My report to the US-China Economic and Security Review Committee: China at the Tipping Point

Back to Resources
First published on

Last week, I sat in Washington in a Senate Hearing Room to give a testimony on the grim situation facing China’s rivers. Alongside Elizabeth Economy – a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Jennifer Turner – Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum, we laid out the frightening and significant water challenges that China is facing. Unlike many at the US-China Economic and Security Commission hearing, I left feeling optimistic and inspired, which begged me to ponder what is the basis of my optimism? Do I just have a bad case of blind faith?

Click here to view the full video

Doom and Gloom

Before opening my Pandora’s box of optimism, it’s worth briefly outlining what exactly is the grim situation that China faces.

Within China, demand for water from agriculture, industry and cities has and is expected to continue to grow. Such growth coupled with a likely decrease in water availability under climate change means that China faces an unenviable if not impossible situation of dwindling supplies and increasing demand for water.

“>Sinohydro has gone further than most western dam builders to adopt international environmental guidelines. The Chinese government may also go further than any other government by issuing guidelines on the overseas environmental and social impacts of its companies. Policy reform however is only half the challenge – implementation is where rubber meets the road.

Third, when the Chinese government and state-owned companies put their minds to something, they get it done and – in my experience – it happens very fast. A centralized Chinese government without the party politics of US Congress means that once a decision is made, the focus is on getting the task done. Because of this, I’m reassured that once Sinohydro’s President saw that the environmental policy was an important part of company operations, a high-level implementation committee was quickly established and advice was invited on areas Sinohydro lacked expertise. I’m even more reassured when I compare how quickly this is happening to my days spent shepherding environmental law reform in the Australian government.

I approach my work with optimism and enthusiasm for these three reasons. While it is by no means enough of a basis to change the mood in the US-China Economic and Security Commission’s hearing room, it is enough to sustain me in my work at International Rivers.