20080317-power plant.jpg In “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World,” Craig Simons writes about the impact that China is having on the environment in other parts of the world. He told the New York Times: “China only began to seek significant amounts of natural resources abroad since the early 2000s and those demands are likely to grow dramatically before they plateau. But unlike for Europe or the United States, China’s growth curve is rising at a time when the world’s environments already are severely degraded. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, March 12, 2013 |+|]

“The most surprising thing was the reach of Chinese demands....It seemed there wasn’t anywhere that China hadn’t touched. One poignant example I found was a petition by Arkansas-based environmental groups to ban the collection of wild turtles because some species faced possible extinction due largely to Chinese demand for turtle meat. Even though data on U.S. turtle exports is spotty, they found that more than 256,000 wild-caught turtles were exported to Asia from the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas airport alone between 2002 and 2005. Another example is that air pollutants from China (as from other nations) are now reaching around the world. Dust, ozone, carbon monoxide and mercury polluted into the atmosphere in China are now regularly settling back to Earth in North America and other continents. |+|

“While Chinese officials have become acutely aware of the impacts of China’s development policies on its own environment, there is little public awareness of the effects of Chinese consumption on foreign nations. Despite that China is now considered the world’s largest importer of illegally felled logs, few Chinese have thought about the problems caused by illegal logging. Likewise, few Chinese think about the impacts on wildlife of consuming traditional medicines and exotic species. I’ve seen animal parts, including tiger bone and rhino horn, for sale at Chinese markets and restaurants. Studies have also found a widespread desire to eat wildlife: according to a 2010 study by Traffic, the environmental NGO, for example, 44 percent of people interviewed in six Chinese cities had consumed wildlife in the previous year; most believed that eating many wild species should be a personal choice. With climate change there’s more nuance, since the central government has made a very public push to improve energy efficiency and to increase the use of renewable energy sources. But experts believe that at the local level, most officials continue to focus on economic growth. |+|

“If the current trends continue, we can expect more of the world’s remaining old-growth forests — which today make up a small part of remaining forested areas—to be logged and more species to become threatened or extinct. Without a Chinese commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we could also anticipate that the global community would be unlikely to generate a serious effort to address global warming. China is thus one key (the United States is the other) to coming together to save what remains: its impacts are so large and are growing so quickly that without Beijing’s participation, governments will have difficulty generating the political will to act. |+|

In April 2010, a Chinese coal carrier ran aground off Australia on a shoal in the Great Barrier reef, leaking three tons of oil and pulverizing part of a shoal. Reef scientists said that it could take 20 years for the reef to completely recover. The owners of the ship — Shenzhen Energy Transport — admitted that the ship had strayed off course and apologized for the mishap. Discarded lighters and bottle caps from Japan, Korea and China that floated across the Pacific Ocean to the Midway Islands near Hawaii have been be blamed for killing endangered Laysan albatross chicks that ingested the objects after being given them by their mothers, mistaking them for food. The young birds were unable to digest the plastic and were weakened as a result. Researchers who examined the dead chicks found 80 lighters with Chinese, Japanese and Korean writing inside them.

See Air Pollution

Websites and Sources: China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environmental Protection (MEP) EIN News Service’s China Environment News Wikipedia article on Environment of China ; Wikipedia ; China Environmental Protection Foundation (a Chinese Government Organization) ; ; China Environmental News Blog (last post 2011) ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) ; Greenpeace East Asia ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles ; International Fund for China’s Environment . Book: Book: “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World” by Craig Simons (St. Martin’s Press 2013). Craig Simons is a former Asia correspondent for Cox Newspapers and a former Peace Corps volunteer in China.

China’s Involvement in International Environmental Agreements

China is an active participant in climate change talks and other multilateral environmental negotiations, taking environmental challenges seriously but pushing for the developed world to help developing countries to a greater extent. It is a signatory to the Basel Convention governing the transport and disposal of hazardous waste and the Montreal Protocol for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and other major environmental agreements. [Source: Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2009, Gale, 2008]

“The United States and China are members of the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP). The APP is a public-private partnership of six nations—Australia, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States—committed to explore new mechanisms to meet national pollution reduction, energy security and climate change goals in ways that reduce poverty and promote economic development. APP members have undertaken cooperative activities involving deployment of clean technology in partner countries in eight areas: cleaner fossil energy, renewable energy and distributed generation, power generation and transmission, steel, aluminum, cement, coal mining, and buildings and appliances.

“The United States and China have been engaged in an active program of bilateral environmental cooperation since the mid-1990s, with an emphasis on clean energy technology and the design of effective environmental policy. While both governments view this cooperation positively, China has often compared the U.S. program, which lacks a foreign assistance component, with those of Japan and several European Union (EU) countries that include generous levels of aid.

China's Impact on Global Warning and Clean and Dirty Energy

Elizabeth Economy, director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a leading scholar in the study of Chinese environmental politics, described the the good, the bad, and the ugly of China’s environment and environmental policy. According to Sup China: “The good includes a forecast that China will meet its Paris commitment to have emissions peak by 2030, an increasing number of canceled new coal-fired power plants, and a whopping $78.3 billion that the country invested in renewable energy in 2016 — far more than either Europe ($59.8 billion) or the U.S. ($46.4 billion). [Source: Sup China, June 14, 2017]

“The bad includes the reality that China is now responsible for nearly a third — 29 percent — of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, a resurgence of coal-to-chemical plants as the country shifts away from traditional coal plants, and a continued resistance to international monitoring and verification of the country’s emissions.

“The ugly, as Economy puts it, is that “whatever positive steps China is taking at home are not being replicated in its behavior abroad.” China’s position as the “world’s largest exporter of coal-fired power plant finance and technology” directly contradicts the spirit of the Paris Agreement, she says. The construction of over 100 coal-fired power plants is being sponsored by China in just the “Belt and Road” countries alone.

“The contradiction between China’s roles in both clean energy advancement and the export of environmentally harmful technologies is neatly encapsulated in two stories from Bloomberg and Reuters. On the one hand, Bloomberg reports that “coal is no longer king as China spurs world shift to cleaner energy,” while on the other hand, Reuters notes that a mega dam is scheduled to be built by China in Pakistan in 2018, a project that has attracted criticism from India not just for running through parts of disputed Kashmir, but also for ecological and water security concerns.

China Global Infrastructure Projects Pose Threats to the Environment and Indigenous Communities

According to an article in the The Conversation: “China is shaping the future of economic development through its Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious multi-billion-dollar international push to better connect itself to the rest of the world through trade and infrastructure. Through this venture, China is providing over 100 countries with funding they have long sought for roads, railways, power plants, ports and other infrastructure projects. This mammoth effort could generate broad economic growth for the countries involved and the global economy. The World Bank estimates that recipient countries’ gross domestic product could rise by up to 3.4 percent thanks to Belt and Road financing. [Source: Kevin P. Gallagher, Professor of Global Development Policy and Director, Global Development Policy Center, Boston University, Rebecca Ray, Senior Academic Researcher in Global Development Policy, Boston University, and Blake Alexander Simmons, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Boston UniversityThe Conversation, September 22, 2021]

“But development often expands human movement and economic activity into new areas, which can promote deforestation, illegal wildlife trafficking and the spread of invasive species. Past initiatives have also sparked conflict by infringing on Indigenous lands. These projects were often approved without the recognition or consent of local Indigenous communities. In a newly published study, our team of development economists and conservation scientists mapped the risks Chinese overseas development finance projects pose for Indigenous lands, threatened species, protected areas and potential critical habitats for global biodiversity conservation. We found that more than 60 percent of China’s development projects present some risk to wildlife or Indigenous communities.

“Our study examines 594 development projects financed by the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China. We created a database to track the characteristics and locations of projects that these two “policy banks” supported between 2008 and 2019. During this period, the banks committed more than US2 billion in development finance to 93 countries – roughly as much as the World Bank, the traditional global leader in development finance, committed in that time. Nearly half of all projects financed by these two banks are located within potential critical habitats. One in three of the projects fall within existing protected areas, and nearly one in four overlaps with lands owned or managed by Indigenous peoples. In total, we calculate that China’s development finance portfolio could impact up to 24 percent of the world’s threatened amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles.

“The greatest risks lie in South America, Central Africa and Southeast Asia. All of the projects that China’s policy banks are financing in Benin, Bolivia and Mongolia overlap with existing protected areas or potential critical habitats. More than 65 percent of Chinese development projects in Ethiopia, Laos and Argentina are located within Indigenous lands.

“On average, risks to Indigenous lands are greatest from extraction and transportation projects, such as mines, pipelines and roads. The greatest threats to nature are energy projects, including dams and coal-fired power plants. For example, a cascade of seven hydropower dams along the the Nam Ou River in Laos has displaced Indigenous communities that depended on local ecosystems for their livelihoods. “Comparing projects financed by the World Bank from 2008-2019 with our list of Chinese loans, we found that on average China’s projects pose significantly greater risk to nature and Indigenous lands, primarily in the energy sector.

China's Impact in the Amazon

In the 1960s for the most part there were no roads in the Amazon. People got around by boat on the region’s vast network of waterways. Jan Rocha wrote in Roads now link the Amazon region to the rest of the country and they have facilitated the penetration of foreign companies into every corner of the rainforest, as well as cattle ranchers, soy farmers, loggers and mineral companies; Almost 20 per cent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed since the roads were built. [Source: Jan Rocha,, July 16, 2013]

“The Amazon basin is now China’s top supplier of natural resources, replacing its Asian neighbours as their resources have become depleted. In a relatively short time, China has become Brazil’s major trading partner, overtaking the US and Europe. China’s voracious demand for iron ore and timber, as well as soy and beef, is fuelling deforestation and negatively influencing Brazil’s environmental protection laws. The most recent example of this is the agribusiness community’s successful campaign to get the Brazilian congress to weaken the existing Forest Code, which although often flouted, has still played an important role in conserving rainforest, rivers and biodiversity.

Recent research suggests that “the rapid rise in exports of soy and beef products to China are two of the major drivers of Amazonian deforestation in Brazil”. There are other sources of Chinese environmental impact in the region, such as Chinese companies purchasing agricultural and forest land, imports of commodities (e.g. timber and aluminium), as well as Chinese financing and investment in Amazonian infrastructure projects such as railways and mineral processing facilities.The authors of the paper also argue that “money earned from this trade is strengthening Brazilian agribusiness interests, with profound effects on domestic politics that are reflected in legislative and administrative changes weakening environmental protection”.

“Further impact is expected from Chinese financing for infrastructure such as a railway linking the state of Mato Grosso to a port on the Amazon River. Mato Grosso, an Amazonian state twice the size of California, is a major focus of expansion of soy, cotton and intensified cattle production. Chinese purchases of land for agriculture and timber suggest an increasing role in commodity production.

“Chinese demand for aluminium, an electricity-intensive industry, will also contribute to Brazil’s push for a massive increase in building hydroelectric dams in Amazonia over the next decade. Brazil’s 2011–2020 energy-expansion plan calls for 30 large dams to be built by 2020, a rate of one dam every four months. The Chinese-Brazilian alumina plant will be an important beneficiary of the Belo Monte Dam, now under construction on the Xingu River. “Belo Monte has environmental and social impacts that extend far beyond the areas that will be directly flooded; the dam is likely to justify much larger upstream reservoirs to regulate the river’s flow. The dam has functioned as a ‘‘spearhead’’ in creating precedents that weaken Brazil’s environmental licensing system and prepare the way for the dams proposed under the energy-expansion plan.

EU Blames China for WTO Environmental Trade Talks Collapse

In 2016, Europe's trade negotiator blamed China for thwarting a global environmental trade deal by submitting impossible last minute demands at World Trade Organization talks aimed at scrapping import tariffs on exports worth more than $1 trillion. "China came in with their list, bringing in totally new elements of perspective, which was very late in the process," European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom told Reuters. He election of Donald Trump as U.S. President also threatened the deal. [Source: Tom Miles, Reuters, Dec 4, 2016]

Reuters reported: “European resistance to Chinese bicycle imports has also been a stumbling block, although Malmstrom said bicycles had become totemic for China and nobody else, and the agreement went far wider, adding that the EU had "quite cheap bicycles already".

“Malmstrom was co-chair of the talks, which aimed to cut costs for environmentally beneficial goods by removing trade tariffs applied to them, with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, who declined to comment as he left. "Had that (China's list) come earlier we could have worked on this. But now this made it impossible to find an agreement, we were too far away from each other," Malmstrom said. “China's Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that China had made great efforts to show the flexibility needed to effectively solve the participants' core concerns, but the meeting failed due to "differences on key issues".

Image Sources: Gary Baasch

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.