A new Chinese government report warns that the country’s environmental problems can have dangerous knock-on effects for the ruling Communist Party. Reuters reports:
The Institute of Environmental Planning, run by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said China’s economy has now “basically said goodbye” to scarcity and the state was now having to meet rising public demand for a cleaner environment.
“There is a huge gap between how fast the environment is being improved and the how fast the public is demanding it to be improved, and environmental problems could easily become a tipping point that leads to social risks,” the institute said in a report published by the official China Environmental News.
The what of this story isn’t anything new: the idea that pollution might engender social unrest isn’t surprising, and it’s something we’ve noted in past coverage of China’s environmental woes. Rather, it’s the who that makes this significant. That an arm of the Chinese government would openly link eco-issues with social stability indicates just how seriously Beijing is taking this threat.
It also helps explain why China has been so keen in recent months to adorn its policies with green window dressing. Last November Xi Jinping and Barack Obama jointly announced emissions reductions pledges, and at the time we noted that Beijing was finding a way to stoke international goodwill by framing policies like investing in nuclear energy, moving away from dirty coal, and doubling down on energy efficiency measures as somehow motivated by a deep abiding love for Gaia.
These are strategies China would be pursuing regardless of their environmental benefits, but the altruistic spin isn’t just pretty rhetoric; it helps the country’s leadership to deflect public criticism and tamp down on a potentially dangerous source of social unrest.