The Environment 环境 — A Brief Chronology

The China Story recently published a Lexicon entry on The Environment 环境, by Isabel Hilton, veteran foreign correspondent and founder of China Dialogue.

Below is a timeline excerpted from the Lexicon entry.—The Editors

The Environment 环境 — A Brief Chronology

1960s
Mao Zedong boasts that in future, the view from Tiananmen Square would be ‘all chimneys’.

1989
Dai Qing 戴晴 publishes Yangtze! Yangtze! (是否该进行长江三峡水坝的工程), a book that argued against the construction of the Three Gorges dam because of environmental concerns; she is later arrested and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment.

1991
The Society for Protecting Black-Beaked Gulls (黑嘴鸥保护协会), China’s first legal environmental NGO founded in Liaoning province.

1992
The Rio Earth Summit, a United Nations conference attended by 172 governments including China’s, brought environmental topics such as sustainable development into the mainstream.

1995
The Ninth Five Year Plan covering 1996 – 2000 is published on 28 September. Sustainable development is confirmed as a national development strategy.

1996
The number of public protests over environmental issues begins to grow. Frequency of protests subsequently increases by twenty-nine percent each year.

1997
At the Fifteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (12-18 September), the word ‘environment’ (环境) appears for the first time in a national congress report. The ‘huge environmental and resource pressures caused by population growth and economic development‘ was listed as a major difficulty for the nation’s future.

Also in 1997, the National Sustainable Development Report is published.

2001
China joins the World Trade Organisation (WTO). China quickly becomes the world’s biggest manufacturer in many sectors: concrete, iron and steel, textiles and clothing; automobiles, mobile phones and others.

2002
At the Sixteenth Party Congress held 8-15 November, President Jiang Zemin 江泽民 said that in building a xiaokang (小康 – well-off) society, the ‘conflicts between the environment, natural resources and economic and social development are becoming more apparent daily,’ stressing the need for continual strengthening of sustainable development ability, improvement of the environment, clear increases in resource efficiency, the promotion of harmony between humanity and nature and putting society as a whole onto a development path of production, wealth and environmental-friendliness.

2003
The new premier, Wen Jiabao 温家宝, puts forward the ‘scientific view of development,’ along with the new idea of ‘green GDP’. Green GDP does not last long in official rhetoric and disappears shortly thereafter.

2004
The Nu River campaign begins, bringing together scientists, environmental groups and concerned citizens in opposition to dam building in Yunnan province.

2005
At the Fifth Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Party Congress 8-11 October, 2005, Wen Jiabao puts forward the ‘two-oriented’ society – one that conserves resources and is environmentally friendly, pointing the direction for local development.

Later that year China initiates circular economy trials, which emphasise sustainable development and reduction of pollution through saving resources, reusing and recycling in ten different provinces.

On 13 November, an explosion at a petrochemical plant in Jilin province releases an 80km long toxic slick into the Songhua river. The cleanup operation takes many months, resulting in media criticism of official handling of the incident that lasts throughout 2006.

2006
The government sets tough targets for energy intensity and emissions of pollutants. As the 2010 deadline approaches, businesses and local governments that had failed to reach their goals face sanctions, leading to a spate of enforced blackouts.

On 13 December, the baiji 白暨豚 or Yangtze river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) is declared ‘functionally extinct’, after a 45-day search by leading experts in the field failed to find a single specimen.

2007
In January, regulations on Open Government Information are introduced by the State Council.

At the Seventeenth Party Congress 15-21 October, ‘Building an ecological civilisation (生态文明)’ is confirmed as a goal.

Wu Lihong 吴立红, campaigner against industrial pollution of Lake Tai is arrested in April 2007, tried for alleged extortion of one of the polluters and sentenced to three years in prison.

1 June, a protest against a PX (Paraxylene) plant slated for a neighborhood in Xiamen, Fujian province attracts around 10,000 people and becomes the first notable citizen environmental protest of the digital age. The project was relocated ion in Xiamen.

2008
In March China’s Environmental Protection Agency is upgraded to the Ministry for Environmental Protection.

1 May: measures on Open Environmental Information (for trial implementation) come into effect.

Lake Tai is affected by algae bloom.

8 August Beijing Olympics commence.

2010
Circular Economy Promotion Law is adopted.

2011
4 June, 2011 s serious oil spill occurs in the Bohai gulf.

2011
In August, an estimated 12,000 people protest in Dalian to demand the relocation of a PX plant.

2012
The Eighteenth Party Congress puts environmental issues higher up on the agenda and links them to performance assessments, adding environment to the four ‘platforms’ or basic beliefs announced by Hu Jintao as follows:

Resource consumption, environmental damage and ecological efficiency shall be included in systems for evaluating economic and social development, in order to establish a system of targets, evaluation and rewards and punishments that reflects the requirements of an ecological civilisation.

On 1-3 July there are protests in Shifang, Sichuan province against a copper plant; on 22 October, there are protests on Hainan island against a proposed coal-fired power plant; on 28 October there are protests in Ningbo against a PX plant.

2012
In December, Hainan-based environmental campaigner Liu Futang 刘福堂 is found guilty of ‘illegal business activities’, and punished with a fine and suspended three year jail term.

2013
January airpocalypse: Beijing pollution levels reach new heights, making headlines across the globe.

In May, protest in the Songjiang district of Shanghai against plans for a lithium battery factory leads to project cancellation.

Also in May, protests are held against a proposed PX plant in Kunming.

On 14 June, twenty new anti-pollution laws drafted.

In July, protesters in Guangdong win the promise of the cancellation of a uranium re-processing plant.

In October, the third reading of revisions to the Environmental Protection Law is conducted.

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