illnesses that can cause death. Residents recall that air pollution got so bad earlier this year that during one storm, it rained mud."4 "Particulate pollution is known to contribute to Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease…causing 26% of deaths. Water pollution also ranks as one of the most severe in the world…Currently 24% of the population is drinking very polluted water and 70% is drinking somewhat polluted water."5 The Chinese government spends about 0.8% of GNP on environmental measures; it would need to spend 1.7% of GNP just to prevent further deterioration.6

Compounding matters is massive urbanization. "Two-thirds of the nations1.2 billion people are farmers, but, with the level of economic growth, the number of cities has doubled to 666 in 10 years and is set to grow to more than 1,200 by 2010."7  Also of concern, are the estimated 20 to 30 million Chinese that are unemployed.8


      China's Perspective

Listen to a live broadcast of China's opening remarks at the Fifth Conference of the Parties held November 1999

1  Herbert Giradet, As Kyoto climate change talks come to an end, a giant shadow looms over hopes of controlling global pollution, The Guardian (London), December 10, 1997, at 4.

2  CIA World Factbook 1999—China <>. [relied upon heavily.]

3  Pollution Control High on US-China Agenda, L.A. Times, July 2, 1998, at A1. [hereafter Pollution Control]

4  Li Peng, China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (1997). <>.

5 Michel Oksenberg and Elizabeth Economy, China: Implementation Under Economic Growth and Market Reform, Engaging Countries Strengthening Compliance with International Environmental Accords 353 (Harold K. Jacobson and Edith Brown Weiss 1998).

6  China: Implementing, supra note 6., at 371.

7  As Kyoto climate change talks come to an end, supra note 1, at 4.

8  Pollution Control, supra note 4, at A1.