The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Edited by Robert V. Percival, Jolene Lin and William Piermattei
Chapter 4: Environmental NGOs and sustainable development in China
Sustainable development, ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, was embraced by China in its national Agenda 21 soon after the Rio Conference. It became a national strategy and part of the Five-year Socio-economic Development Plans (Five-Year Plans) in 1996. Relevant laws have expressly adopted sustainable development. The Central Government has invested in energy and resource conservation, improved efficiency, and abated pollution. Despite these efforts, China continues its unsustainable development characterized by heavy pollution and inefficient energy and resource use. Environmental degradation has threatened public health, leading to widespread discontent, triggering mass protests and even violent conflicts. Environmental problems have become one of the leading causes of social unrest in China. Law, policy, resources and technologies are of crucial importance for the implementation of sustainable development, but they do not guarantee the desired outcome. To fully implement the law and policy from central to local governments, civil society plays a crucial role. According to China’s Agenda 21, ‘it is the support and participation of the public and social groups that is essential to the success of sustainable development. The form and degree of their participation will determine a nation’s ability to achieve sustainability’. Public participation in policy-making and supervision of both government and corporate entities are the most effective means to ensure implementation of sustainable development. Unfortunately, twenty years after Rio, China’s civil society remains weak and under-developed.
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