Can China go green?

PETER PARKS/AFP As Harry Harding argues in the March/April issue of FP, China has enormous ecological problems that the Chinese government is struggling to come to grips with. It so happens that there’s been a flurry of stories lately about how China is supposedly getting more environmentally friendly. A sampling, via the indispensable China Digital ...

602115_070504_parks_05.jpg
602115_070504_parks_05.jpg

PETER PARKS/AFP

As Harry Harding argues in the March/April issue of FP, China has enormous ecological problems that the Chinese government is struggling to come to grips with. It so happens that there's been a flurry of stories lately about how China is supposedly getting more environmentally friendly. A sampling, via the indispensable China Digital Times:

Is China turning green? by Yale law professor Daniel Esty in Fortune
Why Tiananmen square could go from red to green, by Jonathan Watts in the Guardian
Paying the price for a greener China, BBC News
The China Experiment: inside the revolution to green the biggest nation on earth, by Mara Hvistendahl for Seed

PETER PARKS/AFP

As Harry Harding argues in the March/April issue of FP, China has enormous ecological problems that the Chinese government is struggling to come to grips with. It so happens that there’s been a flurry of stories lately about how China is supposedly getting more environmentally friendly. A sampling, via the indispensable China Digital Times:

No doubt Chinese leaders are becoming painfully aware of the seriousness of their country’s mounting pollution problems, but I seriously doubt China’s one party system is capable of fixing them. Consider this carefully worded passage in Esty’s article:

Just as the U.S. awakened to its environmental crisis in the 1960s, when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire and Pittsburgh’s air began to choke its citizens, China now faces highly visible environmental harms.

But there’s a key difference between Pittsburgh and China. China doesn’t have “citizens” in the way that Pittsburgh does—voters who can hold politicians accountable when they fail to, say, bring air pollution down to reasonable levels. Local Chinese officials, in contrast, are truly accountable only to the Chinese Communist Party. And based on their comments at the Bangkok summit on climate change, it’s clear that top Chinese officials aren’t yet ready to bump environmental concerns ahead of economic growth on the priority list. Rest assured, it’s a message that will resonate on down the line.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.