Environmental policies and problems in China POLITIC5068

  • Academic Session: 2019-20
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

Until recently, the PRC government's overriding concern with GDP growth and decentralization of economic decision-making meant that environmental policies were poorly designed and unevenly enforced. However, growing awareness that this kind of development may not be sustainable has brought about changes in both discourse and practice. Within the context of global debates about environmental issues and the search for technological solutions to the depletion of energy resources, China has begun to play a new role. Its position as the second largest economy in the world, continued rapid growth, and huge populations mean that its environmental policies are likely to have global impact.


2 Hours per week over 10 weeks. 

Requirements of Entry





There are two pieces of assessment:

1. halfway through the teaching term, a literature review of 2000-2,500 words;

2. after the end of the teaching term, an essay of 3000-3500 words.

Topics for the literature review and essay must be chosen from the course handbook or agreed in advance with the course convener.

Course Aims

To provide participants with an introduction to contemporary Chinese environmental problems and policies.

Weekly course topics

1. Introduction: Limits to growth, Sustainability, Stewardship

2. Environmental Policy in Transition: from Mao to the Reform Era

3. China's Environmental Policy-Making Institutions

4. China's Environmental Politics

5. Air Quality

6. Water Quality and Supply

7. Agriculture and food Security

8. Energy Policy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

9. Urbanisations and Consumption

10. China's Role in Global Climate Change Negotiations


Selected Readings:

Watts, Jonathan (2010) When a Billion Chinese Jump? How China Will Save Mankind - or Destroy It (London, Faber and Faber)

Economy, Elizabeth (2004). The River Runs Black: the Environmental Challenge to China's Future (Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press)

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ Describe the historical context for the emergence of an environmental policy debate in China during the post-Mao era

■ Describe the key environmental problems caused by China's pattern of development in the post-Mao era

■ Identify the social, political and economic constraints faced by the Chinese government in designing environmental policies

■ Evaluate the concept of development (fazhan) as used in China in terms of its relationship to relevant theoretical frameworks (sustainability, ecology, stewardship)

■ Utilize a range of empirical results to critically evaluate China's environmental policies and their domestic and global consequences

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.