20080318-envrir, grasscrete used at olympics beijing env news051_550x.jpg
Grasscrete used at Beijing Olympics
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.

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. |:|

According to the Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations: Investment in pollution-reducing technology is required of all industrial enterprises. Penalties are imposed for noncompliance and incentives, in the form of tax reductions and higher allowable profits, are available for those enterprises that meet environmental standards. Beijing has implemented programs for controlling discharges of effluents, smoke and soot emissions, and noise pollution. Special success has been claimed for the recovery of oil from effluents of the Daqing oil field in Heilongjiang, refineries, and other oil-processing establishments; use of electrostatic precipitators and bag collectors by the cement and building industries; recovery of caustic soda and waste pulp from effluents of the pulp and paper industries; introduction of nonpolluting processes into the tanning and depilating of hides; use of nonmercuric batteries; recovery of fine ash from coal-burning power plants for use in the manufacture of bricks, tiles, cement, and road-surfacing materials; and development of new methodologies for recycling coal wastes and marine oil discharges. The problem has been many of these rules have been ignored or not enforced. [Source:Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

In February 2011, the government said it would widen pollution reduction targets by adding nitrogen oxide — roughly a third of which comes from vehicle exhausts — and ammonia, a source of water contamination from chemical and textile plants. In 2013, the central government has required 15,000 factories — including influential state-run enterprises — to publicly report details on their air emissions and water discharges in real time, an unprecedented degree of disclosure according to the Washington Post. Linda Greer of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington says the reporting requirement for factories is the “biggest thing” China has done to address its pollution problems, and the most likely to produce results. [Source: Simon Denyer, Washington Post, February 2, 2014]

History of China’s Pollution Combating Efforts

Since 1973, China has taken significant steps to rectify some of the environmental damage caused by rampant use of wood for fuel, uncontrolled industrial pollution, and extensive conversion of forests, pastures, and grasslands to grain production that occurred under Mao in the 1950s and 60s. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Since the Deng Reforms were launched in the 1970s, economic concerns have had precedence over environmental ones. Many feel that China's 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.

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 at Dongguan University of Technology told Time, “When there’s less work, there’s less release of sewage and trash, so environmental pressures have eased.”

In conjunction with Ministry of Environmental Protection 2010 annual report, Li Ganjie, the ministry’s vice minister, pledged to control contamination by heavy metals, which resulted in many cases of lead poisoning. He said China needed a law to regulate heavy metals, and he was confident it would be written and passed soon.” In regard to contaminated farm land, Li said: “In some of these areas that are very fragile, we will strictly limit development,” He Li said that more than a fifth of the land that has been set aside as nature reserves had been illegally developed by companies, often with local government collusion.” [Source: Ian Johnson, Reuters, June 3, 2011]

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.

“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, Foreign Companies and the Environment

In the 2000s, China desperately wanted energy-saving and environmentally-friendly technologies from the developed world. Many saw China’s environmental problems as business opportunities. Water and waste companies like the Paris-based Veolia Environment and Suez were 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.

Japanese companies are introducing recycling methods and, water- and air-cleaning technologies 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.”

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

Reducing Dioxin and Lead in China

In November 2010 AFP reported: “China has said it aims to cut the intensity of dioxin emissions in key industries by 10 percent by 2015, as part of efforts by the world's top polluter to tackle ever-worsening air quality. The Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a statement that 17 key industries must install filters on all emission-producing equipment by June 2011.However, the 10 percent target is not an outright cut in dioxin emissions, but instead a reduction in intensity — language that China has previously used to refer to the ratio of emissions to a unit of gross domestic product. [Source: AFP, November 9, 2010]

"By 2015, the country should have in place a sound, long-term mechanism for monitoring and preventing dioxin pollution," said the notice. "The intensity of dioxin emissions in key industries should be cut by 10 percent to offset the increase in emissions.” China's national standard for dioxin emissions allows one nanogram per cubic meter — 10 times the amount legally allowed in the European Union and the United States, the official China Daily newspaper reported.”

“Dioxin, a by-product of garbage burning and industrial activities, can cause a range of illnesses in humans including cancer and miscarriages. The trial dioxin emission controls will first be implemented in the northern cities of Beijing and Tianjin, Hebei province, the eastern Yangtze River Delta and the southern Pearl River Delta, the ministry said.” Waste incineration facilities will be required to release annual environmental impact reports to the public, and update online statistics on their release of oxysulfide, nitrogen oxides and hydrogen chloride in real time, with annual tests for accuracy, the notice said. Local environmental protection departments were ordered to inspect waste incineration facilities every two months.”

Sharon Lafraniere wrote in the New York Times , “Chinese leaders have acknowledged that lead contamination is a grave issue and have raised the priority of reducing heavy-metal pollution in the government’s latest five-year plan, presented in March. But despite efforts to step up enforcement, including suspending production in May 2011 at a number of battery factories, the government’s response remains faltering. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, June 15, 2011]

At a meeting in May 2011 of China’s State Council, after yet another disclosure of mass poisoning, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao scolded Environmental Minister Zhou Shengxian for the lack of progress, according to an individual with high-level government ties who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The government has not ordered a nationwide survey of children’s blood lead levels, so the number of children who are at risk is purely a matter of guesswork. Mass poisonings like that at the Haijiu factory typically come to light only after suspicious parents seek hospital tests, then alert neighbors or co-workers to the alarming results.

Combating Pollution in Agricultural Areas

China published an action plan to treat soil pollution in 2016, saying that it aimed to bring the problem under control by 2020. However, the cost of making China's contaminated land fit for crops or livestock could reach around $750 billion, according to Reuters calculations. [Source: Reuters, Aug 8, 2016]

Josh Chin and Brian Spegele wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Experts say that the government is aware of the threat posed by rural pollution, noting a pledge by the environmental minister in March to make heavy-metal pollution a major focus. The Ministry of Land and Resources followed by announcing in June that it would conduct its own nationwide soil sampling to map pollution levels around the country, though it isn't clear if the findings will be made public. Later that month, China's cabinet, the State Council, discussed a draft amendment to the country's environmental law that would, among other things, stiffen punishments for polluters and require tighter regulation of fertilizers. But experts say that fear of transparency, a lumbering bureaucracy and worries over how China would cope if large areas of land were declared tainted raise questions about the government's ability to respond. [Source: by Josh Chin and Brian Spegele, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2013 /=/]

Removing heavy metals from farmland is a complicated process that can take years—time lost for farming. That is a chilling prospect for a government tasked with supporting 20 percent of the world's population on less than 10 percent of the world's arable land. Any major reduction in food security would hurt the Communist Party, which has staked its reputation in part on its ability to keep the country's granaries full with minimal imports. /=/

The government's refusal to release its soil survey, meanwhile, has only added to fears that officials know more than they are willing to say. Launched to great fanfare in the state media in 2006, the survey was originally scheduled to be completed in 2010. In June last year, an environment ministry official told the Xinhua news service that more than 20 percent of soil samples in a trial program for monitoring pollution, involving 364 rural villages, had failed to meet national standards and that the results of the survey would be published "at the proper time." "There's a general feeling that government officials know the problem is really bad, and if they disclose it, then the public outrage will get ahead of the ability of the state to do something about it," says Alex Wang, an expert in Chinese environmental law at the UCLA School of Law. /=/

“Chinese officials have repeatedly said that they are serious about reining in pollution. A week after the cadmium news broke, the new Chinese president Xi Jinping said at a meeting of top leaders in Beijing that he planned to set an ecological "red line," warning that those who crossed it would be "held accountable for a lifetime," though he didn't provide specifics. /=/

China Drafts New Rules to Curb Mining Pollution

In August 2016, China announced plans to raise environmental standards in its highly-polluting mining sector, according to a policy draft circulated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Reuters reported: Amid rising concerns about the state of its environment, China has declared war on polluters and has drawn up new laws, standards and punishments aimed at forcing firms and local governments to toe the line. The mining sector has been a crucial part of China's rapid economic expansion in the last three decades, but poor regulation and weak enforcement of standards has contaminated much of the country's soil and left parts of its land and water supplies unfit for human use, threatening public health. [Source: Reuters, Aug 8, 2016]

“According to draft rules published on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), miners will be forced to treat more than 85 percent of their wastewater, and they must put systems in place to achieve the "comprehensive utilization" of tailings and other solid waste. Firms will also be forced to implement measures to remediate land and minimize emissions while mines are still in operation, rather than treating soil and water long after it has been contaminated.

“Mining firms will also be pressured to implement measures to protect or even relocate valuable ecosystems. Producers of toxic heavy metals like lead or cadmium also need to make use of biological or chemical technologies to remediate contaminated soil. The new rules will cover metals such as tin, copper, lead and rare earths, as well as minerals like calcium carbonate, though they do not apply to the coal industry, which has separate guidelines.

Efforts to Enforce Environmental Laws in China

In July 2014, China's Supreme Court set up a special tribunal to deal with environmental cases. The move came as Beijing began pushing a green agenda to address public discontent over rising pollution levels. A few months earlier Premier Li Keqiang announced that Beijing was "declaring war" against pollution, vowing to shut 50,000 small coal-fired furnaces and force six million older cars off the road. A series of measures was announced, but details about how they would be enforced were not specified. A month after that an amendment to China's environmental protection law—the first in 25 years—imposed tougher penalties and pledging that violators will be "named and shamed". Official media reported that 200 people were arrested in 2013 for environmental offences and more than 3,500 businesses shut. [Source: AFP, July 3, 2014]

AFP reported: “The tribunal—which will have local equivalents—will hear cases involving air, water and land pollution and the protection of mineral and natural resources such as forests and rivers. “But holding polluters legally accountable has proved difficult in a country where local governments are often focused on driving growth. "There are indeed some problems in the acceptance, trial and enforcing of (environment) cases," Zheng Xuelin, chief of the environment tribunal of the Supreme Court, told reporters. "Courts want to hear some cases but dare not to or become reluctant to do so due to certain interferences," he said. Fewer than 30,000 environment cases a year were accepted by Chinese courts from 2011 to 2013, said Zheng, out of an average 11 million total cases annually.

“China has previously set tough targets for air quality and promised to shave the proportion of energy generated from coal, a major pollution source, to 65 percent by 2017. It pledged to spend 1,700 billion yuan ($270 billion) over five years to tackle air pollution, and to evaluate officials by how well they improved not only the economy but also air quality. But already targets have been missed: air quality fell below national standards in all but three of 74 major cities in 2013. Ran Ran, a professor at Renmin University, said: “The party leadership has repeatedly pledged to revamp slowing growth by encouraging Chinese to spend more — but, she pointed out: "To stimulate domestic consumption definitely conflicts with environmental protection." Meanwhile, allowing citizen watchdogs to hold polluters accountable could quickly bump up against the party's tendency to dictate the pace of reform. Several prominent environmentalists — notably Wu Lihong, who campaigned against pollution in Jiangsu province's Lake Tai, and Liu Futang, who spoke out against forest destruction on Hainan Island — have been convicted in recent years. Meanwhile, protests against chemical plants have been met with police crackdowns involving violence and arrests. Governments such as China's "don't encourage public participation, have very low information flow (and) corruption with big industries", Ran said. [Source: AFP, July 8, 2014]

Conflict Between Villagers, Officials and Industry Over Pollution

Josh Chin and Brian Spegele wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Zhu Hongqing, a 42-year-old rice farmer who lives down the road from Dapu in the village of Yanqiao, believes that his paddies are clean. They are located more than a mile from the chemical factory in Dapu and many miles from any mine. But consumer paranoia, amplified by a lack of information, means that the market for all Hunan rice is suffering, with prices of milled rice dipping as much as 14 percent since the cadmium scare began before recovering slightly, according to a manager at Jincheng Rice Mill in Hunan's Yiyang City. "I told my wife I have a very bad feeling about this," Mr. Zhu said one recent morning while surveying an early rice crop on the cusp of being harvested. "It's going to be impossible to sell it." [Source: by Josh Chin and Brian Spegele, Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2013 /=/]

The political sensitivity surrounding soil pollution is evident back in Dapu, where villagers were afraid to give their names for fear of reprisals from local officials. The farmer who is growing bad rice says that the village had long been a clean and prosperous place. Residents made a comfortable living selling rice, jujubes, oranges and melons. That changed in 2008, when construction began on an aluminum fluoride facility. The plant ran 24 hours a day, she says, sending smoke over local fields when the southern winds began to blow in late summer and polluting irrigation systems to the point that even the insects have fled. The fruit trees stopped bearing fruit, and whatever did grow, no one was willing to buy. /=/

“After villagers complained, the factory owners agreed to pay compensation as long as farmers continued to raise a crop. The Dapu farmer says that she used to earn as much as 10,000 yuan, or $1,630, each year from growing rice. Now she gets about 5,400 yuan, or $880, to grow rice shoots that don't produce any rice. /=/

“An official in charge of environmental protection at the factory, Hunan Nonferrous Fluoride Chemical, Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of state-run China Minmetals Group, said that the facility maintained strict environmental standards but that faulty equipment and electricity problems occasionally led to the accidental discharge of excess pollution. He said that none of the factory emissions were harmful to human health and added that the company paid pollution compensation as required by regulations. "Conflict between farmers and enterprises happens all the time because chemical factories can only be set up in the countryside," said the official, who only gave his surname, Li. "I totally understand the local people. I'm the son of a farmer myself." /=/

Harming the Environment to Help the Environment in China

Even companies that are supposedly helping the environment are notorious polluters. The Luoyamg Zhonggui High-Technology, for example, which operates on the Yellow River in Henan Province, is a major producer polysilicon, a material widely used in solar panels around the world and a major supplier for Suntech, a company founded by one of China’s richest men. The byproduct of polysilicon production is silicon tetrachloride, a highly toxic substance that is loaded on to dump trucks and dumped in corn fields in villages near the factory.

Polysilicon is an essential component for solar technology but is tricky to produce. It requires large amounts of energy to make, the smallest amounts of impurities can ruin a batch and for every ton of polysilicon that is produced four tons of silicon tetrachloride is created.

In the last few years increased demand for polysilicon has caused the price of the material to jump from $20 a kilogram to $300 kilogram. As the price has risen a number of Chinese companies “supported with venture capital and low-interest loans from the government — have sprung up to meet the demand. The factories require sophisticated technology to make the polysilicon and are supposed to recycle the water they use. The Chinese are racing full bore ahead making polysilicon factories even though they haven’t worked out the trickier elements of making the stuff and disposing of the waste materials.

More than 20 new polysilicon factories have opened or are being built. Their capacity is 80,000 to 100,000 tons — more than double the 40,000 tons produced in the entire world today. The problem with this is that these factories will also produce tons of silicon tetrachloride and there are few regulations or punishments to keep it from being irresponsibly dumped by the factories. Tests of fields where the silicon tetrachloride has been dumped show high levels of chlorine and hydrochloric acid which poison the soil and prevent crops from growing.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Progress Made in China’s Fight Against Pollution

In 2016, Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a nongovernmental organization, told the New York Times: China was making some progress in its fight against pollution. He said: “Before 2013, levels of PM2.5 [the finest and deadliest particulate matter] were not monitored or made public in a single city. Now it’s monitored and released in more than 400 cities. China has entered an era when air quality information is released. It’s much more transparent. “We see huge progress in tracking pollution sources. In 2006, when we first started collecting such information, we could only get about 2,500 records of violations a year. Today, it’s more than 290,000.[Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, December 16, 2016]

“Also, for the first time, in this 13th Five-Year Plan, the government has set a target for reducing PM2.5 particles in the air by 2020. It says it will reduce those by 18 percent in areas that exceed the threshold [of 35 micrograms per cubic meter]. The 11th and 12th Five-Year Plans only referred to “emission reduction targets,” so local governments could play games by claiming they had reduced emissions. Now, by saying by what year the PM2.5 must be below a certain amount, it’s much harder to fake. The 13th Five-Year Plan is a progressive plan because it says that the public has the right to participate, to monitor, and that it’s the public’s right to know.

“The level has been declining gradually, but the difficult part is that now it’s regional pollution, not city pollution. For Beijing, if the regional problem is not solved, the wind will just bring it from Hebei Province. The daily average PM2.5 acceptable in China is 75 [micrograms per cubic meter], above the maximum levels set by the United States and the World Health Organization. Even so, it’s difficult to reach that goal. Most cities in China can’t meet it.

Hebei Province Says Its Paying 'Huge Price' in War on Pollution

Hebei province, China's biggest steel-producing region, is paying "a huge price" for the country's war on pollution, the province's top Communist Party official said. Reuters reported: “Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing, churns out nearly a quarter of Chinese steel output, but it is now bearing the brunt of a campaign aimed at easing the country's dependence on heavy and polluting industrial capacity. Production fell 0.6 percent last year to 185.3 million tonnes, official data showed. [Source: David Stanway, Reuters, March 9, 2015]

“Annual economic growth in the province slipped to 6.5 percent last year, missing an 8 percent target, with steel demand hit by a nationwide slowdown as well as the campaign against pollution. "In order to solve the problems of industrial restructuring and pollution, Hebei has made huge efforts and paid a huge price," Zhou Benshun, the province's Party secretary, told reporters on the sidelines of China's annual parliamentary session.

“Hebei comprises seven of China's 10 smoggiest cities, according to official 2014 air quality data, and local officials have long complained that it has been asked to sacrifice too much for the "war on pollution". It vowed to close 60 million tonnes of outdated and polluting crude steel capacity in the 2014-2017 period and met its target to shut 15 million tonnes last year. It also aims to cut coal consumption by 30 million tonnes over the same period. However, Hebei has struggled to find alternative sources of economic growth and hopes a new state plan aimed at integrating the province's economy with the prosperous cities of Beijing and Tianjin will help reduce its reliance on steel and coal.

Image Sources: Beijing Olympics website

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, AFP, Time, Reuters, AP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated June 2022

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