China’s ascent and Africa’s environment

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China’s unprecedented economic growth path over the last two decades has been paralleled by an exponential growth in the consumption of natural resources and in pollution. Initially, China mainly exploited domestic resources to fuel its rapid industrial development. But over the last decade, increasing shares of China’s natural resources consumption and environmental impacts relate to peripheral regions, including sub-Saharan Africa. China’s environmental impacts in peripheral regions seem in line with World-Systems Theory predictions for ascending world powers. This paper assesses the extent to which the World-Systems Theory idea of ‘environmentally unequal exchange’ between ascending world powers and peripheral economies reflects current behaviour of Chinese governmental authorities and companies in sub-Saharan Africa. It concludes that the theory only partly does so. Behaviour of Chinese governmental authorities and firms is conditioned and guided by environmental norms, as well. World-Systems Theory has to make conceptual space for such new environmental behaviour of ascending world powers, to understand the contemporary and future world-systems. At the same time, China has a long way to go before becoming the ‘green’ exemplar for the world to follow.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)785-794
JournalGlobal environmental change : human and policy dimensions
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • governance
  • countries


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