China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

World Bank flags environment in new plan for China

by Jitendra JoshiTue May 23, 5:22 PM ET

The World Bank unveiled an ambitious plan of lending to China that highlights environmental destruction and social inequality as "critical" challenges for the booming nation.

The plan envisages annual assistance of 1.5 billion dollars for the next five years, making China the global lender's biggest aid recipient along with India.

The money would be devoted largely to the inland provinces that have lagged the breakneck growth enjoyed by coastal cities, in accordance with Beijing's own plan to spread the boom more widely.

"The new 'Country Partnership Strategy' recognises clearly that helping China to strengthen its economy, manage its resources and environment, and improve governance, are important not only for the Chinese people but also for people all over the world," World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said.

Despite its startling progress of the past two decades, China still has more than 135 million people surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Many observers say that without a fairer distribution of income, and a serious effort to protect the fast-degrading environment of its cities, China risks losing some of its gains.

David Dollar, the World Bank's country director for China, said that with 10 million people leaving the countryside every year to hunt for work in the big cities, the pressure on strained urban infrastructure is intensifying.

"City life is much more energy-intensive," he told reporters. "It raises whole new environmental issues. So urban management is a critical issue for China."

China is home to 20 of the 30 cities in the world with the worst air pollution, and that risks getting worse as more and more Chinese buy cars, Dollar noted.

"If China does not control emissions the whole world will suffer for that," he said. Many of the country's waterways are clogged with industrial and household waste, the official added.

China's leaders do recognise the problem, he said, describing tough new targets to reduce gas emissions and improve water quality.

After the environment, inequality and "social exclusion" are "the next biggest problem" for China's long-term development, Dollar said.

The country's average gross domestic product per head is 1,740 dollars. But in cities like Shanghai, that rises to 8,000 dollars.

Cities inland have suffered from corruption, red tape and antiquated industries. On the land, meanwhile, there remain 800 million farmers trying to eke out a living in often desperate poverty.

Finding more even patterns of development is the "critical next phase for growth" in China, along with moving away from its export model of expansion to one more reliant on domestic growth, Dollar said.

In its newly adopted partnership strategy, the World Bank plans to offer its cash and expertise in five key areas:

-- Integrating China into the world economy, through encouraging Beijing to play a deeper role in bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

-- Reducing poverty and inequality, by expanding basic social services, particularly in rural areas.

-- Managing scarce resources and environmental challenges. Key to this will be raising the price of petrol, which Dollar said is as cheap in China as it is in Saudi Arabia, thanks to heavy government subsidies.

-- Deepening financial markets, by increasing access to services for small and medium-sized companies.

-- Improving government and market institutions, through public-sector reforms to make bureaucracy more efficient.

Dollar, however, said China was right to resist US calls to rapidly throw open its currency to market forces. Premature reform would be destabilising, he said.

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