The Birth of China’s Green Movement

Published on by Green Initiatives

Over the last decade, China has been cast as a world leader in the environmental movement. They have upheld their climate targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement and implemented more than 100 policies related to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions as documented by the recent book “Titans of the Climate”.

Early 2010 saw a publication of the country's first survey of pollution sources. In 2014, President Xi and Obama announced a joint statement on climate change, with Xi pledging to peak CO2 emissions around 2030. Most recently, in 2019, the government has implemented mandatory waste management in large-scale international cities like Shanghai and Beijing.

Where did the green movement in China begin?

In the 1950s, Chairman Mao’s campaigns mobilized millions of people in campaigns that nearly exterminated the nation’s sparrows and destroyed its lakes, marshes, forests, and grasslands, unleashed dust storms, and stifled critics. For more than 50 years, succeeding generations pursued the idea that nature must serve the people.

Former head of China’s environmental protection agency Qu Geping, is considered the father of environmental protection in China. He was responsible for a groundbreaking piece of legislation; an environmental impact assessment law that would allow public participation in government decisions on big projects.

Before the law was passed in 1993, the media virtually ignored any debate on the environment. Then the law was passed and the floodgates opened. Over the next 15 years over 220,000 stories about the environment were written. This put a lot of pressure, especially on small-time polluters who were simply dumping waste in rivers and lakes, to clean up.

“They called it a green hurricane that started to sweep through China.” writes Gary Marcuse, director, Waking the Green Tiger, a documentary on China’s green movement.

Rise of the Green Movement

In 2007, the green movement grew larger as local villagers and urban community members joined forces to oppose a massive new dam at Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Upper Yangtze that would have displaced 100,000 people.

China has built or is building about 20,000 dams, almost completely without opposition. Shi Lihong, one of the environmental activists featured testimonies of previous citizens that were displaced by the construction of these dams. These testimonies strengthened the resolve of villagers in Tiger Leaping Gorge to stop the planned dam.

In one villager’s words, “When our land and our homes are about to be destroyed, we have nothing to fear.”

China Goes Green

Since then the environmental movement in China has grown tremendously. In 2017, for the first time in China’s history, a court in Beijing agreed to file a case brought by The Green Volunteer League of Chongqing, suing the 3 largest food delivery platforms. The NGO claimed that these platforms do not allow customers to opt out of disposable utensils which can end up killing 6700 trees from its 13 million orders within one day.

China also placed an import ban on waste plastics in January 2018. Prior to this ban, China had been taking in up to 56 percent of the world's plastic garbage to recycle. It justified its decision to stop the imports on environmental grounds, and also wanted to protect the health of its citizens.

A more recent regulation passed in 2019 required Shanghai citizens to sort their waste, and came into effect in July 2019, making waste sorting compulsory for Shanghai's 26 million residents. Similar regulations have been rolled out in Beijing recently and expected to be rolled out across the country in the future.

World Environment Day

On the 5th of June, governments and citizens around the world will be encouraged celebrate World Environment Day. This day is the United Nations' vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the environment. The theme of 2020 is biodiversity – a concern that is both urgent and existential. Recent events, from bushfires in Brazil, the United States and Australia and now, a global disease pandemic demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the webs of life in which they exist.

Waking the Green Tiger – Green Initiatives Film Screening

Green Initiatives is screening the documentary, Waking the Green Tiger, to limited seats on Thursday, 4 June 2020, to provide a look into how environmental law and the green movement have played a key role in the evolution of democracy in China.

The documentary describes how the media, NGOs and locals joined forces to prevent the construction of a dam at the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Jinsha River in Yunnan - a campaign seen as a turning point for China’s environmental movement.

Seen through the eyes of activists, farmers, and journalists, the film follows an extraordinary campaign to stop a massive dam project on the Upper Yangtze River in southwestern China that would displace 100,000 people. The film also tells the history of Chairman Mao’s campaigns to conquer nature in the name of progress.