CHINESE GOVERNMENT POLICY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Man-made waterfall According to the China Modernization Report 2007---put out by academics at some of China’s top universities--- China ranked 100th out of 117 countries in environmental protection, This was the same ranking it had three years earlier, leading one to conclude that not only is China’s ranking poor but is not improving or making progress.
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: the "scientific development" policy of President Hu Jintao, who started his career working for Sinohydro, the world's biggest dam builder, recognises the challenges posed by climate change and the investment opportunities of renewable energy. It has been far less successful in curbing the dirty side-effects of industrial development. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]
Deborah Seligsohn of the World Resources Institute said there was a clear difference between China's record on pollution --- where it lags far behind developed nations --- and renewable technology, where it is ahead in many sectors. "In clean energy, China is busy setting themselves up as a world leader. If they meet their most ambitious targets for 2020, they'll have the most wind, the most nuclear and the most hydro," she said. "But China is still playing catch-up on pollution. The air quality in Beijing does not exactly feel like London or New York." [Ibid]
“Green technology and pollution controls should improve the quality of the air and water, but they do little to ease the bigger environmental threat from depleting wildlife, ecosystems and natural resources,” Watts wrote. “Each year northern China faces a shortfall of 40bn cubic meters of water, forcing ever deeper drilling into non-replenishable aquifers. To address this, Chinaplans to cap water use and double spending on water conservation projects. [Ibid]
A report by the OECD suggested 51 initiatives that China could make to improve its “deteriorating environmental conditions.” Among them is making local leaders more accountable for environmental damage and introducing market mechanism such as pollution charges to meet environmental targets. In China, some have called for the death penalty for the worst environmental crimes.
A new generation of animal and nature lovers is emerging in China but the rate of their emergence and the fact that are relatively powerless has limited the impact they have had. Meanwhile the environments continues to be squeezed and disrupted. Already China’s parks are overwhelmed by tourists and encroachment from factories, farmers and fishermen.
German Green Party member Joschka Fischer wrote “China will be the first country that, due to its sheer size and required GDP growth, is forced to pursue a “green” economic . Otherwise China would quickly reach its “limits to growth,” with disastrous and, as a result, political consequences.”
Websites and Resources
Environmental Policy: Paper on Environment and Government Policy findarticles.com ; Paper on Government Policy and Water Pollution unep.org ; Environmental Groups: Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) geichina.org ; Beijing Energy Network (a Chinese grassroots environmental group) greenleapforward.com ; Greenpeace China greenpeace.org/china/en ; Greenpeace China article on Environmental Awarness in China greenpeace.org ; Global Village Beijing gvbchina.org ; China’s Environmental Movement Council of Foreign Affairs ; List of Environmental Organizations findouter.com
Book: The River Runs Black by Elizabeth C. Economy (Cornell, 2004) is one of the best recently-written books on China’s environmental problems. In his book China on the Edge: the Crisis of Ecology and Development in China, the Chinese intellectual He Bochun argues that in many ways China's environmental problems have already reached catastrophic levels.
On the Environment: China Environmental News Blog china-environmental-news.blogspot.com ; China.Org (Chinese Government Environmental News china.org.cn/english/environment ; New York Times Multimedia Series on Pollution in China nytimes.com ; China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) english.mep.gov.cn ; EIN News Service’s China Environment News einnews.com/china/newsfeed-china-environment Wikipedia article on Environment of China ; Wikipedia ; China Environmental Protection Foundation (a Chinese Government Organization) cepf.org.cn/cepf_english ;Global Environmental Institute (a Chinese non-profit NGO) geichina.org ; Beijing Energy Network (a Chinese grassroots environmental group) greenleapforward.com ; Greenpeace China greenpeace.org/china/en ; China Digital Times Collection of Articles chinadigitaltimes.net ; Brief History of Chinese Environment planetark.com ; Article on Wetlands Degradation library.utoronto.ca ; Useful But Dated Source List on te Environment and China newton.uor.edu ; China Environmental Forum at the Wilson Center wilsoncenter.org ; International Fund for China’s Environment ifce.org ; China Watch worldwatch.org ; China Environmental law Blog chinaenvironmentallaw.com ; World Resources Institute wri.org ; China Environmental Industry Network cein.net
Links in this Website: ENVIRONMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GLOBAL WARMING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; AIR POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER SHORTAGES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEFORESTATION AND DESERTIFICATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; GARBAGE AND RECYCLING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;ENVIRONMENT, GOVERNMENT POLICY AND FIGHTING POLLUTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; Factsanddetails.com/China ; ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS AND PROTESTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION WEATHER Factsanddetails.com/China ; LAND AND GEOGRAPHY OF CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEATHER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DAMS AND HYDRO POWER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; THREE GORGES AND THREE GORGES DAM Factsanddetails.com/China ; COAL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; NUCLEAR POWER AND ALTERNATIVE ENERGIES Factsanddetails.com/China ; WATER IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Combating Pollution in China
William Pesek of Bloomberg wrote: “China can go green, so long as it acts now and drops the delusion that solar farms and wind turbines will do the job. In a recent report, Jun Ma, the chief China economist at Deutsche Bank, argued that the government needs “big bang measures,” including sharp reductions in coal usage and automobile demand and massive investments in clean energy, subways and railways. The problem is political will. Flush with $3.3 trillion of currency reserves, China has the money to succeed. Yet almost any route it takes to go green requires slower growth. China’s leaders for the next 10 years, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, are under pressure to boost today’s 7.9 percent growth rate and placate a populace seething over income inequality. [Source: William Pesek, Bloomberg, March 21, 2013 |:| ]
“Bulls assume China can emulate Britain’s success in overcoming the Great Smog of the 1950s, when airborne pollutants killed 4,000 people. Yet China is significantly more reliant on manufacturing than the U.K. was then. Also, enterprising politicians are making way too much money from the current structure to tolerate a quick shift toward a more services-based economy. That means smokestacks may continue to foul Asia’s skies for years to come. China is reaching its physical limits, and the unchecked pursuit of economic growth now offers rewards that are compromised by environmental degradation. The strains are becoming a geopolitical headache that will reach a whole new level once PM2.5 becomes China’s main export. |:|
A lot of effort and energy is going into improving the environment in China. Engineers are developing new technologies to fight pollution (see cement plants under Air Pollution). Concerned citizens and grassroots groups are filing lawsuits, organizing protests, exposing polluters on the Internet and lobbying officials to do something about pollution. Increasingly existing and future bureaucrats are being required to take courses on environmental issues. According to insiders a lot of time is devoted to environmental issues within the upper echelons of the Chinese government.
Many Chinese are offended by the grim, hopeless tone in which articles on Chinese pollution are written in the West, and insist the Chinese are doing their best and they are doing a lot to improve the situation.
Around Beijing, the government has 1) built to 1,000-foot-high towers to measure pollutants and wind speed at different altitudes, 2) shot lasers at reflectors on distant buildings to determine what was in the air, and 3) gotten data from U.S. satellites to see how ground-based observations match up with what is seen from space.
Pollution pressures eased somewhat during the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. A scientists att Dongguan University of Technology told Time, “When there’s less work, there’s less release of sewage and trash, so environmental pressures have eased.”
See Combating Air Pollution
Attitudes About Pollution in China
On attitudes about dangerous chemicals in a factory that made pleather (plastic leather), Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “the workers believed that the product involved dangerous chemicals, and they thought it was dangerous to the liver. They said that a woman who planned to have children should not work on the assembly line...These ideas were absolutely standard; even teenagers fresh of the bus from the farm seemed to pick them up the moment they arrive in the city.”
“There weren’t any warnings posted in factories, and I never saw a Lishui newspaper article about pleather; assembly line workers rarely read the newspaper anyway. They didn’t know anyone who became ill, and they couldn’t tell me whether there had been any scientific studies of the risks...Nevertheless their beliefs ran so deep that they shaped this particular industry. Virtually no young women worked on the assembly lines, and companies had to offer relatively high wages to attract anybody. At this plant you saw many older men---the kind of people who can’t get jobs at most Chinese factories.” When compared with the available data on plastic leather manufacturing many of suspicions raised in the rumors were backed by the data.
China Going Green?
The term “eco” is popular in China. Its kind of a fashion
Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times, “I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 sputnik...When China decides to go green out necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy efficient software from China...Right now , China is focusing on low-cost manufacturing of solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for these products.”
Shi Zhengring, founder of solar-panel-maker Suntech, which is located in Wuxi near polluted Lake Tai, told Friedman, after a pollution disaster at the lake “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, “I want to support you to grow ths solar business into a $15 billion industry. So then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible.” He is one of the a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed, China realized it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution.”
Chinese Government and the Environment
The State Environmental. Protection Administration (SEPA) is the government body that deals with environmental issues. It is small and has limited authority, with 200 employees compared to 18,000 at the EPA in the United States. It is very weak and powerless in going after polluters protected by local governments. In March 2008, the environmental government agency was given ministry status and power to punish polluters.
Chinese environmental policy is largely guided by the principal: “growth first, then the environment.” It often seems the faster China grows and the more prosperous it becomes the more polluted and degraded it gets. Impressive economic gains have been blighted by environmental problems that verge on catastrophic. Wei Weixian, an energy professor at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, told Reuter, “Safeguarding economic growth is the absolute No. 1 priority of the authorities...The government might have to turn a blind eye to the rebound of some polluting heavy industries.”
The government mainly tackles environmental problems by issuing command quotas and launching tree planting campaigns. It still lacks an effective system of incentives to persuade polluters to install emissions-control equipment and it fails to impose serious fines on violators. Even factories that have pollution-reducing technology often don’t use it in order to cut costs or they don’t use it correctly, limiting its life span of the equipment and sometimes risking accidents.
The State Environmental Protection Laboratory trains people to be professional noses capable of sniffing out pollutants. One official at the lab told the Time of London, “The work is quite unpleasant. We have to stay in the lab smelling those awful gases, repeatedly...Our equipment can analyze the density of particular gases accurately but with mixed gases they are not reliable...and it can not tell the effects on humans.”
The government sets targets for improving the environment. Most of the targets are not met. China vowed to reduce major pollutants by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, for example, but failed to meet its annual goal in 2006. The main reasons why are a lack of compliance on the local level and the fear of political fall out for raising the prices of water, electricity, oil and bank loans
Some argue that China can tackle its environmental problem unless these is some kind of political change.
History of Chinese Government and the Environment
Mao Zedong believed that “man must conquer nature” rather than live in harmony with it. After the Communists came to power in 1949, large dams and irrigation projects were undertaken, lakes were drained, hillsides were converted into fields all with little concern for the environment. Protecting the environment was not a high priority. Increasing the output of heavy industry and building massive irrigation projects were regarded as more important than clean air and water. Most waste-water treatment plants worked poorly; outdated metal-working factories emitted thick toxic air pollution; and the old Soviet-made nuclear power plants were unsafe.
Huangbaiyu, a green city China
Since the Deng reforms in the late 1970s, Chinese have been oriented towards development and making money. Although environmental concerns are given a higher priority than they were they are still secondary to economic growth. Environmental laws were established in 1979 and have been largely ignored. Jiang Zemin, Chinese president in the late 1990s and early 2000s, put his support behind certain environmental causes but put more emphasiz on industrialization and economic growth.
In a speech in March 2007 Chinese Premier Wen Jibao said that improving environmental protection a top priority.Patti Waldmeir, Leslie Hook and Jamil Anderlini wrote in the Financial Times, “When Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao came into office in 2002, one of the first big domestic crises they faced was a toxic chemical spill on the Songhua river in northern China that contaminated the water supply for millions of people. Since then environmental disasters – and related public protests – have continued. As a result Wen and Hu have put environmental protection higher on the agenda than any of their predecessors. But environmental degradation has worsened under their watch and remains one of the key sources of social instability. “The problem is we still have an opaque environmental decision-making system that is not really open to the public,” says Ma Jun, an environment expert and head of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs. [Source: Patti Waldmeir, Leslie Hook and Jamil Anderlini, Financial Times, October 29, 2012]
In March 2008, the Chinese government created a special ministry, the new Environmental Protection Agency, to tackle China’s environmental problems. Environmental groups welcomes the move but said for the ministry to really make a difference it needed tougher powers to enforce its mandate.
Founded as an agency 1998, the environmental protection office was upgraded to a ministry in 2007 but has fought an uphill battle for money and power. Ian Johnson of Reuters wrote: “The government has made growth a priority, worried that unemployment would lead to unrest. But recently the ministry had deployed a satellite that can detect illegal development and use the agency hopes to use data it has collected to put pressure on local governments to stop the work. Failing this, Mr. Li said, the ministry has the power to influence officials’ prospects for promotions because environmental compliance is now a part of their performance evaluation.” [Source: Ian Johnson, Reuters, June 3, 2011]
Independent observers say this is part of a gradual change to give the ministry more power. “They’re now a serious player as to what happens and where and to what standards,” Deborah Seligsohn, a senior fellow with the World Resources Institute told Reuters. “You’re seeing a steady trajectory where they’re having more and more impact.” Recently, the ministry canceled a high-speed train line that had not obtained its approval. Last year, Mr. Li said, the ministry turned down 59 projects worth $15 billion that had not obtained its approval. Well-connected ministries were once able to bypass the environmental ministry, but now, Mr. Li said, it had set up “an impassable firewall” to block harmful projects.” [Ibid]
Local Government and the Environment in China
Many efforts to clean up China are hindered by local officials who worry about job losses of closed factories or are concerned about losing kickback and money they have invested in polluting factories. These officials fail to enforce environmental standards out of fear of adversely affecting business and, in some cases, own or partly own the most polluting factories. In any case the owners of polluting factories often have close ties with local government officials and form strong self -interest groups.
One environmental activist told Knight-Ridder newspaper, “The policies from the top are not carried out at the bottom. The (local) officials care only about development. They don’t care about water or air pollution.” Even in cities where there is a local environmental protection bureau, civil servants are often bullied by city officials who are their bosses. One environmental official told Knight Rider newspapers, “It’s so embarrassing that some of them even have to write anonymous letters to use to denounces local environmental problems.”
Elizabeth Economy, author of “The River Runs Black,” told the Washington Post, the problem is enforcement. “They have never had the bottom-up pressure that makes them change their practices, or the top-down mechanism for providing the right incentive to make it easy to do the right thing.”
In recent years banks have been given the right to deny loans to polluters; officials can make violators issue humiliating public apologies on television; and utility companies can raise rates for factories caught wasting resources.
In 2006, the central government environmental protection agency began investigating local officials suspected of submitting fake data on emissions of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide because if they didn’t sunmit such date they would have failed to meet clean air targets.
A local government effort to beautify Laoshou Mountain in Yunnan Province, which had be used for quarrying stone, was to spend $56,000 to spray green paint over several acres of rock.
Electric palm trees
Government Policy and the Environment in China
The government spent $10 billion a year on environmental protection in the early 2000s or about 1.3 percent of GDP. The new five year plan issued in 2006 calls for a reduction of industrial pollution by one tenth and spending on environmental protection to increase to $35 billion from 2006 to 2010.
Beijing is increasingly accepting the fact that China has some serious environmental problems and something has to be done before it is too late. Leaders frequently make public statements about China’s environmental problems; and more laws and policy changes are being pushed forward that address these problems.
To tackle pollution China has reduced subsides on fuel and gotten rid of tax breaks for heavy industry. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Beijing introduced new environmental legislation that among other things required developers to complete environmental impact studies. The efforts to address China’s environmental problems really began in earnest in 2004 when a top environmental official said, “If we continue on this path of traditional industrial civilization, there is no chance that we will have sustainable development.” Among other thing he encouraged more recycling, using more renewable energy sources and devoting more government funds to fighting pollution.
In January 2005, the Chinese government ordered a halt of construction on 30 power plants over environmental concerns, most for failing to complete environmental impact studies. In December 2005, Beijing announced “green” incentives and loans for industries, including mining, foreign and oil and gas exploration, that focused on environmentally-friendly projects.
China introduced a range of consumption taxes in 2006 such as levies on gas-guzzling cars and disposable chopsticks that are aimed at improving the environment. In April 2006, SEPA ordered the clean up of 30 chemical and petroleum sites, some them owned by China’s largest companies, and stopped or postpone work on 44 projects, worth $18.7 billion, because they were deemed unsafe.
In July 2010, the central government ordered cities to close inefficient factories by the following September. Even before that, in the previous three years, China had shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants. During the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 heavy-polluting factories in dire straits financially were less likely to be given loans to stay afloat that factories that didn’t pollute so much.
A good chunk of the $584 billion stimulus package launched to help the economy in global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009 went to improve polluting and energy-intensive industries but an even larger chunk went to infrastructure and building projects that need lots of cement and metals that require lots of energy to produce.
One of the main goals of China’s environmental policy is to reduce emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010. So far the goals have not been reached but are close. COD (chemical oxygen demand), an indicator of water pollution, improved by 3 percent in 2007 and levels of sulfur dioxide, a major air pollutant, fell by 4.6 percent in 2007
Chinese Government Environmental Policy and Economics
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “Government advisers say environmental talk will be greenwash unless local officials are persuaded to rethink their growth-at-all-costs mentality. Pan Jiahua, the executive director of the sustainable development research center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expects this to happen naturally. "GDP growth will have to be slowed down," said Pan. "This is somewhat natural. In Shanghai there is no more land available for development. In the steel industry, we have the capacity to produce 750m tons, which is 40 percent of the global total. There is no need to grow further." [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]
While double-digit expansion has been the norm for the past five years, Pan expects the next target to be 8 or 9 percent . The plan will place greater priority on protecting arable land, food security, wildlife protection and the "ecological restoration" of areas damaged by construction of roads, rail and other infrastructure. Together, these would mark a turning point for China's environmental degradation. "In the 12th five-year plan, we will go beyond the peak and start to go down," he said. [Ibid]
“That is optimistic. Previous attempts to give nature a breather by slowing the economy failed spectacularly. For the 10th and 11th five-year plans, the government aimed at 7-7.5 percent growth, but this was treated as a floor rather than a ceiling by overzealous local officials, who see GDP as a key measurement to compete with rival regions, get promoted and secure bribes. As a result, the economy surged forward at double-digit pace for most of this period --- with dire consequences for coal consumption, pollution and habitat destruction. Once again, provincial governments appear unwilling to throttle back. Figures published late last month indicate most plan to double their GDPs during the next five years. To tackle this problem, planners are considering another radical measure, to de-link GDP figures from cadres' performance evaluation. This may prove a step too far. While there is widespread praise for the proposals unveiled so far, there is scepticism about the government's ability to overcome business groups and corrupt officials who have benefited from growth.” [Ibid]
"Basically," one Beijing-based official told National Geographic. "China seeks every drop of fuel---every kilowatt and every kilojoule it can get a hold of---for growth." So the question becomes, What will that growth look like?” [Source: Bill McKibben, National Geographic, June 2011]
Implementing Government Policy on the Environment in China
Some environmental lawyers estimate that only 10 percent of environmental laws are enforced in China. In addition, clean up efforts are undermined by cheap capital and bureaucratic enthusiasm for wasteful development and industrial schemes.
Unable to count on its bureaucracy, Beijing has tacitly but warily endorsed pressure put on polluters by the media and grassroots activists.
On the challenges in implementing of China's environmental policies, Dr. Lin Jiabin, the deputy director of the department of social development research at the state council, told The Guardian, “I think there are two major challenges. One is how we can create a transition in the public's awareness. One of the most effective measures available is to promote environmental education. Although today it is being introduced in school education, we need to make further efforts to promote it on an ongoing basis. Actually, my children are in the generation that received such an education, and their behavior is clearly different from their elders', such as their efforts to turn off the lights at home when not needed.” [Source: The Guardian, January 23, 2009]
“The other challenge is how we can make innovations in the resource price mechanism. We can say that current resource prices are kept down by price controls, which leads to wasteful use of resources. So it is important to change the pricing mechanism in order to reduce resource consumption.” [Ibid]
One of the biggest changes in China’s environmental policy is the introduction of performance rating systems for officials that evaluate their performance on environmental protection as well as economic growth.
in Guangdong Province factory owners have asked for a rollback on some environmental regulations that they complains makes them unable to compete with factories in Southeast Asia. Nationwide mangers under pressure to cut costs turn off scrubbers and dump waste rather than treat it to save money.
See Gas Guzzlers, Automobiles, Transportation, Government and Public Services
China’s Five-Year Environmental Plan in 2011
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: The five-year plan, announced in March 2011, is being hailed as the greenest strategy document in the country's history. Hu Angang, economics professor at Tsinghua University and a consultant on the 2011 five-year plan, said, "For the first time, we will see a new model pioneered by a country that is not yet developed. This is a historical, critical change. The new five-year plan is an opportunity for China to lead the green revolution, which will de-link growth and carbon dioxide emissions."[Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]
The new Five-Year Plan also set ambitious goals to rein in pollution and energy use, and build advanced-science industries in fields like biotechnology and environmental protection. Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “The report claimed impressive gains on other important fronts that are at the head of plans for the next five years, including a 19.1 percent cut in the amount of energy used per unit of economic growth. Environmental protection, energy conservation and technology also are allotted ambitious goals. The government promised to build “well-equipped statistical and monitoring systems” to gauge greenhouse gas emissions, accelerate construction of sewage treatment plants, retrofit coal-fired power plants with pollution controls and continue a pilot program to develop low-carbon cities.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, March 4, 2011]
Ma Jun, of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, said "This is the first major effort to translate words into actions. Before the government set targets and talked of improvement, but this is the first really major effort to integrate that into an economic plan. They should get credit for that.”
A report issued before the five-year plan was announced included plans to initiate an environment tax. Other radical measures still under discussion include a possible cap on energy use and a shift away from GDP-based performance evaluation. Ma Zhong, director of the school of environment and national resources at Renmin University, said, "The environment tax is going to happen. This is evident in the proposals for the next five-year plan...It is likely to be levied nationwide, but there is also a possibility it will initially be introduced in selected regions." But the tax didn’t appear in the five-year plan. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]
The report also floated the idea to of further reducing energy consumption per unit of G.D.P. by 16 percent, and carbon dioxide emissions per unit by 17 percent. And for the first time, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported, the government will place a cap on total energy use, limiting consumption to the equivalent of four billion tons of coal by 2015. But it is unclear whether these will happen. [Ibid]
Critics and Skeptics of China’s Five-Year Environmental Plan in 2011
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “Sceptics warn that one environmental threat --- industrial pollution --- may be replaced by another --- excess consumption.... China still had a long way to go, given the appallingly low level from which it starts and the lack of many of the tools used to improve the environment in the west, such as a strong civil society and regulatory obligations for factories to disclose a toxic release inventory. "I don't consider this a turning point," said Ma. "We haven't seen air and water really get clean yet. The measures under discussion are not sufficient at all. " [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]
“Beijing's claims to have turned over a green new leaf are also weakened by the continued destruction of the nation's ecosystems. Last month, the boundaries of the last fish wild sanctuary on the upper reaches of the Yangtze river were redrawn to make way for a dam that showed, say conservationists, the authorities lack a protection baseline. This highlights the greater longterm environmental threat facing China from the unsustainable use of resources, already visible in the depletion of water systems, biodiversity, energy, soil quality and arable land.” [Ibid]
“To deal with this, environmentalists say even the most progressive top-down policies need to be balanced with greater awareness at the grassroots otherwise China will follow the west in looking clean but consuming dirty. "I'm hopeful about the next five-year plan," said Li Bo of Friends of Nature. "The government is prepared to go further than before. But we should do more. Until now, low carbon concepts have been introduced only for industry. In the future, I hope those ideas can be adopted in the community so we see a change in lifestyles."
"We are expecting to see a truly green five-year plan, which for the first time will contain really detailed measures and teeth in it," said Yang Ailun of Greenpeace. "The next five years will be the defining moment for China's environmental movement. There will be more disasters and more of a struggle to impose tougher regulations. Local interests groups have grown quite strong. They won't accept change quietly."
Ma Jun, of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, said the government would take a big step forward if it set absolute limits on pollutants and resource consumption, rather than the incremental, economy-linked targets seen until now. "I don't consider this a turning point," said Ma. "We haven't seen air and water really get clean yet. The measures under discussion are not sufficient at all. "
“Building a Beautiful China” at the National People's Congress
In March 2013, Jonathan Kaiman wrote in The Guardian, “Officials at Beijing's stately National People's Congress, an annual conclave held by China's political leadership, were full of promises to "build a beautiful China" of blue skies and pristine rivers – promises which, as the air in adjacent Tiananmen Square settled into smoky grey, critics derided as more talk than action. In early March, the deputy foreign minister, Fu Ying, said the conference would "revise and improve" the country's environmental protection legislation, adding that she keeps anti-pollution face masks for herself and her daughter. [Source: Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, March 18, 2013 >>>>]
“At the end of the NPC, premier Li Keqiang told reporters that China "shouldn't pursue economic growth at the expense of the environment .” Yet China's environmental policy remains as it was when the conference began two weeks ago. Fu did not provide a timetable for revisions, and Li did not describe how the government would follow its own advice. "They always speak eloquently about how the environment should be protected," said Li Bo, head of the Beijing-based environmental NGO Friends of Nature. "But as soon as there is an issue dealing with whether to protect the environment or give the go-ahead to a specific development project, the development initiative wins." >>>>
“Popular anger about China's poor environmental record has reached fever pitch within the past few months. Beijing spent much of this winter smothered in record levels of smog.Authorities recently revealed that the country's soil pollution levels are classified as a state secret, and more than 13,000 rotting pig carcasses were discovered last week in a river that cuts through Shanghai and supplies tap water to more than a fifth of its people. Almost a third of delegates to the NPC refused to rubber-stamp a fresh batch of environmental committee appointments, suggesting that the issue has become as unbearable among some government officials as it has among ordinary. >>>>
“Out of 2,944 delegates, 850 voted against the new lineup of the congress's environmental protection and resources conservation committee; another 125 abstained. According to the South China Morning Post, the delegates "greeted the result with a long boo". Zhou Shengxian was re-elected as the minister of environmental protection after spending five years in the position. >>>>
“Ma Tianjie, the head of toxics campaign at Greenpeace East Asia, said that despite the lack of concrete anti-pollution action at the congress, bold environmental legislation may yet emerge over the next five years as new leaders acclimate to their roles and cement their alliances. "Because they're changing a lot of positions at the top, they have been a bit cautious in revealing their agenda," he said. "The problem is not that the top doesn't get it – they have got it for a while now. The problem is with lower level authorities, whether they can translate that kind of top-level consciousness to actual actions on the ground." Yet some official responses at the meetings belie the question of who, exactly, will lead the charge. The deputy environmental protection minister, Wu Xiaoqing, refused to answer a question about soil pollution at a tightly scripted press conference. >>>>
Politics, Harassment and Pollution in China
Sui-Lee Wee and Adam Jourdan of Reuters wrote: “For President Xi Jinping the two-pronged challenge is to find the balance between growth and further degradation of the environment, and also to decide whether to level with citizens just how bad the problem is. "The significance of this event goes far beyond just environmental protection," attorney Dong Zhengwei told Reuters. "It concerns the problem China has had for many years - the issue of government transparency. (They) shouldn't use 'state secrets' as a shield when they're not in the right." [Source: Sui-Lee Wee and Adam Jourdan, Reuters, March 10, 2013 ////]
“The environment has already been one of one of the most frequently raised issues at the annual parliament session and China's authoritarian government has admitted it has a problem. "Our country, in a very short time over the past 30 years, has achieved brilliant economic achievements," Xin Chunying, vice-director of the NPC standing committee's working group on the legal system, said. "But at the same time, we have paid a heavy price with the environment. This price must stop, it has to be reduced, we must say ‘no' to the status quo." ////
“China does not usually allow public scrutiny of governance, particularly on sensitive issues such as corruption and security. But public anger over the environment may force authorities to accommodate the public in small ways."In other areas it is still dangerous," said Gary Liu, a professor at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. "But pollution is a relatively safe area, because people have enough justification to fight against the government and they can easily get enough public support because everybody is in the same country, breathes the same air." ////
“Dong said after filing more than 10 lawsuits against other government departments in 2008, officials from the legislative affairs office of the State Council, or cabinet, pleaded with him to stop suing those agencies and "sue the environment ministry on the basis of the public's interest". Examples of the environment ministry's shortcomings abound. Pan Zhizhong, a resident in Panguanying village in northeastern Hebei province, has led his village of 1,900 people in protesting against the construction of an incinerator plant since 2009. When Pan sued the Hebei Department of Environmental Protection in 2011, he was given access to the environmental impact assessment that the environment ministry claimed it had done in the village. Pan discovered that the assessment, carried out by the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, had names of people who had left the village two decades previously and even a person who had been dead for two years - all "expressing favor" for the project. Pan surveyed 100 people in his village, showing them the purported environmental impact study. The majority of them gave him written statements that declared: "I've never seen this form," according to documents seen by Reuters. ////
“Chen Yuqian, 60, a farmer from the town of Pailian in eastern Zhejiang province, said he has been beaten up five times in his decade-long fight against soil and water pollution --beatings for which he blames local officials. On February 20, Chen issued a challenge on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, daring officials from the local environment protection bureau to swim in a stretch of polluted river. He offered 300,000 yuan ($48,200) as a reward. ////
“Four days later, dozens of men, carrying sticks and rocks, charged into his home and started smashing things, Chen said. "They are trying to scare me so that I don't petition anymore, so that I don't report on the pollution anymore," Chen said. Xu Shuifa, the Communist Party secretary of the district that governs Chen's village, told Reuters by telephone that he had no links to the attackers and said the attack was linked to a land dispute Chen has with three of his neighbors. Back in Beijing, Dong, the attorney, said he had filed an appeal with the environment ministry for the soil survey data and expected a decision within two months. He said he would go to court if he was denied. ////
Chinese Environmental Report, Filled with State Secrets
Jake Maxwell Watts wrote in Quartz, “China published its annual report on the state of its environment yesterday, but don’t get too excited. As usual, the sensitive bits were labeled state secrets. Sadly, even the publicly available parts look bad. What we found out: 1) Only 27 of 113 major cities in China had a “safe” level of air pollution according to national standards in 2012. 2) Around 30 percent of the country’s main rivers were “polluted” or “severely polluted.” The quality of over 40 percent of tested groundwater was “bad;” 17 percent was graded “worst.” 4) Seven of the country’s nine most important bays had bad water quality and 25 percent of monitored lakes and reservoirs had excessive algae. 5) China’s nuclear reactors—including 29 under construction—were deemed safe. 6) Pollution in the countryside worsened in 2012 as industry and animal husbandry (the breeding of domestic animals) expanded. 7) New, tougher standards this year may have made the results look worse, but even so they were a slight improvement from last year. 8) At the national level, air and water quality improved, but pollution levels are still unsustainably high. [Source: Jake Maxwell Watts, Quartz, June 5, 2013]
What we weren’t told; 1) While the report included some information on air quality, it didn’t include the all-important measurements of small particulate matter—known as PM 2.5 and PM 10 for each particle’s width in microns. These minuscule particles can be inhaled, causing infections and sometimes cancer, and have been blamed for 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 alone. Beijing was hit by a particularly intense cloud of pollution in January, when the US embassy recorded PM 2.5 measurements at 291. Levels above 25 are considered unsafe. 2) The government continues to keep the results of a five-year soil pollution study that cost 1 billion yuan ($163 million) under wraps (the results were classified as a state secret earlier this year). In April, a senior environmental official revealed that as much as 65 percent of fertilizer in China was used improperly. Some researchers say that up to 70 percent of Chinese soil is polluted. 3) No information was provided to explain how 44 percent of rice in the city of Guangzhou became polluted with dangerous levels of cadmium, an issue that has enraged people in China and sparked debate about the availability of information.
China Lets Media Report on Air Pollution Crisis
Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “The Chinese state news media Monday published aggressive reports on what they described as the sickening and dangerous air pollution in Beijing and other parts of northern China, indicating that popular anger over air quality had reached a level where Communist Party propaganda officials felt that they had to allow the officially sanctioned press to address the growing concerns of ordinary citizens. The wide coverage appears to be in part a reaction to the conversation that has been unfolding on Chinese microblogs, where residents of northern China have been discussing the pollution nonstop in recent days. “I’ve never seen such broad Chinese media coverage of air pollution,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, a business consultant in Beijing who tracks the Chinese news media. “From People’s Daily to China Central Television, the story is being covered thoroughly, without trying to put a positive spin on it.” [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, January 14, 2013 ~~]
“People’s Daily, the official party mouthpiece, published a front-page signed editorial on Monday under the headline “Beautiful China Starts With Healthy Breathing.” “The seemingly never-ending haze and fog may blur our vision,” it said, “but makes us see extra clearly the urgency of pollution control and the urgency of the theory of building a socialist ecological civilization, revealed at the 18th Party Congress.” The 18th Party Congress, a meeting of party elites held in Beijing last November, was part of a once-a-decade leadership transition. In a political report delivered on the first day, Hu Jintao, the president and departing party chief, said China must address environmental problems worsened by rapid development.Even before the congress, the official news media had some latitude to publish critiques of environmental policy and investigate environmental degradation, in contrast to strict limits on what they can say on “core interest” issues like Tibet and Taiwan. ~~
“China Youth Daily, a state-run newspaper, published a scathing signed commentary on Monday under the headline “Lack of Responsive Actions More Choking Than the Haze and Fog.” The commentary questioned basic economic policies and the China growth model: “This choking, dirty and poisonous air forces the Chinese to rethink the widespread, messy development model.” Global Times, a newspaper that often defends the party, said in an editorial that the government in the past had erred by releasing pollution information in a “low-key way.” It said: “In the future, the government should publish truthful environmental data to the public. Let society participate in the process of solving the problem.” ~~
China’s Scientific Development Concept
The “Scientific Development Concept” is a term that sometimes pops to describe China’s goals for growth and development. Explaining what it means Dr. Lin Jiabin, the deputy director of the department of social development research at the state council, told The Guardian, “It is part of a big wave of development economics. Behind this move, there was an understanding that pursuing economic growth alone has led to “growth without development” in terms of social welfare; that is, people's well-being has not been improved despite the growth in GDP. To address the issue, a new idea has emerged, with the focus shifting from “growth” to “development.” It suggests that GDP is not everything, and asks what is really necessary to make people happy. This is an idea that places emphasis on the overall development of human beings.” [Source: The Guardian, January 23, 2009]
“The word “growth” in Chinese simply means “to increase or become larger,” and is used in such phrases as “an increase in GDP.” Previously, the words “growth” and “development,” have been considered to be essentially the same idea in China, but people have come to recognize the difference. The new concept of “Scientific development” sees the importance of public welfare, which leads to people's happiness and well-being. It aims to enhance their quality of life by improving social security, housing, medical services, and pensions. GDP has been widely used as an criteria to measure economic development, but now various other criteria are being examined to measure overall human development.
China's reform and opening up...specifically market reform, I regret to say that it has gone too far. In the process toward a market economy, the government gave up its role, thus causing various problems in the society. Such problems are often seen in medical services, housing, and education. In the educational field, for example, an increasing number of universities set up their own companies, and some professors appear to be more enthusiastic about making money than teaching students. On the face of it, this trend seems to revitalize universities, but it is questionable whether these universities can provide meaningful education.
Some have said China is a a big developing country that contains an advanced country as large as Japan and that it needs two major policy approaches, one adapted for the China that is a poor developing country and one for the China that is an affluent, advanced country. Among the policies being suggested to address this model are a graduated system of utility rates for things such as electricity and water. Lin said, “With this system, the more people consume, the higher rates they pay. Also, we have not yet introduced inheritance and property taxes for individuals, so we are considering such taxes in the future in order to redistribute income and narrow the gap among people.”
Lin went on to say: “I think that China can learn a lot from the past experience of industrialized nations, especially Japan. European countries and the United States took 150 years to be industrialized, and Japan took only half of that. Now, China is rapidly moving toward industrialization, and it is expected to achieve the goal within half the years that Japan took. In the past, problems accompanying industrialization occurred gradually over decades, but China is facing intensive and interrelated environmental problems, because of its unprecedented speed of industrialization. Since Japan achieved rapid growth in a relatively short period of time, learning from its approaches and technologies is very helpful to China.”
Chinese Business and the Environment
Grasscrete used at Beijing Olympics China desperately wants energy-saving and environmentally-friendly technologies from the developed world. Many see China’s environmental problems as business opportunities.
Water and waste companies like the Paris-based Veolia Environment and Suez are attracting a large amount of investment and their share prices are rising as they position themselves for action in China. Together they have invested over $1.3 billion in urban water treatment and distribution systems.
Guangdong Investment, which operates water supply businesses, and Suntech Power, the largest solar cell maker in China, are also drawing the attention of investors. Other companies hope to reap profits by helping to slow land erosion, reducing air pollution emissions, purify polluted water and providing renewable energy.
Many feel the develop first and worry about pollution later strategy is doomed to fail. In many cases simply tacking on some technology is not enough. Often, it is better to scrap a plant or facility and build a new one from scratch.
The Chinese government often seems reluctant to use market-based means to tackle pollution such as providing incentives to build pollution-fighting technology and adding surcharges for coal, energy and water that reflects their true costs.
Japanese companies are introducing recycling methods and, water- and air-cleaning technologic to China. Fuji Xerox has built a $6 million factory that collects used copy machines, printers and ink cartridges and exacts 64 materials form them, including steel, aluminum and glass. Guangzhou Honda’s second factory in Guangdong Province is outfit with the latest zero emission technologies, which include a water treatment plant that treats all water so that it is clean before it is discharged. Matsushita uses similar technologies at a plant that makes cathode ray tubes.
Green Energy and Clean Technology in China
In 2009 China invested $34 billion in clean technology, compared to $18 billion by the United States. Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “The contrast --- which shocked many in Washington --- is partly explained by different political systems, vested interests and stages of development. While the US is dominated by big oil and big money, China is run by big hydro and big brother --- a dictatorship of engineers.”
A report issued by Australia’s Climate Institute in October 2010 ranked China as a leader in the pursuit of clean energy. It ranked only second behind Britain in incentives offered to pollution created from electricity generation.
Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian: “Even as coal use rises, Beijing will blaze further along the trail towards a low-carbon economy. Its wind power generating capacity has doubled annually for four years and in 2010 became yet another field in which China surpassed the U.S, to become number one. Seven of the planet's top 10 solar panel makers are now Chinese.” [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, February 4, 2011]
“The focus in future is likely to be nuclear energy, forecast to increase tenfold over the next 10 years, and hydroelectric power. In January 2011, the National Energy Agency said China plans to build an additional 140 gigawatts of hydropower capacity in the next five years, though this will have a dire impact on ecologically crucial sites.”
“The country's high-speed rail network --- non-existent in 2008 --- will be bigger than the rest of the world combined within two years. According to one domestic carmaker, China will soon unveil plans for 10m electric car charge-and-park places by 2020. In these and other fields, such as eco-city development and public transport construction, the five-year plan is likely to set ambitious spending targets.”
Japanese Environmental Technology in China
Among the environmental technology that Japan plans to share with China are advanced nuclear reactors, clean steel mills and hybrid cars. Since the 1990s the Japanese have supplied China with facilities that capture the heat and pressurized gas byproducts of cement and steel manufacturing and garbage incineration plants that generate electricity.
Nippon Steel has introduced a type of eco-friendly technology called dry coking. It produces coke, a form of coal necessary for making steel, by cooling it with nitrogen rather than water, which significantly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released. The resulting steam is used to produce electricity. An advanced sewage treatment system that utilizes ozone is being introduced by Mitsubishi to Beijing.
In providing China with a cleaner environment Japan hopes to generate enough business to help boost its sluggish economy and troubled companies. Some obstacles remain, namely fears among Japanese companies that Chinese companies swill ignore intellectual property rights and steal their technology.
See Cement Plants, Air Pollution; Incinerators, Garbage and Recycling
Chinese Pollution Worsens Despite Efforts to Curb It
According to a government study issued in July 2010, China continues to suffer from pollution despite a wave of new environmental initiatives. The quality of air in Chinese cities is increasingly tainted by coal -burning power plants, grit from construction sites and exhaust from millions of new cars squeezing onto crowded roads, Other newly released figures show a jump in industrial accidents and an epidemic of pollution in waterways. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, July 28, 2010]
The report most unexpected findings pointed to an increase in inhalable particulates in cities like Beijing, where officials have struggled to improve air quality by shutting down noxious factories and tightening auto emission standards. Despite such efforts, including an ambitious program aimed at reducing the use of coal for home heating, the average concentration of particulates in the capital air violated the World Health Organization standards more than 80 percent of the time during the last quarter of 2008. [Ibid]
China is still facing a grave situation in fighting pollution, Tao Detian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told the China Daily. The ministry said the number of accidents fouling the air and water doubled during the first half of 2010, with an average of 10 each month. The report also found that more than a quarter of the country rivers, lakes and streams were too contaminated to be used for drinking water. Acid rain, it added, has become a problem in nearly 200 of the 440 cities it monitored. [Ibid]
Among the environmental problems reported by the state media at the time the report was released were a pipeline explosion that dumped thousands of gallons of oil into the Yellow Sea, reports of a copper mine whose toxic effluent killed tons of fish in Fujian Province, and revelations that dozens of children were poisoned by lead from illegal gold production in Yunnan Province. Two weeks ago, the state media reported on thousands of residents in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region who clashed with the police as they protested unregulated emissions from an aluminum plant. [Ibid]
Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing, said many of the government efforts to curtail pollution had been offset by the number of construction projects that spit dust into the air and the surge in private car ownership. In Beijing, driving restrictions that removed a fifth of private cars from roads each weekday have been offset by 250,000 new cars that hit the city streets in the first four months of 2010. Many of the most polluting industries were forced to relocate far from the capital before the 2008 Summer Olympics, but the wind often carries their emissions hundreds of miles back.”
We’re at a stage of unprecedented industrialization, but there have to be better ways to handle the problem, said Ma, whose organization. Sometimes it painful to look at the data. A particularly hot summer has added to Beijing high pollution levels.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2013
Image Sources: 1) Newsweek; 2, 3) Poco Pico blog http://pocopico.com/china/chinglish.php; 4) Environmental News ; 5) Greenepeace; 6, 7) China Digital Times blogger Jessica ; 8) ; 9) ; 10)
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2014