Cheap Environmental Studies Paper


How does Hong Kong’s environmentalism compare to its counterparts in mainland China?

Use the proper Harvard style referencing and include all the key readings wherever possible (along with some secondary/background readings and your additional readings) which are attached. Try to limit the uses of non-academic internet sources. Exact number of sources/references doesn’t matter but include all cited sources without relying too much on a few authors.






Institutional Affiliation:

City and state:



Introduction. 2

Environmentalism in Hong Kong. 3

Achievements of environmental groups in Hong Kong. 5

Impact of environmentalism in Hong Kong. 6

Environmentalism in China. 8

The nature of China’s environmentalism.. 12

The future of environmentalism in China. 13

Conclusion. 15

References. 16



In both China and Hong Kong, environmentalism continues to thrive in response to the growing problem of pollution. Both countries have in recent times continued to struggle with the problem of poor quality air and water especially in metropolitan areas. For instance, Hong Kong harbour has become notorious for high levels of water pollution while Beijing is faced with a serious problem of air pollution (Lee, Williams, & Lam, 2009). In both countries, pollution has been caused primarily by efforts towards industrial upgrading. However, environmental lobby groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in these two countries have responded to this problem in different ways (Lee, Williams, & Lam, 2009). There is a tendency for social resistance, public pressure lobbying, and mass mobilization in Hong Kong, while such a sustained confrontational element is lacking in China.

A number of environmental movements have been established in Hong Kong (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). Some of them are locally-based while others are territory-wide environmental NGOs (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). Examples of territory-wide environmental NGOs include Conservancy Association, Green Power, and Friends of the Earth. As a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic China, Hong Kong shares a lot with mainland China in terms of environmentalism (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). However, some major differences are inherent. The aim of this paper is to discuss the main differences between environmentalism in Hong Kong and China. The thesis of the paper is that environmental movements in Hong Kong have a confrontational element while those in China lack this element.

Environmentalism in Hong Kong

Many environmental organizations that advocate for environmental protection have emerged since 1980s. Some of them have sprung up as a result of spontaneous protests following the initiation of contentious development projects while others have emerged as part of growing public concern about rising levels of pollution in the country. The emergence of these organizations has gone a long way in setting the environmental agenda for the country. Prior to the rise of these organizations, Hong Kong did not have an environmental policy. These organizations have been instrumental in the shaping up of the country’s legislative agenda on environment.

In efforts to protect the environment, NGOs in both Hong Kong and China have had to confront the broader issue of how ecology (nature) should be balanced with modernity (culture) (Wong, 2011). The awareness of this challenge has led to the emergence of the concept of “light-green society” (Wong, 2011). Wong (2011) argues that without changing the lifestyle orientations of the people of Hong Kong, it becomes extremely for the goal of this “light-green society” to be actualized. It is against this backdrop that the Hong Kong government has been introducing a number of green living initiatives. The underlying objective is to ensure that the lifestyles of the people of Hong Kong are sustainable in the long run (Lou, 2012).

In pursuing the goal of environmental conservation, authorities in Hong Kong did not act out of their free will (Cheung, 2011). Rather, environmental NGOs had to spend a lot of time creating awareness, holding demonstrations, and holding public awareness campaigns (Cheung, 2011). Some of the lobby groups that have been at the forefront in this struggle include Conservancy Association, which was founded in 1968 and Green Power, which was founded in 1988. Other dominant environmental groups include Friends of the Earth and The World Wild Fund for Nature, which were founded in 1984 and 1981 respectively.

Since the 1980s, when a new wave of environmentalism emerged in Hong Kong, a number of confrontations have occurred (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). One such confrontation was occasioned by the Anti-Daya Bay Nuclear Plant Campaign (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). This was a highly controversial project that greatly contributed to a rise in public awareness on environmental issues. During this confrontation, environmentalists were expressing serious doubts regarding Hong Kong’s ability to manage a nuclear facility. At that time, the Chernobyl nuclear accident had a far-reaching impact on people’s perceptions in regards to the Anti-Daya Bay Nuclear Plant.

Legal means have also been pursued to confront projects that are claimed to have a negative impact on the environment in Hong Kong (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). A case in point is the Sha Lo Tung project (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). In this confrontation, green groups sought to block an attempt by a private company to engage in private property development on country park land. Following this legal tussle, important features of NGOs’ repertoires of mobilization and action were highlighted. Most of these repertoires were found to be usable via existing legal-administrative channels.

The case of the Sha Lo Tung controversy highlights the power of environmental groups in Hong Kong to publicize an environmental debate and raise awareness on the impact of private property developments on natural habitat. Controversy over this issue started as a small-scale land dispute over land use at the local level. As this dispute unfolded, more environmental groups joined the fray and seemed to blow the issue out of proportions. By the time the Sha Lo Tung Development Company finally procured rights to the village land and submitted a proposal to the administration to construct a golf course, the unfolding events had already attracted opposition from local people as well as environmental groups.

Some of the environmental groups that opposed the Sha Lo Tung project included Green Power, Friends of the Earth (FOE), the Lamma Island Conservation Society, and the Green Lantau Association (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). A greater number of environmental groups participated through petitions and submissions to government officials. At one point, the environmental groups had to seek a judicial review of the decision made by the Country Parks Authority (CPA). It is at this point that CPA’s decision was finally nullified (Cheung, 2011).

Such confrontational methods have enabled environmental NGOs in Hong Kong achieve two goals. The first one is the halting of development projects through judicial reviews. The second one is the creation of new opportunities for the articulation of environmental issues through media campaigns. If the movements had opted to use judicial process at the outset, public participation would not have aroused. The public would not have been able to comprehend the legal arguments being made in the courts. In contrast, a confrontational approach involving protests, mass demonstrations, and issuance of petitions and submissions to the authorities easily attracts the attention of the public (Calhoun & Yang, 2007).

Achievements of environmental groups in Hong Kong

Environmental groups operating in Hong Kong have made significant contribution to the growing awareness on environmental issues in the country. Today, there is a major improvement in terms of the articulation of environmental issues relating to green lifestyles primarily via mass media. New education programs aimed at addressing the issue of environmental degradation have been introduced following advocacy activities by the environmental movement. Moreover, the mass media has been attracted to the environmental issues such recycling, paper saving, and organic farming (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). These efforts are being made through the so-called “green concerts” (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). The underlying objective is to pursue the goal of the indigenization of environmentalism by blending ecological ideas with traditional Chinese consumption practices.

In regards to the goal of indigenization, efforts are being made to reach out to religious organizations. Such efforts touch on the realm of non-confrontational approaches. The objective is to use the existing avenues created by the consumerist society instead of seeking to change them. Indeed, such efforts are a reflection of the realization that challenging the existing economic arrangements may prove to be counterproductive. Therefore, it would be better for the issue of cultural transformation to be accorded priority in the country’s environmental agenda.

Impact of environmentalism in Hong Kong

            Environmental activism brought about two major changes in Hong Kong. First, it changed the way the government addresses environmental issues. Secondly, it created a new wave of environmental consciousness in Hong Kong. Prior to the 1970s, the Hong Kong government did not have an environmental policy. In 1977, the Environmental Protection Unit was established. In 1986, it was renamed Environmental Protection Department (EPD). Since its establishment, its role has been to integrate activities relating to policy formulation, environmental monitoring, and enforcement. The establishment of the EPD reflected a major change of attitude by both British and Chinese authorities in Hong Kong. These authorities demonstrated their readiness to accommodate the demands of pressure groups.

At last, the government had been compelled to undertake an overhaul of its “non-interventionist” approach to environmental issues (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). Since, Hong Kong authorities have been keen to assert their commitment to environmental protection whenever pressure seems to mount following the initiation of controversial development projects. At the same time the environmental movement has been very vigilant in ensuring that it does not miss any opportunity to coerce the government into adopting policies designed to prioritize environmental protection over private property development.

The impact of the confrontational approach being used by environmental lobby groups is evident in the way various governments have been addressing environmental issues. The overall scenario is one where governments’ actions are greatly being curtailed. For example, numerous delays in the construction of airports in the country have been occasioned by agitation by lobby groups. These groups have continued to insist that environmental impact assessments must be undertaken prior to the commencement of construction work. To demonstrate commitment to their course, the NGOs have been publishing quarterly reports and critical reviews of government’s environmental policy. These reviews have been instrumental in shaping public perceptions as well as triggering discussions on environmental issues.

On a negative note, not every effort by lobby groups to agitate for better actions in relations to environmental protection has been successful. In the area of pollution, very few achievements have been made. Although environmentalists have been vehemently opposing the high-sounding policies introduced by the government, they have not been steadfast in providing viable alternatives. More needs in terms of action on the part of both the government and the lobby groups.

Failure by the NGOs to achieve resounding success may be attributed by the nature of the problems being encountered. It is extremely to obtain instant results on an issue such as sustainable development simply by holding demonstrations and confronting the government through protests. Such a problem is best solved through an ongoing process of formulating strategies, testing them for suitability, and replacing them with alternative courses of action. All these steps are necessary if a long-term solution is to be realized. Whereas NGOs in Hong Kong are aware of the limitations of such a consultative system, they are unable to compel the government to introduce reforms through a confrontational approach.

In many cases, environmental groups have no option but to wait for the government to demonstrate its commitment to the realization of the objectives it outlines in regards to environmental protection (Chiu, Hung & Lai, 1999). In many cases, the Hong Kong government has been outlining policies and objectives only to fail to adhere to them afterwards. The actions of authorities in Hong Kong in recent times suggest that economic growth is still being accorded more importance than environmental protection.

Environmentalism in China

The environmental movement in China has undergone major developments since the 1990s. However, although environmental NGOs operating in the country have been active since then, they have continued to lack the sustained confrontational element associated with environmental organizations in the rest of the world. Some of the factors that have contributed to this phenomenon include political constraints, the inherent nature of the NGOs, and the level of commitment by activist leaders. In most cases, leaders of environmental lobby groups tend to shy away from actions that may turn out to be highly contentious.

According to Li, Li & Liu (2012), china continues to experience dynamic environmentalism but lacks an environmental movement. In this sense, environmentalism is understood as concern and efforts aimed at protecting the natural ecology. More and more people across China continue to express concern for environmental protection to the extent of forming grassroots social organizations. Within upper echelons of government, measures aimed at promoting environmental protection are also being promoted. Since the 1990s, the Chinese government started being more serious about the need to deal with the problem of environmental degradation. This change of tact seems to have coincided with a rapid growth of environmentalism and the emergence of new environmental NGOs.

Going by the high number of laws, regulations, standards, legal documents, and environmental treaties, China may seem to have a perfect environmental protection regime. However, based on the lack of environmental groups that use confrontational methods of raising public awareness, it is evident that the country’s environment protection regime is inadequate and far from perfect. It is also evident that the country’s political institutions have over the years created an atmosphere that discourages the prevalence of environmental activism. This has created a scenario where many environmental NGOs are being registered but their level of participation remains very low.

Although environmentalism is thriving in China, there is hardly any evidence that an environmental social movement exists in the country. The existing NGOs do not pursue the goal of contentious collective action, which is a defining feature of thriving environmental social movements in other parts of the world. Collective action is said to be contentious whenever the people who use tend to lack regular access to various institutions, act on the basis of unaccepted claims, and embrace actions that challenge the country’s authorities. Environmental NGOs operating in China are unwilling to engage in such actions.

Actions that can be regarded as contentious and confrontational may vary from one country to the other. Even in non-democracies, numerous contentious movements seeking to create awareness on environmental protection have emerged. Although contention is not the only defining feature of environmental movements, most environmental NGOs find it extremely difficult to steer away from contentious issues. This is simply because they are required to introduce new ideas that are yet to be accepted by the citizens. Moreover, these ideas tend not to be sanctioned by the existing institutions. In other words, these movements seek to challenge the status quo in order for reforms to occur in terms of the way government deal with environmental degradation. Nevertheless, there are numerous situations where these movements tend to conduct many apolitical activities, some of which may be in accordance with the policies set up by the authorities.

In China, sustained contention is lacking on the part of environmental lobby groups. It is hardly possible for one to hear of a project in China whose construction was stalled following confrontations between authorities and protesting environmentalists. This is unlike in Hong Kong where such incidents have been common since the 1980s. Although demonstrations are sometimes held, they rarely lead to the cessation of construction work or an ongoing policy implementation process.

At this point, it may be necessary to highlight a number of situations where Chinese NGOs have held demonstrations to oppose projects perceived to be unfriendly to the environment. In most cases, the objective of these demonstrations has been to compel the Chinese government to enforce the existing environmental laws. One such campaign involved efforts to protect Yunnan, an endangered sub-nosed donkey. This campaign lasted several years. In recent years, protests by environmental activists over dam projects have been very common. For example, the Three Gorges Dam and the Nu River Dam both triggered protests over environmental concerns. The growing influence of environmental NGOs was also evident during protests against the construction of the Tiger Leaping Gorge.

Protests have also taken the form of spontaneous responses to a polluting factory or the establishment of a contentious policy at the local level. Although many activists have been inspired by these protests, their levels of success have been mixed. The most notable shortcoming is that they have failed to metamorphose into a fully-fledged environment such as the one in the neighbouring Hong Kong. To demonstrate this shortcoming, one may give the example of Hungary, a country the size of one Chinese province, where protests against the construction of the Nagyoramos Dam led to the birth of the Danube Circle, a renowned environmental movement. During the protests, tens of thousands of citizens demonstrated and millions of signatures were appended on petitions. The Danube Circle directly confronted the central government not just on the issue of Nagyoramos Dam but also a wide range of environmental issues affecting the country.

The case of Hungary demonstrates how the element of contention can be promoted as part of a growing environmental movement. Although protests in China tend to draw a lot of attention, they do not evolve to the point of becoming contentious. Moreover, the protests tend to be scattered and far between. Based on these observations, one may fail to derive much hope from the promising signs portrayed by several successful protests in the country. One such protest occurred in 2005 when agitation by NGOs greatly contributed to the closure of 30 infrastructure projects that failed in the task of completing environmental impact assessments (Lora-Wainwright et al, 2012). These events unfolded against the backdrop of bureaucratic power struggles among different institutions and agencies. Based on this observation, one may argue that this achievement was an indication of an emerging environmental movement.

Whenever environmental NGOs are sidelined during consultative processes, they tend to do very little to reclaim lost ground. A case in point is during preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Consequently, these NGOs hardly protested when the government cleared traditional Hutong neighbourhoods for the construction of state-of-the-art Olympic stadiums (Lora-Wainwright et al, 2012). This has created a phenomenon whereby the country’s environmental lobby groups are not committed to the task of influencing policy or promoting apolitical campaigns. A number of examples may help illustrate this point. One of them is that of Beijing Global Village, a prominent NGO but one that has only 100 volunteers (Lora-Wainwright et al, 2012). Another example is that of government-organized NGOs, which maintain close ties with the state. They understandably tend to perform all their functions in a manner that does not contravene the policies of the government.

The nature of China’s environmentalism

Unlike in Hong Kong where environmentalism is growing at the same pace with the use of confrontational approaches, China’s environmentalism is characterized by a unique mix. In this phenomenon, environmentalism continues to grow without widespread contention. Whereas environmentalism in China traces its origin in the 1990s, that of Hong Kong emerged during the 1980s. Therefore, it is not surprising that there is little literature on China’s environmentalism. The issue of whether environmentalism in China will evolve into an environmental movement remains a subject of an ongoing debate. Nevertheless, the reality is that China’s NGO community is keen to expand in such a way that government censure is avoided at all costs.

China’s environmental activists have failed to follow the path charted by their counterparts in the neighbouring Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, it has become the norm for these activists to adopt measures that put them on collision path with the state. In contrast, Chinese activists have often demonstrated the willingness to seek government approval for most of their actions (Lora-Wainwright et al, 2012). This has been the case even for those activists operating outside the realm of government-organized NGOs (Lora-Wainwright et al, 2012). By following this path, the activists not only avoid collision with government but also enjoy a new source of influence that is obtained through cooperation with the government (Lora-Wainwright et al, 2012).

According to Hsiao et al (1999), the political opportunity structure of China is a major hindrance to the growth of environmentalism in the country. Hsiao et al (1999) explain this phenomenon by highlighting the lack of political parties, elections, the absence of civil society, and restrictions on media and social organization. Unless this political structure is changed in a manner that promotes the development of new environmental laws and enhancement of NGO activity, an environmental movement will not emerge in China.

The future of environmentalism in China

It is difficult to predict the future of environmentalism in China. This is because it is strongly pegged on political dynamics of the Chinese state. Today, the Chinese government continues to alternate between strict control of NGOs and politics of toleration, thereby sending mixed signals and growing uncertainty regarding the future of environmentalism in the country (Choy, 2005; Tilt, 2010; Weller, 2006; Tang & Zhan, 2008). Unlike in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities are not used to being bulldozed into abandoning development projects primarily on environmental grounds (Lora-Wainwright, 2013). In this regard, it is unlikely that any meaningful changes will take place in the foreseeable future.

The young population of activists in China, though aware of the country’s environmental dilemma, seem unwilling to participate in any non-sanctioned activities or blame government policies. On the basis of this observation, one cannot help but wonder why the views of the younger generation should largely be in line with those of the Chinese government. Structural factors particularly control of the media by the government may have contributed to this phenomenon. This has created a phenomenon where reporting on environmental issues has increased over the years, yet most of it remains positive coverage. A survey conducted in 1997 found out that of all articles addressing environmental issues in China, only 12.7 percent were critical of the government’s environmental agenda (Stern, 2013). In the same study, 17 percent were found to be in praise of the government’s efforts to deal with the country’s environmental problems (Stern, 2013). Most of the articles highlighted superficial issues such as publication of government reports on environmental issues or tree-planting ceremonies presided over by senior government officials (Stern, 2013).

The media landscape has changed significantly since 1997 in terms of reporting on environmental issues, such that it is common for media outlets to publish articles that are very critical of the government (Edmonds, 2011). Nevertheless, the Chinese environmental media remains under tight control by the government (Ho & Edmonds, 2008). To a certain degree, all media organizations are compelled by local political circumstances to be the voice of the central government (Ho & Edmonds, 2008). The tendency to pursue tough answers aggressively through media advocacy is widely viewed to be the exception rather than the rule for journalists working in the country’s mainstream media.

On the overall, environmentalism will continue developing gradually like it has done since the early 1990s. Many more “green” NGOs similar to those that are seen in most Western countries will continue emerging. However, it will continue to lack the element of immediate urgency that characterizes many NGOs in the West, former Eastern-bloc states, and even some Asian neighbours such as Hong Kong. In the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely that environmental NGOs will start pushing for the publication of newspaper articles and documentation that are critical of the Chinese government.


Hong Kong shares many cultural, socio-economic, and political links with China. The same thing may be said regarding ongoing efforts to conserve the environment. However, in terms of the growth of environmentalism, these two countries seem to have taken two radically different paths. In Hong Kong, environmental activists have been embracing confrontational tactics to drive their environmental agenda, to create public awareness regarding the need to oppose certain private property development projects, and to influence the environmental policy of the government. Prior to the 1970s, the Hong Kong government did not have an environmental policy. Confrontational activism by environmental NGOs greatly contributed to its eventual establishment.

In China, activists rarely adopt radical, confrontational approaches to impose pressure on government to adopt certain measures aimed at conserving the environment. Rather, the norm since the 1990s has been for environmental NGOs in the country to demonstrate support for government policies. This tendency is motivated by the traditionally oppressive nature of the communist government and the existence of a political culture that encourages individuals, corporate bodies, and NGOs to demonstrate loyalty to top government officials in return for favours. In conclusion, the future of environmentalism in Hong Kong seems brighter than in China. In China, environmental NGOs are unlikely to become assertive, bold, and confrontational unless multifaceted changes characterized by widening of the country’s democratic space occur.



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