Former journalist and China dialogue staffer Wang Dongying writes:
Jiangsu’s contribution to China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has consistently ranked among the country’s top three provinces. The province’s economic growth in 2006 was 14.9%, China’s highest. Last year, it was also one of only two provinces that met national targets on pollution reduction and energy efficiency.
In 2006, emissions of major pollutants in Jiangsu province dropped by 3.3%, far surpassing the national target of 2%. Jiangsu’s power consumption per unit of GPD also fell by 4.02%, just over the target of 4%.
Four of the six cities that were first awarded the title of ‘Ecological City’ by China’s State Council are in Jiangsu province. All four- Zhangjiagang, Changshu, Kunshang and Jiangyin – are among China’s ten richest city and county-level economies.
Eighteen cities in Jiangsu have been designated ‘Environmental Protection Cities’, one-fifth of the nationwide total and more than any other single province. Yangzhou was given the UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award in 2006.
The article attributes Jiangsu’s success to a series of innovative environmental pricing measures, including emissions trading and emissions pricing. The success of these reforms in Jiangsu has even led the central government to consider implementing similar measures nationwide. Emissions trading has been used in Europe and the United States to reduce greenhouse gases, and the use of “the market” to succeed where “nagging and theats” did not is a big step for provincial and national officials in China. Emissions trading has its critics and it’s not a silver bullet, but it is certainly a good start.
Not all is completely rosy down by the river, however. According to the article, only 56% of Jiangsu residents are “satisfied” or “mostly satisfied” with the pollution control measures (a figure lower than the national average). Wang also notes that Jiangsu has several advantages that give local officials and industry more leeway in curbing pollution in the province. One of the commenters suggests that it is not uncommon for rich regions like Jiangsu (or countries, for that matter) to export their pollution to poorer areas. (As such, it is also perhaps not unfair to suggest that those of us in the West accustomed to cheap manufactured goods enjoy some of the benefits of relaxed environmental standards here in China.)
That said, the “pollute now, clean up later” model of growth is clearly not working and despite Wang’s position as a former Xinhua journalist, the article contains some very pointed criticisms of China’s current environmental policies.
Jiangsu’s example suggests that it is indeed possible for Chinese industry to follow a path of more responsible and sustainable development, one that allows for economic growth without jeopardizing the health and safety of the people. I know these things take time, but one wonders, given the perilous environmental conditions in some of China’s cities and regions, just how much time is left on the clock?
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.