The environment has become one of the main issues today. It was
the main topic at the G8 summit this year. And the UN conference on climate change in Bali
re-enforces its importance.
In China, environmental protection and the conservation of
energy and other resources are of paramount importance. It
indicates how civilized a country really is.
Since joining the World Trade Organization (TWO), China has come
to be labeled "the world's factory" and "the world's market" as its
economy serves as a new growth engine for the world economy. For
the Chinese government, therefore, finding a solution that will
save the environment without sacrificing economic growth is not
just China's own business but also a significant undertaking
closely watched by the rest of the world.
As one of the largest agrarian nations in the world, about 70
percent of China's population live in the rural areas. The rural
environment, however, is far from being perfect.
Only 17 percent of the rural areas are covered by forests.
Particularly noteworthy is the fact that China's geographical
features put its land security under increasing threat from
drought, flooding and desertification, while pollution of rivers,
lakes and territorial seas as well as mounting urban waste continue
to consume arable land and squeeze people's living space everyday.
This is a grave environmental reality facing China today.
As for finding solutions, it is unthinkable to solve all the
problems the same way throughout the country. For example, when the
Yangtze River Basin is ravaged by serious flooding, the Yellow
River basin is most likely struggling with drought. Likewise, the
desertification in the northwest and soil pollution by pesticides
and chemical fertilizers elsewhere cannot be rectified by raising
energy efficiency alone.
It is therefore an unavoidable task for China to find ways that
will effectively improve the environment, and at the same time
allow it to pursue "green growth" of the national economy.
In fact, we could learn from the experiences of developed
countries, where not only the manufacturing and financial
industries are developed but also their agriculture. In developed
nations, the countryside is "the most advanced comprehensive
technology test site" for such sciences as botany, genetic
engineering, medicine (veterinary medicine), physics and even
business administration; and "farming" is regarded as a
Farmers take care of forests and protect water sources in their
role as "guardians of a green homeland".
China is blessed with an enormous territory and abundant
agricultural labor supply, the central government's policies favor
the rural areas, and provide farmers with an overall guideline for
building a green homeland.
Currently, reforestation, green farming and recycling have
become a trend in China's countryside. Planted forest coverage is
expanding fast. The Chinese government, by providing financial and
technological assistance, is helping farmers in the dry northwest
find and conserve underground water, including drilling wells in
desert areas to let the "fluid of life" trapped deep underneath the
sands for millions of years resurface and do its magic.
The government is providing more financial support to farmers in
northwest China. It is building "water cells" to collect rain for
daily consumption. The government has also introduced irrigation
technologies from overseas, such as the drip system from Israel and
spray units from Australia as well as crops and trees that are more
resilient to dry conditions.
Meanwhile, farmers have developed technologies themselves using
fences and nets to keep out the approaching desert. With joint
efforts by the government and the people more "man-made oases" are
emerging in the Gobi desert.
In response to the demand of the times, the Chinese government
is proactively channeling science and technology resources into
rural areas to popularize green organic farming and reduce the use
of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
In north China, for instance, such recycling efforts as leaving
crop stocks in the fields (as natural fertilizer), household
methane producing chambers and solar-energy water heaters are
spreading everyday; while "eco-farms" using new technologies are
changing the country's rural landscape.
It is a new approach by China to combine agricultural
development with environmental protection so that forests, water
sources and crops play a role in environmental protection, while
farmers become an important force in the production and management
of the "green assets".
There is no doubt China's rural environmental protection has a
lot of room for development and the market value is incalculable.
What is important is finding the right way to combine the rural
economy with rural environmental protection, and to combine China's
rural environmental protection with the fight against climate
It is a mission of the times. China must protect farmers'
interests and let them benefit from environmental protection.
According to the Kyoto Protocol, the European Union has
established the world's first "carbon dioxide emissions right
exchange". Now that it has become a profitable commodity, the world
is being shown a new path for the protection of the environment.
For the same reason, China will also in the coming years have to
boost the market value of its rural environmental protection as it
builds its own "green equity exchange" so the investment in rural
protection will generate a positive return.
The author is a researcher with China Institute of
Contemporary International Relations.
(China Daily December 14, 2007)