As the most populated country in the world and with one of the fastest growing economies, China consumes vast quantities of natural resources, putting intense stress on the very system it relies on to provide food, water and livelihoods.
Rivers are disappearing. Forests are being destroyed. Air is polluted. Only by addressing these issues can China sustain its growth and ensure a better life for its people.
Why is China important?
Jobs and prosperity
The largest manufacturer and exporter of goods, China is sometimes called the “world’s factory.” It is ranked as the world’s largest economy and remains one of the fastest growing. About 241 million people work in agricultural jobs in China — and they rely heavily on the natural environment where they work and live.
Air we breathe
China is the second-largest country in the world by land area. It is home to 208 million hectares (514 million acres) of forest and the largest wetland area in Asia. These natural areas absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, critical for mitigating climate and combating air pollution in China and the world over.
Water we drink
China has more than 1,500 rivers, including the mighty Yangtze (the third longest in the world), as well as the Yellow and Lancang-Mekong rivers. These rivers serve as the source of fresh water for one-fifth of the world’s population, supporting industrial and agricultural development in China as well as countries downstream.
Joy and inspiration
The panda is a beloved symbol of the country itself. At Conservation International, we like to say that pandas are perfectly adapted to do two things: eat bamboo and steal hearts. These critically endangered critters are found in the wild only in the bamboo forests of southwestern China.
What are the issues?
More than 50% of China’s fresh water has been polluted by industrial, agricultural or domestic waste. Not surprisingly, China is facing freshwater shortages. The amount of water available to people in Beijing is 75% below the international standard.
In the past 60 years, 82% of China’s glaciers have receded, contributing to an increase in coastal sea levels at a rate of 2.5 mm/year since the 1950s. Higher sea levels will affect nearly 1,300 coastal townships by 2050 and increase the odds of damaging floods from storm surges.
China faces serious problems from overfishing in coastal waters. During the past four decades, the quality and diversity of the country’s fisheries has declined significantly, resulting in a loss of economic benefits and livelihoods and a risk of collapse for the fisheries.
In 2014, only eight of the 74 Chinese cities monitored by the central government met official minimum standards for air quality. Air pollution contributes to an increased risk of death, and it increases the risk of respiratory symptoms and diseases such as asthma.