China Environmental News Digest

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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Can our planet support the rise of China and India?

Environmentalists are warning about the impact of the economic booms underway in the world's most populous nations

Sunday, Jan 15, 2006,Page 9 Via Taipei Times

`Some critics might find the worries of these US environmentalists hypocritical, since the US is still the greatest burner of oil, using 25 percent of global annual supplies and producing 25 percent of carbon emissions.'

Ten years ago, the world was worried that China would not be able to feed itself in the new millenium.

Now that the growing giant has defied all predictions and China can largely feed itself, there are new headaches.

Two of Washington's leading environmental think tanks warned recently that the economic boom in the emerging industrial giants of China and India could present one of the world's gravest threats yet to the environment.

The two countries together have 2.5 billion people, or nearly 40 percent of the world's population of 6.5 billion.

China now eats up just under one-third of the world's rice, over one-quarter of the world's steel and nearly half of its cement, the Worldwatch Institute says in its "2006 State of the World" report released on Wednesday.

The Earth simply cannot supply these countries' rising demands for energy, food, and raw materials, which are already having "ripple effects worldwide," Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin said.

Lester Brown, author of the 1995 book Who will feed China?, president of the Earth Policy Institute and founder of World-watch, agrees.

"Though [China] doesn't admit it yet, the US model won't work for China. And if it does not work for China, it will not work for India," Brown said at the release of his new book, Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble.

The use of oil has doubled in India since 1992, while China went from near self-sufficiency in the mid-1990s to becoming the world's second largest importer in 2004, the Worldwatch report says.

Prices worldwide have soared as India and China scooped up shares in oil companies around the world.

Some critics might find the worries of these US environmentalists hypocritical, since the US is still the greatest burner of oil, using 25 percent of global annual supplies and producing 25 percent of carbon emissions.

The US also has the largest ecological footprint. The average US citizen requires about 9.7 hectares to provide consumable resources and space for waste, an amount that is 205 percent of what the country can provide within its borders.

That figure is only 1.6 hectares for the average Chinese person, or 201 per cent of the country's capacity, and 0.8 hectares for the average Indian, or 210 per cent of the country's capacity.

On the positive side, Worldwatch pointed out that both India and China have ambitious programs to use renewable energies.

China's congress passed an "ambitious" renewable energy law that comes into force this month. The country has been a pioneer in the use of small wind turbines, hydro-generators and biogas plants, the institute said.

India now has the world's fourth largest wind power industry and aims to raise its share of renewable energies to 20 to 25 percent of power generation, according to Worldwatch.

Still, Siva Yam, president of the US-China Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, sees one major hindrance for sustainable development in Asia.

"The world is getting smaller and it's a very competitive market," Yam said. "Paying more attention to the environment would disadvantage China against its competitors, for example India."

"China already has extensive laws protecting the environment, the problem lies in enforcing regulations. Local authorities just don't enforce them," he added.

The World Wildlife Fund's director for climate change, Hans Verolme, however supports the view that China is on the right track.

"Both nations are signatories of the Kyoto Protocol, but as developing nations they are exempted from cutting their emissions. However, China has already taken voluntary measures which have had a very positive impact," Verholme said.

Referring to last year's gathering on global warming in Canada, Verholme said: "What we saw in Montreal now was that while China came forward with measures it has taken to improve environmental sustainability, the US did not."
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