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China's rapid, ongoing development is deeply in fluencing global patterns of resource production and consumption and their associated environmental and geopolitical impacts. China leads the world in the consumption of grain, meat, coal, and steel—all the major industrial commodities except oil, for which China is second only to the United States Brown The combination of the country's huge population and high rate of sustained economic growth is unprecedented. Yet China's per capita use of important commodities remains low.

For example, on average a Chinese citizen uses 3 times less grain and 13 times less oil than a citizen of the United States. China and the rest of the rapidly developing world have so far followed the fossil fuel—based economic development model of the West. Given the size of its population and ongoing growth rate, what might be the consequences as per capita consumption in China moves closer to US levels?

Even allowing for the historical inaccuracies in Chinese statistics and the uncertainties involved in predicting trends over time, projections are sobering. Assuming that China's population grows to 1. China is on track to become the world's largest economy some time between and , and it will most likely pass the United States in CO 2 emissions around EIA Given that there are no defensible ethical reasons to deny China and the rest of the developing world access to meat, cars, and electricity, what might be the environmental consequences if these trend projections are accurate?

China's emergence is a complex phenomenon.


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Taken together, these factors have dramatically boosted China's economic stature and geopolitical influence. In the following analysis, I highlight several key drivers and constraints that are likely to influence China's ongoing rise. I spotlight domestic and international issues that will certainly affect trend outcomes.

The reader may note multiple, synergistic links within and between these factors. Finally, I offer some observations about China and the future of global sustainability that may serve as a basis for action in the short term to secure long-term future prospects. The sheer scale of China, which is the most populous country in human history and continues to sustain rapid economic growth, is the single most important development driver.

Development is certainly not over; in fact, it is gaining speed. In , for example, newly built office space in Shanghai surpassed the total area of all existing commercial space in New York City Barboza Urbanization, one example of a scale-influenced driver, is rapidly transforming China in four important ways.

First, arable land is being lost to new construction. Since , 2. Second, urban Chinese consume 3. Third, average household size is decreasing across China, creating a positive feedback loop in which more houses are required for the same number of people Liu and Diamond By without factoring in expected population growth , million new homes will be needed, more than existed in in all of the Western Hemisphere. The PRC policy with the most profound impact was the decision to abandon Maoism and open the country to market forces. This decision continues to shape China's current growth trajectory with a mix of marketization and state intervention.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary and the potential for change, PRC policies still favor economic growth over environmental protection. For example, party incentives at the lower levels of government township, county, province remain tied to economic, not environmental, targets Lieberthal Energy policy provides another example of the PRC's focus on growth.

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Between and , the goal is to quadruple GDP while energy use doubles Aldhous Coal would continue to be China's primary energy source, with serious implications for domestic air quality and ecosystem impacts and for international CO 2 emissions. Only after would renewable sources play an important role in China's energy mix. As a result of a complex history of borderland conflict and ethnic minority politics, combined with past government policies that favored economic growth in eastern China, regional disparities have become a source of domestic political instability. However, the likely environmental impacts of China's western development vision, to be achieved over 20 years, are similar in scale to US development of the American West in the first seven decades of the 20th century.

The State of Environment in Asia: 2005/2006

Hydropower development in Yunnan province, a locus of temperate-zone biodiversity in China and the world Yang et al. Seven new rail lines and four large-scale highways connecting China with Central Asian countries are under construction or in advanced stages of planning Garver Russia and China are planning the construction of at least one large oil pipeline and two natural gas lines. The two countries are also negotiating an electricity pact with attendant new transmission lines so that Russia can boost delivery to China from the current million kilowatt-hours kWh to 18 billion kWh per year Pan Further afield, China is providing funding, labor, and engineering expertise to Pakistan and Bangladesh for two huge port complexes on the Indian Ocean for the transshipment of oil and other goods Haider Globalization is a third key driver.

China surpassed the United States as the primary locus of foreign direct investment in Diamond The country's recent accession to the World Trade Organization will reduce trade barriers, a process that is still gathering speed. As China urbanizes and its middle class grows and gains spending power, the domestic economy will begin to rival the export economy.

To summarize, China's size and economic growth rate combine with PRC policies and globalization to create powerful stimuli for continued rapid growth. Given that China's domestic economy is only beginning to mature, it is entirely possible that the country could maintain current high growth rates for decades.

But there are powerful influences that may constrain China's rise. The key constraints on China's rise and its concomitant impacts are domestic and regional environmental degradation especially soil and water issues , political instability, coal and oil consumption, and rising CO 2 emissions. Environmental degradation in China is well known see Economy , Liu and Diamond Here I focus specifically on soil impacts, water pollution, and the increasing importance of loss of biodiversity. Agricultural land is at a premium in China; only Egypt and Bangladesh have less arable land per capita Smil Yet urbanization discussed above , desertification, soil erosion, and salinization are further reducing productive land area.

At the same time, the burgeoning middle class is eating more grain-fed meat, and the overall population is expanding at a rate of about 10 million people per year. Projections suggest that China's grain imports will nevertheless hold steady at about 20 million metric tons per year through Huang et al. These data, however, are subject to two major uncertainties: the potential impacts of rising temperatures and altered precipitation patterns on crop yields as a result of global warming, and the continued positive yield responses to the world's highest application rates of nitrogenous fertilizers.

Three key drivers of China's rise

Water availability and quality may be the two most problematic constraints on China's future development. Demand across all sectors is moving beyond a sustainable supply. Eighty-five percent of arable land in the North China Plain, the country's bread-basket, is groundwater irrigated, yet aquifers are being overdrawn Brown Residential and industrial demand is increasing rapidly. If trends continue using as a baseline , by domestic water demand will double, industrial use will increase 1. Water quality is also compromised. Much of the water in five of the seven largest rivers in China is too polluted to be safely touched by humans Economy In China's west, the reduction of glaciers looms large.

Of course, nonhuman species also rely on China's waters. The PRC, however, has a history of discounting environmental impacts Shapiro Despite a plethora of environmental laws and policies, protecting biodiversity still ranks well below economic development Xu and Melick This may be changing. China's richest concentrations of plant genera and terrestrial mammals, including many endemic and endangered species, are generally located in the undeveloped west Yang et al. As government-sponsored development accelerates, with little cumulative assessment of habitat fragmentation, wildlife corridors, and other ecological issues, public concern is mounting.

Concern about biodiversity loss is not constrained by national borders. Dams proposed for the Mekong River in Yunnan would alter downstream flow regimes, food production, and deforestation throughout the six-country Greater Mekong Subregion GMS , a world center for freshwater crab and fish diversity and endemic gastropods Dudgeon , Roberts , Dore and Yu In , in response to national and international protest, Premier Wen Jiabao took the unprecedented step of declaring a moratorium on dams on Yunnan's Nu River Yeung and Turner In , leaders of the six GMS countries announced a plan to create the first wildlife corridors in Asia Bezlova The track record for energy projects in the region is poor Vilcheck and Bykova , Pearce It is known that several national parks, a World Heritage site, reindeer migration routes, a core source population of snow leopard, and huge areas of currently un-fragmented forests would be affected Koropachinsky , Pelkki et al.

It remains to be seen what role biodiversity conservation will play in constraining development across China and the greater region. Political instability, a second major constraint on China's rise, is anathema to the PRC because it is perceived as a primary threat to the government's power Terrill , Lum To put this statement into perspective, consider the following: PRC policies favoring coastal development have created a wealth gap between eastern primarily urban and western primarily rural China.

Rural incomes in averaged less than one-third of urban incomes. Because urban incomes are also rising at twice the rate of rural incomes, this problem is not likely to go away soon Yu Income disparities have triggered the largest ongoing migration in human history, as between million and million peasants head east looking for work Yardley For comparison, in the context of current North American immigration issues, this is equivalent to the entire populations of Mexico and Canada coming across the US borders looking for jobs.

Will such disparities constrain growth? Most of these protests resulted from illegal land seizures from villagers by corrupt local government, coupled with inadequate channels for legal redress. With populations in flux, economic growth paramount, land tenure less than transparent, and governmental authority decentralized, it is easy for local officials to disregard the law Sun Land tenure issues also undermine many aspects of environmental planning.

There can be no effective, long-term pollution control or protected area management to name but two problems in China without first resolving issues of jurisdictional authority, rights of property control, and consistent application of the rule of law. China's one-child-per-family population policy has unexpectedly created another social constraint.

In a country where male children are culturally favored, rates of selective female abortion and infanticide have been driving up the overall ratio of males to females. While this ratio has fluctuated historically, the overall trend since has been upward Baochang and Roy Demographic data suggest that within 20 years, there may be up to 33 million Chinese males with no prospect of having wives, a situation that history shows leads to social unrest Hudson and den Boer China's population is also aging rapidly.

Though the PRC instituted a mandatory pension system in , it has never been funded properly. Beyond potential domestic environmental and social brakes on development, there are two additional and related constraints with explicit geopolitical dimensions: increasing use of coal and oil, and rising CO 2 emissions.

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It is important to realize that China's energy demand is just now taking off. The country is still in the early stages of industrialization. China's national energy strategy uses three scenarios to project future fossil fuel consumption DRC Though acidification's biological impacts are well studied in Europe and the United States, little research has been conducted in China Larssen et al. Efforts have also been made to create an enabling environment for nutrition. The state of Maharashtra was the first of several to bring high-level political and bureaucratic leadership to nutrition through a Nutrition Mission, a program with greater flexibility and freedom than usual Gillespie et al.

Another key element in the enabling environment for food security and nutrition was the creation of a body called the Commissioners to the Supreme Court on the Right to Food Act, a group that supports independent monitoring of the delivery of food-based programs like the Integrated Child Development Services program and the Public Distribution System.

While India has made significant progress in reducing underweight among children under five in the past few years, much work still needs to be done at the national and state levels so that a greater share of the population will enjoy nutrition security. The region began with a lower GHI score than South Asia in and has since experienced less improvement overall. Between and , the GHI score for Africa south of the Sahara increased minimally, then fell slightly until , and declined more rapidly thereafter, by more than 6 points overall.

As large-scale civil wars of the s and s ended, countries earlier gripped by conflict became more politically stable. Economic growth resumed on the continent, and advances in the fight against HIV and AIDS helped reduce child mortality in the countries most affected by the epidemic. Since , mortality rates for children under the age of five have declined in Africa south of the Sahara.

Economic Growth in Asia Threatens Environment

Other factors that may have helped reduce mortality rates include higher immunization rates; a greater share of births in medical centers; improved antenatal care; better access to clean water and sanitation facilities; and increasing levels of income leading to better nutrition and access to medical care. The situation in the Sahel, however, remains precarious.

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The rising frequency and intensity of climate shocks has continued to erode the coping capacity of vulnerable households. The trend toward increased demand for humanitarian assistance illustrates this deterioration of resilience in the region and underlines the need to rebuild resilience through long-term efforts UN OCHA ; von Grebmer et al. The security situation in northern Mali improved due to international efforts, but violence has increased in northern Nigeria.

An exodus of people from this region, the Central African Republic, and Darfur put more pressure on Chad, Cameroon, and Mali to absorb refugees. Displaced populations and their host communities face a high risk of food insecurity, malnutrition, and epidemics. Thirty-nine countries made modest progress with scores that dropped by between It reduced the proportion of undernourished from 48 percent to only 8 percent, lowered underweight in children from 41 percent to 12 percent between and , and more than halved the under-five mortality rate.

While every second pregnant woman in Vietnam was anemic in , only one in three pregnant women still suffered from anemia six years later World Bank The country put nutrition high on its agenda, effectively developed and carried out a plan to prevent protein-energy malnutrition among children, achieved high coverage of immunization and other primary healthcare services, granted targeted health subsidies to the poor, and ran successful social security programs von Braun, Ruel, and Gulati ; Huong and Nga Ghana has substantially decreased its GHI scores since The country reduced child underweight and child mortality by more than 40 percent and slashed the proportion of undernourished from 44 percent in — to less than 5 percent in — Ghana is considered one of the most politically stable countries in Africa south of the Sahara and has invested heavily in agriculture, rural development, education, and health.

The country boosted its vaccination rates for common childhood diseases in the past 30 years World Bank , and the government provided farmers with information, agricultural inputs, and infrastructure such as roads and storage facilities. Because agriculture employs half the workforce in Ghana, investments in agriculture helped to transform other sectors. The government also launched an ambitious program to give all kindergarten and primary school pupils a daily hot, nutritious meal made from locally produced foods von Grebmer et al.

However, little progress has been made in eradicating anemia among pregnant women and preschool children World Bank In four countries, GHI scores have risen since Iraq is the second-worst performer.


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The other three countries with negative developments—Comoros, Burundi, and Swaziland—are located in Africa south of the Sahara Figure 2. Increased hunger since in Comoros can be attributed to prolonged conflict and political instability. In Comoros, the GHI peaked in , then declined by four points in the following five years, but fell only slightly after With the transition to peace and political stability that started in , Burundi began a slow recovery from decades of economic decline.

In Iraq, GHI scores have increased considerably since Under-five mortality declined since , but less than in most other countries in the Near East and North Africa region. Since , life expectancy fell by ten years, amounting to only 49 years in , despite a slight recovery in recent years World Bank Some countries achieved noteworthy absolute progress in improving their GHI scores. Angola and Cambodia have been recovering from devastating conflicts: In Angola, marked the end of a year civil war, and in Cambodia, 13 years of fighting ended in Bangladesh has experienced broad-based progress in social indicators, and its very active nongovernmental NGO sector and public transfer programs helped reduce child undernutrition among the poorest World Bank , The Global Hunger Index GHI shows statistically significant correlations with measures of hidden hunger, namely indicators of vitamin A deficiency and anemia, and with a proxy indicator of diet quality for children see figure and notes.