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China's top exporter of goods such as cement and television sets are taking an increasingly heavy toll on the environment.

The country has more inhabitants than any other, and the amount of resources used per person is increasing, partly because the number of people per household is falling, as divorce rates increase and fewer houses have multiple generations in them.

In this article in Nature, Jianguo Liu and Jared Diamond describe China's environmental problems. They include desertification caused by overgrazing and deforestation, loss of biodiversity (one-fifth of China's species are endangered), water pollution, from industrial and agricultural waste, and oil spills.

China is already taking action by implementing international environmental treaties, developing its own environmental policies, and developing sources of cleaner energy.

But it can do more, say the authors. They recommend improving public awareness of environmental issues, enforcing environmental laws more rigorously, investing in environmental protection, and focusing not only on reducing population growth but also on making households use resources more sustainably.

They add that the environmental impact of such a sizeable country extends well beyond it's borders and that it is in other countries' interests to help China. The international community could help increase public awareness in China, advise the Chinese government on environmental policy and help monitor how policies are implemented, they conclude.

Link to full article in Nature