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Natalie W.M. Wong

Environmental degradation resulting from urbanization and industrialization is one of the dominant challenges facing China. The intense environmental effects of air, water, and land pollution have led to social unrest that has threatened local political stability. Although the Chinese government has initiated several environmental protection policies and sought to develop an “environmental state,” growing activism in response to the poor environment suggests that its efforts in environmental management have failed. Between 2000 and 2013, 871 cases of protests (群体性事件) were reported: 68 percent of them had more than 100 participants and 31 percent of cases had more than 1,000 participants, alarming the Chinese government. These included 37 cases of environmental protests (环境群体性事件) against polluting facilities in major urban cities across the country. The protestors complained that the polluting facilities were damaging public health and the ecosystem. The lack of public participation in the decision-making processes on environmental issues has been a contributing factor. Environmental unrest highlights the constraints that make it difficult for environmental groups to contribute to environmental management in China. In this chapter, these issues are examined in a case study of protests against an incinerator facility in Guangzhou, a city in southern China. Similar to other urbanized cities in China, Guangzhou has been facing increasing volumes of municipal waste, and city officials have been seeking effective urban management solutions. To reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, the Guangzhou government introduced a plan to build waste incinerators in areas such as the Panyu district. However, the citizens of Panyu launched a series of protests against the government’s plan to build the incinerator. In the face of this social pressure, the Guangzhou government suspended the incineration project. This outcome changed the relationship between the government and activists, with the government establishing a public supervision committee to encourage citizens to participate in decision-making on municipal waste management, and allowing activists to form a green group to promote waste sorting in Guangzhou. This case provides further evidence of the possibilities for collaborative environmental governance in non-democratic China.