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What is CHESS?

The research network on China and the Environment in the Social Sciences (CHESS) was founded at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna in late 2013 as a forum for postgraduate students with research interests relating to the environment in China. The forum aims to provide networking opportunities for students and young scholars and facilitates collaborative, interdisciplinary projects and publications, as well as acting as a space for discussion and exchange of ideas and information.

CHESS addresses the multiple facets of China’s environmental problems through critical analysis of state and society in the PRC and the multiple actors, institutions and processes within which they operate. We therefore emphasise the utilisation of a diverse array of methodologies and theoretical approaches from across the social sciences in a complementary and inclusive way. Empirically, research interests of our members cover a range of environmental issues from discourses on, adaptation to, and mitigation of climate change; environmental accountability and ‘green training’ of state actors, formal and informal patterns of dealing with environmental processes, and the institutional dynamics of China’s ’Green Economy’. 


China's Environmental Crisis

China faces a multitude of environmental challenges, ranging from biophysical impacts of climate change, deforestation and water scarcity, to impacts on health and social stability resulting from pollution, land contamination and overexploitation of natural resources. Rapid industrialization and lax environmental oversight have exacerbated these problems exponentially, leaving China in a position of acute environmental crisis.

As the world's largest source of carbon emissions, China is responsible for a third of the planet's greenhouse gas output and has sixteen of the world's twenty most polluted cities. Life expectancy in the north has decreased by 5.5 years due to air pollution, and severe water contamination and scarcity have compounded land deterioration problems.

According to the World Bank, environmental degradation cost China roughly 9 percent of its gross national income in 2008, threatening to undermine the country's growth and exhausting public patience with the government's pace of reform. It has also negatively affected China's international standing as the country expands its global influence, and endangered its stability as the ruling party faces increasing media scrutiny and public discontent.

The Chinese government has acknowledged these issues and has made an attempt to counteract the country’s rapidly worsening environmental situation, but in many cases the response has been criticised as inadequate. There has been an increase in recent years of action on environmental issues led by civil society, local and international ENGO’s, and communities impacted by environmental problems.

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