The ecological limits to China’s growth
The current (April 2007) issue of the CBI magazine Business Voice has a pretty succinct summary of the ecological challenges to China’s economic growth, written by its Director-General Richard Lambert following a visit to the CBI’s recently opened Shanghai office. No need to summarise: it’s pithy enough already, perhaps one of the benefits of having a former journalist in the job:
“The economy is hugely inefficient in its use of energy resources. And with 16 out of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, China is potentially a major victim of climate change. According to a recent report by the Chinese government, the output of major crops such as wheat, rice and cotton will fall by up to two fifths in the second half of the century if no action is taken. Rises in the sea level will subject coastal areas to flooding and storms. And Northern China will face ever-deepening water shortage and mounting droughts.”
Lambert notes that China has set itself ambitious energy saving goals. But a number of the problems above have little to do with energy – in particular the food shortages (a source of continuing concern to the US eco-think tank Earth Policy Institute) and the water shortages (well covered in Fred Pearce’s book When The Rivers Run Dry, recently published in paperback). The water shortages in Northern China are also likely to increase the intensity of the ‘desertification’ going on there. There are also important questions about timescale: Pearce and the EPI think we’ll see serious water and food shortages sooner not later.