Towards a Low-Carbon Economy
New Horizons in Environmental Economics series
Chapter 1: Introduction
Since launching its open-door policy and economic reforms in late 1978, China has experienced spectacular economic growth, and hundreds of millions of the Chinese people have been raised out of poverty. In this course, China has been heavily dependent on dirty-burning coal to fuel its rapidly growing economy. Moreover, until recently, China had valued economic growth above environmental protection. A combination of these factors has given rise to unprecedented environmental pollution and health risks across the country. Burning coal contributes to the overwhelming majority of the national total sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, the national total dust, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As a result, until 2009 urban air quality across the country still did not meet the air quality standards for more than one-third of a year (MEP, 2010a, 2010b), and one-third of China’s land is affected by acid rain. The deterioration of the environment has led to frequent pollution disputes across the country. In 2009, serious environmental risks had resulted in 171 sudden environmental incidents, one incident every other day (MEP, 2010d). Along with corruption, income inequalities and soaring house prices, the environment is considered to be one of the leading causes of social unrest within the Chinese society. The rising environmental degradation associated with China’s rapid economic growth has led to significant economic costs. Existing estimates for such costs vary, depending on the comprehensiveness of the assessments. China’s first official estimate for the economic costs of environmental pollution in 2004 (figures released in September...