A convenient truth? The spectre of global environmental catastrophe and sustainable development in China

Publication date:
Murat Arsel

Through a critical point of view, this article analyses the debates on the sustainability of China's development. Specifically, it tackles the dual argument that development in China is not sustainable, and that it represents a direct threat to the environmental security of the rest of the world. Thus, the study argues that calling for "sustainable development" as a solution to the environmental problem being faced by China (and, by implication, the whole world) is being used to de-politicise what is essentially a very controversial political issue that reflects certain very old concerns linked with the sustainability of modern capitalism and North-South relations. Significantly, the article does not claim that China is not facing grave environmental problems which are intensifying quickly in terms of both scope and magnitude, and that these problems do not have regional and global consequences. Instead, it attempts to unravel the underlying reasons why China has become the paradigmatic example of unsustainable development, and what implications this has for China's future economic development. Studying China in this context is instructive, given that China is not only the country leading the pack of a large group of Asian economies that are developing very quickly, economically speaking. China is also one of the most important of the developing nations, and its stance on policies for sustainable development marks – in many cases – the guideline that other developing countries will have to follow.

Key words: China, sustainable development, the environment, developing countries

The full text articles of this issue are available only in Spanish language