China moves as environmental problems mount
China moves as environmental problems mount
September 19, 2006
China, the world’s most populous country and fastest growing economy, faces a host of environmental problems. Energy and water shortages, water and air pollution, cropland and biodiversity losses, and escalating emissions of greenhouses gases are all concerns as the country moves towards world superpower status. While these issues could threaten to destabilize the country and derail economic growth, it appears that it is taking steps to address some of these challenges.
Last week the government proposed a plan to curb sulphur dioxide emissions through a trading scheme that would require power plants to pay for the right to emit the pollutant. China is the world’s largest sulphur dioxide polluter, emissions of which have climbed by some 27 percent to 25.5 million tons since 2001. Sulphur dioxide emissions are blamed for worsening acid rain which affects one-third of the country according to Sheng Huaren, deputy chairman of the Standing Committee of parliament.
Dam construction in western China. Photo by Rhett Butler
China has some of the world’s most polluted cities and waterways. A December 2005 report from the Chinese government said some 300 million Chinese drink unsafe water tainted by chemicals and other contaminants, while a nationwide survey found that about 90% of China’s cities have polluted ground water. Meanwhile, a 2005 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), reported that seven of the world’s ten most polluted cities are in China and almost two thirds of the country’s largest cities fail to meet the organization’s air quality standards. The World Bank estimates that pollution is costing the country 8-12% of its $1.4 trillion GDP in direct losses.
The proposal comes two months after China announced it would spend $175 billion protecting its environment over the next five years. The money will be used to reduce pollution, improve water quality, and cut soil erosion. The government has banned logging, spent $190 million on environmental protection along the new Golmud and Lhasa railway, initiated a reforestation project that would plant an area of forest the size of California, and invested billions in renewable energy technologies including wind, solar, and biofuels, setting a target of 12 percent of its power generation capacity coming from renewables by 2020 — up from a 3 percent in 2003. The government’s interest in reducing China’s use of petroleum products extends beyond environmental and health concerns; it sees both the strategic value of mitigating its reliance on foreign oil (currently about 10 percent of oil use) and the economic advantages of being on the technological leading edge of energy production. Nevertheless, the country is expected to become the world largest producer of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas, before 2020. The country, like the United States, has refused to any binding limits on emissions.
“China’s extraordinary rate of economic development makes it a historically unique, grand-scale socioeconomic and ecological ‘experiment,’ and one that will have an unprecedented impact on the world as a whole,” write Jingyun Fang and China Kiang of Peking University, guest editorialists of the September issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment which focuses on China’s environmental challenges. “[Will China] continue down the same road as in the past two decades, or will environmental quality, energy efficiency, and the conservation of resources no longer be sacrificed at the altar of economic development?”
Whichever the answer, any environmental mobilization on the part of China will may be made easier by the government’s strict control over the country.
“When the government decides it wants to protect the environment, it doesn’t worry about the concerns of local people, it just goes ahead and does what it needs to suit its goals,” said Ling, a Chinese national who spoke on the condition that her full name not be used.
China Faces Water Crisis — 300 million drink unsafe water
About 300 million Chinese drink unsafe water tainted by chemicals and other contaminants according to a new report from the Chinese government. A leading government official said the greatest non-drought threat to China’s water resources, is chemical pollutants and other harmful substances that contaminate drinking supplies for 190 million people.
Renewable energy in China, a strategic future?
With a host of environmental and domestic social concerns — and potential future international conflict — China could be well suited to pursue renewable energy sources. While China has been actively investing in exploration and development operations in Africa, South America, and other parts of Asia over the past five years, China has also significantly expanded its interests in renewable energy sources including wind, solar, biofuels, tidal, and small hydroelectric dams.
China’s glaciers shrinking by 7 percent per year
The glaciers of China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau are shrinking by 7 percent a year due to global warming according to a report from Xinhua, the state news agency of China.
Coal to oil conversion gaining interest in China, U.S.
High oil prices are spawning greater interest in technologies that convert coal into liquid fuel, according to an article published yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, but the shift could have a significant impact on the environment. Heightened tensions in the Middle East combined with booming demand and political instability in other regions have put a premium on crude oil and forced China and the United States — the world’s largest energy gluttons — to look towards secure sources of fuel. Both countries are coal-rich but petroleum-poor.
Venture Capitalists, China and Green Technology
A Bay Area venture capitalist with a storied past, has set his sights on “green technology” and ultimately China, after some compelling remarks from state representatives at a recent conference. Early this spring, Chinese officials named solar and clean coal technologies as two of their three pre-eminent priorities for investment and development in the near future. For a country with burgeoning energy needs surpassing what power is presently available, this is both realistic and positive news for environmentalists and economists alike. Hoping to capitalize, John Doerr and his associates are now funneling cash into the emergent green technology sector, which he, and an increasing number of other investors believe to be the next big thing.
China and India Key to Ecological Future of the World, Says Report
Earth lacks the energy, arable land and water to enable the fast-growing economies of China and India to attain Western levels of resource consumption according to a new report released by the Worldwatch Institute In its “State of the World 2006” the environmental think tank says China and India, are becoming not only economic powers, but “planetary powers that are shaping the global biosphere” and affecting world economic policies. “The world’s ecological capacity is simply insufficient to satisfy the ambitions of China, India, Japan, Europe and the United States as well as the aspirations of the rest of the world in a sustainable way,” says the report.
This article used quotes and information from The Economist, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and previous mongabay.com articles.
This article is based on a news release from NASA.