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Björn Alpermann and Maria Bondes

Alongside its economic development, China has experienced a plethora of worsening environmental problems. Across China, water, soil and air have been contaminated by industrial and residential pollution, often leading to serious health hazards. In 2006 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made “visible improvements in ecological environment” an explicit policy goal. In spite of this, ecological challenges increased as environmental concerns were placed on the backburner in favor of economic growth, and environmentrelated contention continued to rise. According to estimates from the Chinese Society for Environmental Sciences, the number of environmental mass incidents has increased by an average of 29 percent annually since 1996 and even rose by 120 percent in 2011. Environmental protection has been one of the policy fields in which China’s authoritarian Party-state has been most tolerant of social activism. While the boundaries of this relative tolerance remain unstable, environmental activists have been granted considerable leeway and have made use of a variety of methods, including public hearings, environmental impact assessments and administrative lawsuits. These trends have led outside observers to expect that “Chinese environmental NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] may function as both sites and agents of political change,” increasing openness, transparency and liberalization. Given that many environmental issues affect members of different social groups almost evenly, environmental grievances have been seen by some as possessing particular potential to coalesce into a broader social movement. Others have argued that despite some encouraging trends, environmental activism has continued to be fragmented and prone to sporadic crackdowns.