China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Monday, May 29, 2006

China's pollution battle may fan inflation

Rich nations aren’t used to the dark side of globalisation. For them, the phenomenon tends to reduce costs, boosting corporate profits, securities markets and living standards. Recently, wealthy economies have gotten a taste of globalisation’s other side. High-paying jobs are migrating to cheaper locales, while demand from developing nations is driving up commodity prices. Nowadays, the Group of Seven nations have little control over global trends. Things may be about to get worse, and Chinese pollution could be a catalyst. As ’06 unfolds, global inflation could make an unexpectedly fast comeback. Surging prices for commodities from crude oil to copper to cocoa are one reason. Property booms from New York to Sydney are another. Yet pollution in China may put more upward pressure on prices than many investors anticipate. “China has kept the global cost of production artificially low by not paying for pollution and labour benefits,” said Andy Xie, Hong Kong-based chief economist at Morgan Stanley. “The political pressure within China is as such that the government is normalising production costs, which could boost global inflation.” It’s often thought that cheap labour is what draws executives to China. Yet, Xie argued, the mainland’s “lax environmental rules and their enforcement are not well understood and may have become more important than labour costs in attracting production relocation in the past three years.” Pollution’s Costs: Since the early ’00s, multinational companies have contributed to China’s pollution to the detriment of its long-term outlook. Xie points out that China’s pollution is 12 times the world average per unit of gross domestic product. Two-fifths of China’s seven major river basins are badly polluted, as are 90% of the rivers running through cities. Roughly 300m rural Chinese don’t have access to purified water. Chinese pollution is becoming a problem for neighbouring economies, too. Increasingly, mainland factories are adding to local pollution in Hong Kong. Foul air cost Hong Kong $300m in medical bills and lost productivity last year — a 3.8% increase from 1995, according to the University of Hong Kong. The city may soon be counting the cost of lost talent and investment. “The thing is, it’s just not possible for developing countries like China and India to pollute the way the West did when its economies rose,” said William Barron, an environmental economist and a visiting scholar at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “As politically incorrect as that sounds, I’m not sure our planet could handle it.” Normalisation: In Beijing, Communist Party bigwigs are talking more and more about the environment. They’re realising pollution is a growing risk to the party’s credibility. It could just be the thing that pushes rural Chinese — the vast majority of the nation’s 1.3bn people — to turn on the government.
China is waking up to the need to normalise pollution costs. On May 15, the South China Morning Post reported that about 2,000 Hong Kong-owned factories operating in Southern China’s Pearl River Delta face closure or relocation because of pollution or environmental hazards they pose. The paper also said that about 300 manufacturers of dangerous goods were notified earlier this year that their operating licenses would be renewed on a monthly basis until they agree to move to designated areas. Part of China’s push to promote sustainable development and cleaner production, the move — and others likely to follow — will be a major step toward accounting for production costs. ‘Regurgitated’: If China’s factories followed the environmental standards of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, producing goods will be far more expensive. At the same time, China’s efforts to spread the benefits of 10% growth could result in higher wages nationally, increasing mainland export costs substantially. “Normalisation of China’s production is a major source of cyclical inflation,” Xie said. “Part of the unsustainable disinflation globally between ’02 and ’05 has to be regurgitated.” That poses risks for China. Will companies search for new economies in which to produce cheaply in developing Asia, former Soviet states or Africa? If foreign direct investment begins bypassing China, the world’s fastest-growing major economy loses a key pillar of support. Another question is whether executives relying on China to pump up corporate profits are ready for the shift. Wal-Mart Stores, for example, may have some explaining to do to shareholders growing rich off low-cost China. Investors may be in for a shock, too. Central banks will have to adjust to Asia’s No 2 economy adding to global inflation, as opposed to restraining it. Inflation Scare? The waning of the global labour arbitrage from rich economies to China could hit the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nikkei 225 Stock Average and other major equity markets. Ditto for world bond markets used to tame inflation. It’s always been odd how the global liquidity boom of the past five years didn’t put strong upward pressure on wages. One explanation — the outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries like China increased worker insecurity everywhere. Another — surging property prices and easy central bank policies around the world made it easier to maintain lifestyles with debt. Rising Chinese wages could change everything. “While the central case is for inflation to tick up slowly,” Xie said, “the possibility exists for inflation to flare up sharply.”
©Bennett, Coleman and Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Liaoning punishes two factories for pollution

    BEIJING, May 26 (Xinhuanet) -- Environmental authorities in Liaoning Province have handed down strict punishments to two polluting factories, in a move aimed at demonstrating their commitment to the environment.

    The factories were both blacklisted by the national environment watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), earlier this year after they caused serious pollution in nearby rivers.

    Xinjulang Paper Mill in Dandong has been ordered to cease operations and will be relocated, while Qingyang Chemical Factory in Liaoyang has been ordered to clean up its act immediately or be shut down.

    "If the company cannot meet environmental protection standards, we will order it to stop production and close down," said Zhu Jinghai, vice-chief of Liaoning provincial environmental protection bureau.

    The factories both employ approximately 1000 people. Reports say Xinjulang is to lay off 462 workers.

    Experts estimate halting Xinjulang's operations will reduce the volume of polluted water released into the Yalu River by 6 million tons each year.

    The company says it has invested 3 billion yuan (US$375 million) in its relocation, and will use environmentally-friendly production methods.

    The Qingyang Chemical Factory estimates its annual waste water discharge will be reduced by 1.68 million tons and it invests 480 million yuan (US$60 million) to upgrade equipment that deals with waste water.

    The move is in line with a national warning given by the SEPA.

    The watchdog singled out 11 heavily-polluting factories along major rivers across the country, and this February ordered them to clean up, or face fines or closure.

    The SEPA warning came after it carried out a national survey of 78 factories in the wake of a chemical spill in Northeast China's Songhua River in November.

    In the past, local governments have been accused of putting too much emphasis on GDP figures, often at the expense of the environment.

    However, Liaoning provincial government now links river protection with official assessment, according to Xu Weiguo, vice-governor of Liaoning Province.

    Zhu Jinghai told China Daily that they have not found any suggestions of malfeasance in these two cases. But he promised, "Any officials involved in environmental accidents will be punished."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Environmentally damaging projects to be blocked, warns official

    GUANGZHOU, May 26 (Xinhua) -- China's top environmental protection official has pledged to block construction projects that fail to pass stringent environmental impact assessments.

    Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said on Friday that "environmental impact assessments will set the standard and no development project which damages the environment will get approval."

    Zhou told a national meeting on the management of environmental impact evaluation in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, that environmentally-damaging activities were occurring nationwide.    

    "Some areas have disregard the public's living environment and launched development projects in a blind and chaotic way," said Zhou. "A number of projects that have produced serious pollution and damaged the ecology have even been cited as image projects."

    Environmental degradation continued and environmental problems had become a problem in China's social and economic development, he said.

    He said properly conducted environmental impact assessments were the key to change the appalling situation in the country's environmental protection.

    Zhou had asked environmental protection workers to be strict in examining and approving construction projects and to be stringent in inspections, while maintaining efficiency, openness and transparency.

    China has 68 organizations specializing in environmental impact assessments.

    Environmental protection officials had evaluated 55,000 construction projects in the last two years, and had denied approval for 1,190 projects, with investments totaling 170 billion yuan (20.96 billion U.S. dollars) for failing to meet environmental protection standards.

    He cited, as an example, the 525 power projects evaluated, of which 32 were ordered to halt construction after failing to meet standards.

    Stringent assessments could help curb the overheating investment in fixed assets and align construction supply more closely with demand, said Kuang Yaoqiu, a fellow researcher with the Guangzhou-based Institute of Geochemistry with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

    The three environmental protection goals SEPA hopes to reach by 2010 are improvement in the quality of the environment in major regions and cities, environmental degradation brought under control, and a 10 percent decrease in the discharge of major pollutants

Thursday, May 25, 2006

China Gets Serious About Air Quality

KGO By David Louie

- China is apparently getting serious about it's air quality problem. Industrialization has led to a major spike in pollution there. The World Bank says emissions are up by 33-percent in just 10 years.

Shanghai has become a modern city filled with high-rises, factories and clogged roads, filling the air with pollutants. The air is sometimes stagnant and hazy in many major cities as china becomes the world's factory.

C.S. Kiang, Ph.D., Peking University: "I think they pay a very severe consequence. The pollution in the air, the pollution in the water, the pollution in the soil. I think the most serious thing also... impact on their health."

C.S. Kiang is a physicist and dean of the Peking University College of Environmental Sciences. He's in Berkeley this week to participate in a major UC initiative to get China and the U.S. to work together on climate change.

The World Bank says China is second only to the U.S. in creating pollution.

Much of China's problems are caused by its coal-burning power plants. It hopes to shift more toward hydroelectric, nuclear and wind generation.

Experts say China is also trying to set a good example as it plays a more visible role in the world.

Gary Guzy, JD, environmental risk analyst: "With the Olympics moving to Beijing, China knows that it's part and parcel of the world community. It's working hard to attract global business and to be a respected player and to get its own house in order to address some of the very difficult pollution issues that it has."

An explosion at a petrochemical plant last November in northeast China contaminated the Songhua River, leaving four million residents of Harbin without water for four days.

The road ahead is both long and challenge for the U.S. and China. China realizes this is a global problem and is developing bilateral initiatives with Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom as well.

In China, Pollution Crashes the Party

News analysis by David Agrell,

China's rapid economic growth has come at a cost: environmental degradation that stokes civil unrest, affects economic growth and ultimately surpasses its own borders.

The problem has become so bad that the government now says further progress is impossible without first establishing targets to reduce the damage.

But previous pollution-reduction plans have failed to meet such targets, and some solutions bring problems all their own.

Industry and unrest
After 20 years of industrialization, two-thirds of the world's most polluted cities are in China, threatening urban residents with illness and disease.

Acid rain, polluted rivers and inadequate sewage treatment have left half the rural population without access to clean drinking water, says the World Health Organization (PDF).

As peasant farmers take the brunt of this, unrest often follows.

On April 8, villagers armed with iron bars vented their frustrations toward polluters in the rural Fujian province by attacking factories they say were fouling water supplies, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Similar protests are frequent. The Guardian reported that riots over land, water and environmental issues averaged 230 a day last year.

China's communist government recognizes the problem, and its latest Five Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development calls for "building a resource-efficient and environmentally friendly society" by reducing pollution and energy and water use.

The state-controlled Xinhua news agency said that the government recently ordered the cleanup of 20 polluting chemical plants, and suspended approval for 44 others because of potential safety threats.

But China failed to meet many previous environmental protection goals in the late 1990s due to rapid industrial growth and massive energy consumption.

Despite goals to reduce sulphur dioxide, emissions increased in 2005.

According to the China Daily Online, a government-run news outlet, efforts to reduce carbon dioxide output have also failed.

This unchecked industrialization takes its toll on China's neighbors.

In Korea, giant clouds of "yellow dust" -- a putrid mixture of industrial pollution and dust from the Gobi desert -- regularly cross the border, causing breathing and skin ailments.

The problem is fueled by deforestation and greenbelt degradation, according to the Korea Times.

Energy crises
Speaking to Reuters, Greenpeace campaigner Yang Ailun said that reform is obstructed by China's growing energy needs, as well as provincial governments that favor economics over environment.

With its dependence on coal-fired power plants, China is among the world's most wasteful energy users, spending 2.4 times more energy per unit of gross domestic product than the rest of the world, according to the United Nations Development Program.

The International Energy Agency, a treaty organization supported by 26 signatory nations, reported that China's power consumption will double over the next 20 years.

The agency also found that carbon dioxide released by fossil-fuel use in developing countries, including China and India, will exceed that of developed countries in the 2020s.

CNN reports that this huge increase is spurring widespread fear of global warming, habitat degradation and "volatile weather."

Although China currently consumes only four percent of the world's oil, its vehicle population is growing fast, and in 2005 was second only to the United States in new vehicle sales.

To discourage petroleum use, legislators have introduced a luxury car tax based on engine size.

But Dongquan He, of the non-governmental Energy Transportation Program in Beijing, said most are too small to be affected by the proposed tax.

A better solution, he told the Associated Press, would be to tax vehicles based on their fuel efficiency.

Alternative energy sources -- such as hydroelectric, wind, nuclear and "clean coal" technologies -- have their own problems.

Greenpeace China claims that "clean coal," such as coal gasification, is a myth, because the technology merely moves pollutants "from one waste stream to another."

China's hopes for increasing hydroelectric power have also raised red flags.

Conservation International fears that a government plan to build eight dams on the upper reaches of the Mekong River, in the southern Yunnan Province, will affect millions of lives by upsetting ecosystems as far downriver as Laos and Cambodia.

China also intends to expand nuclear production sixfold by 2020, and struck a uranium mining deal with Australia this month.

News of the deal got mixed reactions Down Under.

"Australians are rightly concerned about nuclear power and uranium mining due to intractable problems of economic cost, waste disposal and nuclear proliferation," said Anthony Albanese, Australia's Shadow Minister for Environment and Heritage, on the Australian Labor Party's website.

Simple Economics
Environmental health costs, wasted resources, reduced work efficiency due to illnesses and disaster cleanup have had an economic impact that China and the world are increasingly unable to ignore.

Greenpeace says that China Light & Power, a coal-fired power agency based in Hong Kong and serving much of Asia, released nearly 17 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2004.

The activist group says the "negative cost" impact on the global economy amounts to US$1.6 billion.

Back on the mainland, another $1.2 billion is earmarked for cleanup of a recent chemical spill in the Songhua River near the city of Harbin.

Former government economist Bai Hejin told state-controlled media that environmental damage is responsible for a two percent decrease of GDP growth, or a loss of up to 12 percent of annual GDP.

"There is no need to damage the environment for a high growth," Bai said.

Some environmentalists are impressed with China's efforts to acknowledge their global impact, such as its announcement in 2004 that it will become a global wind power within the next decade.

"This is a golden opportunity -- if China is able to fully utilize its immense renewable energy resources, it can leapfrog over the polluting fossil fuel age straight into a clean renewable energy future," said Greenpeace's Lo Sze Ping on the group's website.

However, the Chinese Academy of Science remains cautious, reports Agence France-Presse.

"China has not fundamentally broken away from its economic growth model that relies on the intensive use of natural resources," the academy said, adding that eco-friendly economic growth was currently "not feasible."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Greenpeace is seeking media officer


    * Plan, coordinate and execute media activities of Greenpeace China in Hong Kong;
    * Advise on media potential and communication strategy of direct actions and campaigns;
    * Write press release and background information for campaigns and prepare materials for international communications;
    * Initiate feature/soft stories to disseminate Greenpeace campaign messages;
    * Build and maintain a sound general knowledge of Greenpeace campaigns and issues so as to give response and appropriate arrangement to press inquiries.


    * Degree in Media/Communications or equivalent disciplines;
    * Minimum 3year journalistic experience;
    * Solid experience in implementing press work and communication strategies;
    * Excellent command of English and Mandarin is a must..

The position above is for 2year contract amd subject to renewal.

Interested parties, please send your application letter & full resume with current and expected salary to

(All information collected for recruitment purpose only)

Rome-ing the Environment

By Lila Buckley | Monday, May 22, 2006  

Concerns about the impact of China's development on the global environment are mounting. But as Lila Buckley of Beijing-based Global Environment Insitute experienced first-hand, there is a surprising hurdle to be overcome. Meeting the environmental — and bureaucratic — criteria of Western nations and international treaties before the goals of China is not without its complications.

All roads lead to Rome, as they say. To me, that seemed a rather unlikely path, considering that I work for a Chinese environmental grassroots organization based in Beijing. And yet, here I

In the great push for “development,” perhaps we should ask ourselves: Is it really in the interest of everyone for all roads to lead to Rome?
was, in Italy’s capital for the kickoff meeting of a project under our institute’s Energy and Climate Change program.

We are launching this project with European partners (and funding) to develop carbon-trading guidelines and training for Chinese industries. The aim is to mitigate global warming under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanisms.

So there we were, my two colleagues and I, walking through the streets of Rome, chatting away in Chinese, snapping pictures as we went.

Roman glory

Much like Imperial China, the Roman Empire was known for its strongly centralized government and for massive public works, such as roads and aqueducts, which helped maintain its power and efficiency.

At its height, the Roman Empire spread from Great Britain to present-day Iran and included all the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.

Today, Rome appears to be one large patchwork museum — ancient ruins of a great municipality side-by-side with chic metal office buildings and bustling car-filled streets. The Pantheon right next to a MacDonald’s — and Caesar’s tomb next to a subway station.

Healthier ecosystems

We were a small group gathered for the project kick off — three of us from the Global Environmental Institute and a half dozen Clean Development Mechanism experts from France, Portugal and Italy.

The allocation of resources from rich to poor through tightly managed grants affects the ability of people living in poor countries to do what needs to be done.

We shook hands eagerly, optimistic about the good we were going to do for China, and confident that we had the funding and the know-how to make it happen. Just as all roads lead to Rome, we thought to ourselves, so too do carbon emissions reductions anywhere in the world lead to healthier economies and ecosystems for everyone.

But this coveted “rising tide” philosophy of resource allocation quickly ran into troubled waters. Upon closer inspection of the project budget, we discovered that — although the majority of project activities were the responsibility of the implementing organization (that is, us, in China) — the majority of the funding was allocated to the European experts.

Financial oversights

That unwelcome finding actually left us short of the necessary budget to implement the project in the manner intended. There was some noise about European salaries being higher, about the cost of living being lower in China, but in the end, everyone agreed it wasn’t fair. Under the grant stipulations, however, we weren’t able to do anything about it.

How did such a gross oversight occur?, we asked ourselves. Some of us blamed the grant itself, for requiring us, little Chinese GEI, to have expensive European “expert” partners.

Between two worlds

Others blamed GEI for signing the grant application despite the budget problems. Still others

Much of my job consists of rewording and reworking our project proposals in ways that will fit the development aid goals of the rich countries.
blamed the Europeans for highjacking the original budget outline.

As the main bilingual person at the meetings, I found myself caught in a storm of harsh judgments and rising frustration, dancing between two worlds — the Chinese and the European, East and West, worlds apart.

I had never felt so torn, torn apart by my current life in China and the European blood running through my veins, my ingrained European cultural roots.

When in Rome

The Chinese and the Romans had had empires that rose and fell, changing the world forever. Thousands of years of pride written on their faces, each solid, strong in their place in the world.

In the end, we simply agreed to move ahead, to work with what we had and make the best of the project as is. For when in Rome, you must do as the Romans do (especially if they are giving you money to do so).

Rewording and reworking

And ultimately, the project is still backed with generous funding, a solid work-plan, and experienced people on both the European and Chinese sides who care deeply about the problem of global warming.

Why must we first promise Kyoto Protocol methods — before we can make China’s cement industry more efficient?

Having worked in China for eight months now, I have seen again and again how this allocation of resources from rich to poor through tightly managed grants affects the ability of people living in poor countries to actually do what we need to do to help ourselves.

Much of my job consists of rewording and reworking our project proposals in ways that will fit the development aid goals of the rich countries. And I often feel like throwing up my hands in frustration, turning to no one in particular and asking, “When we are not in Rome, why should we do as the Romans do?!”

Western restrictions

Why must we first prove that our proposal addresses the UK’s environmental objectives — before we can help Chinese government leaders learn about sustainable development?

Why must we first promise Kyoto Protocol methods — before we can make China’s cement industry more efficient?

Controlling funds

The Chinese and Roman empires have both fallen, but imperial instincts and practices can take the form of more than brute force and tax collection. Most wars have been either about trade or religion.

As long as the developed world has the funding, the developing world will have to do as the fund donors stipulate — even when working on their own soil.

Come to think of it, religious wars tend to be about the imposition of a certain cosmology. That is, "We see the world this way — and if you want to stay in this world you’d better see it that way too."

Today, as long as the developed world has the funding, the developing world will continue to be required to do as those fund donors stipulate, even when working on their own soil — and even when it means that most of the actual project funds are not brought to bear at the front lines.

Pushing for development

But, you say, is it not a good thing that these projects be screened and held up to international standards? Yes, I believe it is. But if the Chinese are to be asked to fulfill the goals of their funders, then aid programs and international experts should also be required to look long and hard at their goals.

In the great push for “development,” perhaps we can take a moment to step back and ask ourselves: Is it really in the interest of everyone for all roads to lead to Rome?

World Bank flags environment in new plan for China

by Jitendra JoshiTue May 23, 5:22 PM ET

The World Bank unveiled an ambitious plan of lending to China that highlights environmental destruction and social inequality as "critical" challenges for the booming nation.

The plan envisages annual assistance of 1.5 billion dollars for the next five years, making China the global lender's biggest aid recipient along with India.

The money would be devoted largely to the inland provinces that have lagged the breakneck growth enjoyed by coastal cities, in accordance with Beijing's own plan to spread the boom more widely.

"The new 'Country Partnership Strategy' recognises clearly that helping China to strengthen its economy, manage its resources and environment, and improve governance, are important not only for the Chinese people but also for people all over the world," World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said.

Despite its startling progress of the past two decades, China still has more than 135 million people surviving on less than a dollar a day.

Many observers say that without a fairer distribution of income, and a serious effort to protect the fast-degrading environment of its cities, China risks losing some of its gains.

David Dollar, the World Bank's country director for China, said that with 10 million people leaving the countryside every year to hunt for work in the big cities, the pressure on strained urban infrastructure is intensifying.

"City life is much more energy-intensive," he told reporters. "It raises whole new environmental issues. So urban management is a critical issue for China."

China is home to 20 of the 30 cities in the world with the worst air pollution, and that risks getting worse as more and more Chinese buy cars, Dollar noted.

"If China does not control emissions the whole world will suffer for that," he said. Many of the country's waterways are clogged with industrial and household waste, the official added.

China's leaders do recognise the problem, he said, describing tough new targets to reduce gas emissions and improve water quality.

After the environment, inequality and "social exclusion" are "the next biggest problem" for China's long-term development, Dollar said.

The country's average gross domestic product per head is 1,740 dollars. But in cities like Shanghai, that rises to 8,000 dollars.

Cities inland have suffered from corruption, red tape and antiquated industries. On the land, meanwhile, there remain 800 million farmers trying to eke out a living in often desperate poverty.

Finding more even patterns of development is the "critical next phase for growth" in China, along with moving away from its export model of expansion to one more reliant on domestic growth, Dollar said.

In its newly adopted partnership strategy, the World Bank plans to offer its cash and expertise in five key areas:

-- Integrating China into the world economy, through encouraging Beijing to play a deeper role in bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation.

-- Reducing poverty and inequality, by expanding basic social services, particularly in rural areas.

-- Managing scarce resources and environmental challenges. Key to this will be raising the price of petrol, which Dollar said is as cheap in China as it is in Saudi Arabia, thanks to heavy government subsidies.

-- Deepening financial markets, by increasing access to services for small and medium-sized companies.

-- Improving government and market institutions, through public-sector reforms to make bureaucracy more efficient.

Dollar, however, said China was right to resist US calls to rapidly throw open its currency to market forces. Premature reform would be destabilising, he said.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Beijing's pollution not just an 'official' problem

By Emma Moore (
Updated: 2006-05-22 09:10
It doesn't take a slew of complex statistics and reports to convince Beijingers that their city has a problem with air pollution. Just stepping outside and taking a couple of deep breaths is proof enough of the severity of the pollution levels in China's capital.

Much of the city's haze is caused by dust whipped up from construction sites and the Gobi Desert. But the real health dangers come from toxic vehicle emissions and that¡¯s something all Beijing residents need to take responsibility for.

Satellite images taken by the European Space Agency in 2005 show Beijing and the surrounding north-east China region has the world's worst nitrogen dioxide pollution. This noxious heavy gas can cause potentially deadly lung damage and respiratory problems. Combined with air particles, it often blankets the city in a brownish pall. Looking down on this murky smog from my office window is enough to make me want to hold my breath all day.

Once internationally famous as the city of bicycles, Beijing currently has over 2.6 million motor vehicles with a further 1,000 plus hitting the streets daily. It seems like everyone in the city now aspires to own a car. And why shouldn't the liberals might argue. But the thought of all the adults among Beijing's ever-growing 15 million plus population driving a car each is mind-boggling. Already the city¡¯s roads are clearly overcrowded and at rush hour, the city seems to be choking to death in some traffic hotspots. The clamor of drivers honking their horns impatiently, worn brakes screeching, engines revving and bicycle bells ringing incessantly is enough to make even the most serene person¡¯s blood pressure lurch.

City authorities are now taking decisive steps to prevent the looming environmental and public health disaster. The stunted two-line subway network is being rapidly expanded, highway toll systems are being upgraded and extended, vehicle emission standards are being more rigorously enforced and efforts are being made to limit the number of taxis prowling the city streets. It sometimes seems that too little is being done almost too late; and there remains much more to be done, but the right noises are being made in planning offices.

Now it's up to Beijingers to do their part to save themselves and their city.

Beijing already promotes International Car Free Day on September 22, but one day of reduced exhaust emissions out of every 365 is a mere token gesture in the face of China's skyrocketing pollution levels.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing Environment Protection Bureau, is setting a good example by welcoming a new 'blue skies' campaign. The campaign aims to reduce private vehicle use and encourage walking by persuading drivers to give up their cars for one day a month. To date, 200,000 vehicle owners from 79 car clubs have voiced their support for the movement. That's a good start, but commitment is needed from many more drivers if any real impact is to be made.

What I don't understand is that if drivers are able to walk to work one day a month, what prevents them from walking one day a week or even every single day? Buying a car may be expensive but it doesn't cost owners their legs! The trouble with car ownership is that it inevitably leads to laziness.

One of the sponsors of the 'blue skies' campaign, Wu Zhonghua, chairman of Beijing's Sohu Car Club sums up the situation succinctly:"We cannot control the weather, but we can control our wheels." We can also control our natural inclination to avoid physical effort.

Walking or riding a bicycle around town everyday is often looked down on as lower class and unsophisticated by ambitious city types. But in most developed countries many people now choose to walk or cycle whenever possible and save their cars for trips too long to walk. The benefits of not driving walkable distances are numerous and far-reaching. On a personal level, regular exercise helps with weight loss and control; improves fitness; reduces stress, and of course saves money on petrol and parking. Leaving your car at home helps minimize air and noise pollution, traffic accidents, oil consumption, road repairs and beautifies cities.

The Beijing Environment Protection Bureau reported 17 days of level four or five (severe) air pollution in the first quarter of 2006, compared to only nine days in all of 2005, and just 60 blue-sky days - 16 less than the same period last year. It seems that things are getting worse before they will get better.

I hope Beijingers will bear this in mind and remember the advantages of walking next time they're hunting for their car keys.

Technorati Tags: ,

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

China to inspect implementation of environmental protection law

    BEIJING, May 22 (Xinhua) -- The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature, has ordered inspections of the implementation of three environmental protection laws on solid wastes, water and air pollution after hearing how pollution is increasingly affecting sustainable development.

    Inspection teams will survey progress in Beijing and the provinces of Shanxi, Hubei, Sichuan and Shaanxi, while ten other provincial people's congresses are asked to examine local law enforcement in May and June.

    They will focus on water source protection in urban and rural regions, urban waste water disposal, water pollution prevention and treatment of rivers near chemical or paper plants, disposal ofsolid -- particularly dangerous -- wastes, prevention and control of air pollution caused by thermal power generation, metallurgy, cement and chemical industries as well as motor vehicles.

    Statistics from the State Environmental Protection Administration show water pollution is still a serious problem. Nearly one third of the 744 river sections under state monitoring are badly polluted and all river sections in cities are contaminated.

    In addition, one fifth of cities have serious air pollution and150 million mu (10 million hectares) of arable land are affected by industrial wastes.

    At Monday's first plenary session on inspection of environmental protection laws, Wang Zhaoguo, vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, said the campaign was intended to enhance local government environmental awareness, to encourage bigger environmental budgets, improve environmental monitoring and law enforcement.

    Sheng Huaren, vice-chairman of the NPC Standing Committee who heads the campaign, said inspectors would also examine how the Standing Committee's past suggestions on environmental protection were implemented

Monday, May 22, 2006

Sewage disposal factory set up in Xianyang to curb water pollution

    XI'AN, May 21 (Xinhua) -- Xianyang, once the capital city for China's first emperor over 2,200 years ago, has set up a sewage disposal factory, putting an end to the history of sewage drainage into the Weihe River, the largest tributary of the Yellow River.

    The Dongjiao sewage disposal factory, which was put in operation on Saturday, is a key project the city launched to improve pollution of the Weihe River valley.

    The $37-million factory, covering area of 6.8 hectares, is designed to treat 200,000 tons of city sewage per day.

    As the Weihe River is the only drainage channel in western Shaanxi Province, more than 80 percent sewage and industrial wastewater in the province is discharged in it, causing serious pollution.

    With the operation of the factory, the treated water will meet the discharge standard before being poured into the Weihe River.

    Xianyang, built more than 2,350 years ago, is 20 kilometers northwest of Xi'an, where the world-famous terra-cotta warriors and horses were found.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Over-exploitation of river worsens ecological environment

    JINAN, May 21 (Xinhua) -- The ecological environment of a key Chinese river winding through 26 large and medium-sized cities is worsening due to the excessive exploitation of water resources, a regional water conservancy authority said on Sunday.

    The Haihe River valley, with an area of 320,000 square kilometers, covers Beijing and Tianjin municipalities and the provinces and regions of Hebei, Shandong, Shanxi, Henan and Inner Mongolia. The area is suffering from shortage of water resources, with per capita water availability less than 293 cubic meters, which is far less than the world shortage standard of 1,000 cubic meters.

    The water resource in the river has been overused to adapt to the growing population and rapid economic development along the river, according to the Haihe River Water Conservancy Committee under the Ministry of Water Resources.

    Over exploitation leads to severe deterioration of the ecological environment in the river valley. Statistics showed 98 percent of the water resources in the river valley have been exploited, far exceeding the world standard of 40 percent.

    According to a survey conducted by the committee, 60 percent of 21 trunk tributaries of the Haihe River have run dry, with affected length reaching over 200 km.

    Due to lack of surface water, the river valley has to explore underground water to meet the growing needs. At present, a total of 4.2 billion cubic meters of shallow underground water has been over-exploited. Some regions even suffer environmental geological disasters.

    The growing water needs with China's economic development have gone far beyond the supply of water resources and the capacity of the water environment, which is the fundamental cause of the deterioration of the ecological environment, the committee said.

    The river valley should take efficient measures to deal with water pollution, water diversion and strengthen water saving, in a bid to raise efficiency of water utilization and support the sustainable development of the economy, the committee said

Three Gorges Project benefits from opinions of opponents

    THREE GORGES DAM SITE, Hubei Province, May 20 (Xinhua) -- The major structure of the gigantic Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, China's longest, was completed Saturday. The project, often compared to the Great Wall in its scale, absorbed and benefited from a great amount of opinions from opponents, which enabled its schemes to improve continuously.

    "Naysayers contributed significantly to the Three Gorges Project, "said Pan Jiazheng, head of the experts panel for the project and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

    Pan, together with another 50 or so members from the panel, witnessed the completion of concrete placement for the Three Gorges Dam's main wall Saturday.

    "As for a project, it is not necessarily favorable if there is no opposing opinions. The more naysayers, the more thorough and detailed related researches and proofs may go," said Pan during an interview with Xinhua.

    Now in his 80s, Pan himself had been an opponent to the Three Gorges project before he became a chief tech advisor for the feasibility study on the project.

    According to Pan, in the 1950s, debates centered on China's financial and technological capabilities for the project. However, such concerns have webbed gradually since the late 1980s, along with China's endeavors to grow powerful economically and technologically.

    In 1986, the Ministry of Water Resources invited 412 experts to start the feasibility study for the Three Gorges project, and Pan was appointed the head of the group.

    The Three Gorges project was approved by the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, in April 1992, 38 years after related researches and proof officially began in 1954.

    Pan said, "Generations of scientists, both at home and from abroad, participated in the planning, designing and consulting of the project."

    "Opinions and proposals from those scientists, including naysayers, were solicited. Views from opponents helped improve the democratic and scientific decision for the project," Pan stressed.

    He said in the process of proof, some experts and scholars made researches on budgetary estimates for the project, future silting in the project's reservoir, possibility for geographic disasters, including earthquakes, the project may induce, cost of residents relocation and any effect the project may have on ecosystem and environment. They also studied engineering problems and technical means, advancing various proposals and opinions.

    Some used to worry that the project would become a siphon of funds. Actually, it has saved 20 billion yuan (2.5 billion U.S. dollars) and managed to limit the total cost at approximately 180 billion yuan (22.5 billion U.S. dollars).

    "Not all of its generators have begun operation, but the project has achieved an annual balance between expense and revenue," Pan said.

    He said from 2006, annual income by the 14 operational sets of generators of the project will cover the funds allocated the Central Government for the project in each of the coming years.

    "Nothing on earth embraces advantages only. It is imperative for us to maximize the advantages while minimize the disadvantages," Pan said.

Technorati Tags: ,

Critics say price of China's Three Gorges dam too high

Agence France Presse Via The Nation

Beijing  - China hails the Three Gorges dam, which it completed Saturday, as the solution to a series of national problems, but critics say the price is too high.

 Where proponents of the world's largest hydropower project see increased electricity generation and improved flood control, opponents see damage to the environment, ruin to China's heritage and misery to local residents.

 "In my view, building the Three Gorges dam is a ridiculous and evil farce," high-profile dam opponent Dai Qing wrote on Three Gorges Probe, an online news service run by Canadian think tank Probe International.

 "Many people have known something is wrong with the project, but few have dared to speak up," she said.

 Friends of the Earth has been another vocal critic. "The dam is having a titanic social and environment impact," the group said in a statement Friday.

 Millions of tonnes of silt are carried along the Yangtze river every year, but critics argue the dam will intercept much of it, with potentially disastrous consequences.

 Lack of sediment further downstream could lead to soil erosion, while the accumulation of sediment in the reservoir could raise its level and submerge more land than previously thought.

 The reservoir could also fill with the accumulated garbage from tens of millions of households, with official estimates putting annual waste as high as 200,000 cubic metres (seven million cubic feet).

 The impact of the dam on wildlife has also been raised, with some arguing it could contribute to the extinction of the rare Yangtze river dolphin.

 The dam will lead to the relocation of a total of 1.13 million people, and riverine communities that in some cases have lived in the area for millennia will disappear.

 Some researchers have warned sedimentation and subsequent rising water levels in the reservoir will lead to the evacuation of tens of thousands more people.

 The area around the Three Gorges has been prominent in the development of Chinese civilization and is brimming with physical traces of this history that teams of conservationists have been working frantically to save.

 These efforts include moving the famous 1,700-year-old Zhang Fei Temple brick by brick to higher ground on the Yangtse's south bank.

 But as the waters rise, that which can not be saved will disappear along with some world famous natural scenery.

 Critics say the dam is under threat from earthquakes, with two geological fault lines nearby.

 Officials working on the project counter this by saying the worst that can happen is a tremor measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale, while the dam is built to withstand force 7.0

44 poisoned, 5 dead in highway crash

Source: China Daily UPDATED: 12:48, May 20, 2006

Forty-four rescue workers were rushed to hospital after being poisoned by fumes from a chemical tanker punctured in a pile-up on a highway in Central China's Hubei Province on Thursday.

Four drivers were also killed in the eight-vehicle crash and another rescue worker was crushed to death as emergency vehicles hurried to the scene shortly after 4 am.

Firefighter Chen Ping, 20, of the Zhijiang Fire Brigade, died when a bus rushing to the scene collided with an ambulance, which then hit him from behind.

And local farmer Fang Yong from nearby Jinshan village was also reported to have had his right foot burnt by the chemicals as they washed down on to his land, according to the Wuhan Evening News.

By Friday night, 41 of the rescue workers a mix of policemen, firefighters and villagers were out of danger, following rapid treatment at a nearby hospital. Meanwhile the three more seriously injured were described as stable.

The severe accident is thought to have been caused by heavy fog, which shrouded the Hankou to Yichang highway in the early hours of Thursday morning.

The tanker, believed to contain 20 tons of dimethyl sulphate, began to leak shortly after it was hit from behind by another truck. The 44 rescue workers began to feel pain in their throats and eyes, while some rescuer's skin started flare-up, as they helped clear the chemicals.

Doctors said dimethyl sulfate fumes are irritative and can be inhaled or absorbed by skin, causing burnt eyes, skin and damage to the respiratory system.

He Qing, another firefighter with the Zhijiang Fire Brigade, who stayed in the office while colleagues answered the call, said all 14 firefighters who went to the scene were now in hospital.

Local environment protection workers later dealt with the pollution on the road and nearby farmland with the hope of minimizing the polluted area.

Normal traffic flow on the highway did not resume until 14 hours after the crash at 6 pm on Thursday, when the leaked chemicals were finally cleared from the road and the damaged vehicles dragged away.

This is the second serious traffic accident on the highway this year. On March 25, a crash in which a bus collided with a truck killed 12 and injured another 41 people.

Luo Qingquan, governor of Hubei Province, ordered transportation departments to "learn a lesson from the accident."

"We should strengthen our supervision for the foggy sections of our highways," he said.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Friday, May 19, 2006

Xinjiang to ban movie shoots

    BEIJING, May 19 Via XinhuaNews-- West China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, where part of the Oscar-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was filmed, is to ban movie shoots at scenic spots for fear of damage to the environment, domestic media said Thursday.

    That movie, along with "Hero" by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, was filmed without permission in Xinjiang, the Beijing News said, citing a report in the Urumqi Evening News, though it did not say whether the film crew had harmed the environment.

    "If the environment is seriously damaged and not returned to its natural state in time, legal and economic measures will be taken against those responsible," the newspaper said, citing regulations from the local government.

    Xinjiang is a vast region that contains deserts, forests, mountains and lakes that have made it a favorite destination of directors looking to add sparkle to their films.

    This week, the environmental authorities said they would fine the crew of "The Promise" by Oscar-nominated director Chen Kaige for damaging the environment.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Chinese environmental officials hope blogs will help fight pollution


Five environmental officials in northeastern China's biggest city plan to start blogging to rally the public behind their efforts, a newspaper said Thursday.

"We hope the blogs will help the public learn more about our efforts in environmental protection and encourage them to join us," Shui Hua, a spokesman for Shenyang's Environmental Protection Bureau, told the state-run China Daily newspaper.

China's cities are among the world's smoggiest, most of China's waterways are severely tainted, and farmers have erupted in protest across the country over industrial pollution, as two decades of breakneck economic growth have overridden environmental concerns.

Li Chao, head of the bureau, and four deputies will publish details of their daily work and policy-making decisions and answer questions from the public, Shui told the paper.

Earlier this year, Shenyang, a gritty industrial city, introduced China's first regulations allowing the public to participate in drafting environmental laws and file pollution lawsuits against companies, the report said.

Other Chinese officials who set up blogs this year include Ren Chengyi, deputy director of the Standing Committee of the Chongqing Municipal People's Congress; Su Yongxin, deputy mayor of Suzhou, Jiangsu province; and Zhou Hongyu, an education official in Hubei province, it reported.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Film crew to be fined for damaging environment

(AFP) Via Chinadaily
Updated: 2006-05-17 10:02

Related: Filmmaker destroys pristine Shangrila
          Filming ban aims to protect scenic areas
          Filming said to trash Shangari-La lake

China will fine the crew of the country's most expensive movie, "The Promise" by Oscar-nominated director Chen Kaige, for damaging the environment in an area of outstanding natural beauty, state media said on Wednesday.

Chinese director Chen Kaige poses during a photocall to present his competition film 'The Promise' at the 56th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2006.  [Reuters]

The producers neglected to carry out an environmental impact report and did not apply for permission to build roads and buildings around Bigu Lake in the southwestern province of Yunnan, the Beijing Youth Daily and other newspapers reported.

Though most of the garbage at the site has now been cleaned up and some buildings demolished, about 100 concrete pilings are still standing, the newspaper said.

It will also take some time for marshland areas around the lake to recover, it added. The paper did not say how much fine will be imposed on the film's crew.

"China's current environmental protection laws are not yet perfected, and there is a lack of standards or guidelines for fines for damaging the environment," the newspaper quoted a government environmental watchdog official as saying.

Producer and director Chen Kaige's wife, Chen Hong, has rejected the charges, saying the crew had left "enough money" for the local government to deal with the aftermath, according to state media reports last week.

The film, part love story, part kung fu epic, opened in Chinese theatres in December and was nominated for a Golden Globe as "Master of the Crimson Armor," its US title.

Chen made his debut on the world stage with his 1993 hit "Farewell My Concubine." "The Promise" is the most expensive film in Chinese history, with a budget of US$35 million, and was China's official entry in the best foreign film category at the Academy Awards in March.

The picture shows a dilapidated wooden bridge that crosses the Bigu lake in Shangrila after the shooting of "The Promise", in Southwest China's Yunnan Province. Early this week, Vice-Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing criticized the crew that filmed "The Promise" for damaging the pristine environment at Bigu Tianchi in Shangrila County [Xinhua]

But it opened to mixed reviews at home, with the China Daily calling it a "lame movie with more dazzling special effects but a less convincing, less interesting story."

China says south coast water pollution "serious"

Wed May 17, 2006 1:43 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has admitted that measures to tackle "serious" water pollution in the southern booming province of Guangdong are not working, state media reported on Wednesday.

Water quality in both coastal waters and inland estuaries remained poor, the China Daily said, citing Chinese experts.

The drainage of land pollutants to the sea was a key reason for the poor sea quality and poor ecological environment, the China Daily quoted Zhong Jianqiang, an environmental researcher, as saying.

Citing a recent environmental report, Zhong added that related waters inshore, including the mouth of the Pearl River, had been found to be contaminated with cadmium, arsenic and copper.

Pollutants discharged to the sea via the Pearl River reached 2 million tons in 2005, Zhong said.

With current measures to control pollution not working, new policies to control discharges would be drafted, the China Daily quoted Guo Xingmin, an official with the province's sea and fishing administration, as saying.

Despite 66 fishing protection zones covering an area of 585,000 hectares, fishermen believe the pollution is contributing to dwindling catches, forcing them to trawl in more remote waters, the China Daily said.

"We have to go much further away now to fish," the China Daily quoted 57-year-old fisherman, Peng Chengzhang, as saying.

"Pollution is to blame," he said.

Guangdong's poor environmental report card comes ahead of a planned mass "swimathon" in provincial capital Guangzhou's stretch of the Pearl River.

The 10,000-strong swim was planned "to celebrate the better quality of the river", with Guangzhou mayor Zhang Guangning promising to sign up, the China Daily reported in March.

No date has been fixed.

In recent years, provincial and local governments have poured billions into cleaning up Guangdong's waters, but human development and highly polluting industries continue to take their toll.

Last December, water supplies in several Guangdong cities were hit by a toxic waste spill from a zinc smelter flowing along the North river.

The accident occurred within weeks of a chemical plant explosion in China's northern province of Heilongjiang that poured highly toxic benzene compounds into the Songhua River, endangering water supply for millions.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Pollution accidents hit much of country

    BEIJING, May 16 Via ShanghaiDaily -- Forty-nine environment pollution accidents occurred in China during the first half of this year, affecting 22 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, China's top environment supervisor said yesterday.

    "The number of the environment pollution incidents caused by accidents increased rapidly," the State Environmental Protection Administration said in a statement published on its Website, though it didn't give any comparisons.

    The 49 pollution events included 15 air pollution and 32 water contamination incidents, and two incidents that caused both air and water pollutions. The causes include work safety accidents, illegal waste discharge, and traffic accidents.

    On the night of April 10, a storm lashed Bayannur City in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. To protect the Yellow River levee, local government ordered release of 1,050 tons of paper making water and household waste, that contained a higher level of contaminants than national standards allow, the statement said.

    The discharge flooded 67 hectares of farmland, affecting 57 families.

    After investigation, the state administration found two local paper makers had been routinely releasing seriously polluted waste for a long period, which was the direct cause for the pollution.

    In addition, local government actions affecting a waste pool also contributed to the pollution, the administration said.

    The administration has ordered the waste pool rebuilt, especially to block waste discharge into the Yellow River levee. The two paper makers will not resume operation until they can pass the inspection by the autonomous region environment authority.

    The statement also said the administration has sent two inspection teams to Anhui and Henan provinces to investigate pollution in the Huaihe River.

    The spot-check found that 36 of the 50 inspected companies failed to meet the waste discharge criteria.

Technorati Tags: , ,

China to set up recycling bases for electronic wastes

    BEIJING, May 16 (Xinhua) -- China is planning to set up recycling bases for electronic wastes, an official with the Ministry of Information Industry said Tuesday.

    Waste electric home appliances, deserted mobile phones and batteries bring heavy pollution to the environment and people's life, said the official who asked not to be identified.

    China would make a plan of electronic waste recycling and set up such bases in several regions, the official said. He did not tell when the bases would be finished.

    Investment in the recycling projects would be mainly from private investors, and the government would also give some financial support, the official added.

    Electronic waste recycling is blank in China and the new projects would boost a new industry, said the official.

    As electronic products develop very fast, more and more of themare being replaced by new ones. Deserted computers, handsets and so on heavily pollute the environment.

    Statistics show that one set of computer contains more than 700kinds of chemical materials, over 50 percent harmful to human beings.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Monday, May 15, 2006

China Film Crew Criticised for Harming Environment

May 12, 2006
BEIJING - The crew of China's most expensive movie, "The Promise" by Oscar-nominated director Chen Kaige, has been criticised for damaging the environment in a beautiful county called Shangri-la while filming.

The official China Daily, Xinhua news agency and other Chinese newspapers carried reports or editorials on Thursday criticising the crew for leaving rubbish around the Bigu Lake in the in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

"There is no doubt that film crews are to blame for their irresponsible actions," the English-language China Daily said in an editorial.

"The big names of film stars or directors should never be an excuse for showing no regard for relevant rules that protect the environment or for taking no responsibility for what they do," the newspaper said.

But producer and director Chen Kaige's wife, Chen Hong, rejected the charges, saying the crew had left "enough money" for the local government to deal with the aftermath, the Beijing Morning News said.

Earlier this week, Vice Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing was quoted as telling a forum that the film crew had abandoned a reinforced concrete structure on the lake's shore.

The film, part love story, party kung fu epic, debuted in Chinese theatres in December and was nominated for a Golden Globe as "Master of the Crimson Armor," its US title.

Chen made his debut on the world stage with his 1993 hit "Farewell My Concubine". "The Promise" is the most expensive film in Chinese history, with a budget of US$35 million, and was China's official entry in the best foreign film category at the Academy Awards in March.

But it opened to mixed reviews at home, with the China Daily calling it a "lame movie with more dazzling special effects but a less convincing, less interesting story".

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Three Gorges Dam not polluting Yangtze's upper reaches

    YICHANG, May 14 (Xinhua) -- Water quality at the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, China's longest waterway, has remained unchanged after the Three Gorges Dam began storing water in 2003, says a chief builder of the project.

    "The dam area has maintained a sound ecological environment and water in the Yangtze's upper reaches is still up to drinking standards," said Xie Xiufa, a water conservancy specialist and senior engineer with the Yangtze River Water Resources Committee, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Sunday.

    The natural water flow in Yangtze's Three Gorges was stopped on June 10, 2003 to make way for further construction of the Three Gorges Dam, which is believed the largest water control project in the world.

    Thanks to China's efforts to curb water pollution, soil erosion and geological disasters, the water control project has not posed a threat to local environment, said Xie, adding, "Water quality in the Three Gorges reservoir has met the country's surface water standards and remained more or less the same as before the Yangtze was dammed."

    The Chinese government plans to spend nearly 40 billion yuan (5 billion U.S. dollars) between 2001 and 2010 on at least 150 sewage treatment plants and 170 urban garbage disposal centers to prevent water pollution in the Three Gorges Dam and the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.

    Xie said the Three Gorges water control project has "fine-tuned" the local climate. "We've observed an average temperature rise by 0.2 degree Celsius -- a rise between 0.3 to 1 degree Celsius in winter, but a fall between 0.9 and 1.2 degrees Celsius in summer. So we're having warmer winters and cooler summers in the dam area."

    The expert also ruled out possibility of major earthquakes in the Three Gorges Dam area, which is far from quake-prone regions. The maximum tremor ever detected there measured 2.5 on the Richter scale.

    China has built a joint surveillance network to monitor the water quality, tremors and climate changes in the Three Gorges Dam. Meanwhile, botanists have been working to preserve biodiversity in the dam area to improve its ecological environment, he said.

    Launched in 1993, the Three Gorges Project, including a 185-meter-high dam and 26 generators on both banks of the Yangtze River, is being built in three phases on the middle reaches of the Yangtze.

    The mammoth dam of the Three Gorges Project is expected to be completed next Saturday.

    In accordance with the construction schedule, the entire Three Gorges Project will be completed in 2009 and by then, it will be able to generate 84.7 billion kwh of electricity annually.

Technorati Tags: , ,

China Slaps Tax on Disposable Chopsticks

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press WriterFri May 12, 2:40 PM ET

Walk into any Japanese noodle shop or restaurant and chances are you'll be eating with a pair of disposable wooden chopsticks from China — but not for long. In a move that has cheered environmentalists but worried restaurant owners, China has slapped a 5 percent tax on the chopsticks over concerns of deforestation.

The move is hitting hard at the Japanese, who consume a tremendous 25 billion sets of wooden chopsticks a year — about 200 pairs per person. Some 97 percent of them come from China.

Chinese chopstick exporters have responded to the tax increase and a rise in other costs by slapping a 30 percent hike on chopstick prices — with a planned additional 20 percent increase pending.

The price hike has sent Japanese restaurants scrambling to find alternative sources for chopsticks, called "waribashi" in Japanese.

"We're not in an emergency situation yet, but there has been some impact," said Ichiro Fukuoka, director of Japan Chopsticks Import Association.

A pair of waribashi that used to cost a little over 1 yen — less than 1 cent — now goes for 1.5 to 1.7 yen. The rising costs of raw wood and transportation because of higher oil prices have also contributed to the rise, industry officials said.

But pretty soon, some fear Japan won't even be able to get expensive chopsticks from China: Japanese newspapers Mainichi and Nihon Keizai reported that China is expected to stop waribashi exports to Japan as early as 2008.

To minimize the impact, Japanese importers now buy more bamboo chopsticks and are considering new suppliers, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Russia, said Fukuoka.

Convenience store operators are trying to cushion the impact through cost-cutting in distribution.

"We provide chopsticks only to customers who ask for them," said Mayumi Ito, a spokeswoman for Seven & I Holdings Co., owner of 7-Eleven convenience stores. "We're closely watching the development."

Until the 1980s, about half the disposable chopsticks used in Japan were produced by Japanese companies. But that changed with the introduction of far cheaper Chinese-produced ones.

Supporters of environmental causes see the new Chinese tax as a chance to get rid of disposable chopsticks, which have been linked to deforestation and a wasteful lifestyle.

An Osaka-based restaurant chain operator, Marche Corp., switched to reusable plastic chopsticks in February at its 760 outlets after testing various materials over six months, said company spokesman Michihiro Ajioka.

The chain still keeps waribashi in stock in case customers have trouble snaring noodles with plastic chopsticks, he said. Customers who bring their own chopsticks also get a small discount.

A pair of plastic chopsticks costs about $1.17 and can be reused some 130 times — a cost-per-use that matches a pair of waribashi, Ajioka said.

"So far, we haven't received any complaints," he said. "The amount of garbage has decreased significantly, which is definitely better for the environment."

Japan is China's largest export destination, while China is the third-largest market for Japanese goods, according to government figures.

Japan's trade with China rose 12.7 percent in 2005 to $189.4 billion in its seventh straight year of growth, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.

However, ties between the two countries have become increasingly strained amid a dispute over the ownership of undersea gas fields claimed by both.

Other territorial tiffs and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a Tokyo war shrine that Beijing considers a glorification of militarism have also put a strain on ties. The shrine honors Japan's 2.5 million war dead, including several executed World War II war criminals. China has strongly protested the visits and boycotted summits with Koizumi until he pledges to stop going.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Govt approves water rise in Three Gorges Reservoir

    BEIJING, May 12 (Xinhua) -- China's State Council, the country's cabinet, approved at a conference on Friday the raising of the water level in the Three Gorges Reservoir to 156 meters.

Water spills from the flood discharge holes of the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang of central China's Hubei province May 12, 2006. Continual rainfalls in the upper reaches of Yangtze River brought the middle reaches into this year's flood season. (Xinhua Photo)

    The conference was hosted by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who is also chairman of the Committee for Construction of Three Gorges Project (CCTGP). Chinese Vice Premier and vice chairman of the CCTGP Zeng Peiyan, and Chinese State Councilor Hua Jianmin also appeared at the conference.

    According to the 15th conference held by the CCTGP and chaired by Premier Wen Jiabao, the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project, will soon reach its target height of 185 meters and begin to play its role in flood-control, power generation and shipping.

    Officials said at the conference that currently relocation work for residents is progressing smoothly.

    Reports said about 1.25 million people had been moved from their homes to pave way for the giant project.

    But the conference also noted that though migrant relocation, environment protection and reservoir management around the dam areas have been strengthened, there are still some problems to solve in the years to come.

    Chinese officials urged project operators to tighten supervision over the project since the Dam will soon be completed.

    Local officials were also required to make the relocation of residents a priority and try to help the people solve the problems they have encountered.

    In addition, the conference encouraged local governments to explore ways to boost economic development of the Dam area by restructuring local economy, accelerating the improvement of infrastructure and developing pillar industries.

    To improve environmental protection around the reservoir, Chinese officials require local governments to prevent geological disasters and improve pollution treatment in order to ensure the safety and cleanliness of the reservoir.

    The on-going comprehensive audit of the Three Gorges Project that started in March this year was also mentioned in the conference and officials expressed their hope that money is used properly and efficiently in the project.

    Launched in 1993, the Three Gorges project, including the 185-m-high dam and 26 generators on both banks of the Yangtze, is being built in three phases on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River, China's longest waterway.

    The project is designed to control flooding on the Yangtze River and increase China's electricity production. When the entire project is completed in 2009, it will be able to generate 84.7 billion kwhs of electricity annually.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Three Gorges Dam nears completion, critics fear catastrophe

By David Stanway Via Interfax
Shanghai.  May 12.  INTERFAX-CHINA - The China Three Gorges Project Corporation (CTGPC) is keen to emphasize the virtues of its flagship hydropower dam on the middle reaches of the Yangtze River.  The state-owned company recently launched a propaganda campaign entitled "Three Gorges Project: The Harmonious Development Humanity and Nature", a photography exhibition which will demonstrate how the project "harnesses and develops the Yangtze" and explore the "successes [the project has contributed] to China's hydropower development and the protection of its environment". 

Despite all the efforts to stress the positive benefits of the controversial multibillion-dollar project, the company's spokesperson, Yan Fei, was reluctant to discuss the early completion of the dam when contacted by Interfax, and had no details about the progress of the remaining generating units to be installed on the right bank.  She was also unable to give any details about plans to build another batch of underground turbines.    

Installation on that right bank has, in fact, already begun, with the assembly of the first unit, No. 26, beginning on May 11.  According to the vice-general manager of CTGPC, Cao Guangjing, speaking at Yichang on Friday May 12, the entire 26-unit project will be completed by the end of 2008, a year ahead of schedule.  He insisted that the rapid progress on the project would not affect the quality of construction, and would enable the project to generate an extra 70 bln kWh in electricity. 

Workers were also busy over the Labor Day holidays excavating and reinforcing the housing for the underground generators, the international tendering for which will get underway later in the year. 

The construction of the Dam itself is expected to be completed on May 20.  The completion comes about nine months ahead of schedule, and the news was greeted with considerable fanfare in the official domestic media.  CTGPC insists that the project has been successful beyond the dreams of the developers and that none of the disasters envisaged by opponents have even come close to reality, but the opponents themselves believe that the troubles have only just begun.

The motive for pushing the schedule forward is very clear, says Professor Fan Xiao, a geologist and hydropower expert at the Sichuan Tourism Geological Research Center, but it brings additional burdens to a project already fraught with complications.  

"A senior official with the CTGPC admitted in a TV interview that the revenues from [additional] electricity production would be considerable," Fan told Interfax.

Once the main dam, 2,309 m long and 185 m high, is completed, the water level of the reservoir will rise once again, reaching 156 m by October.  It will rise again to 175 m in 2009, by which time all 26 of the generating units will have been put into operation.

But in the rush to earn profits and cover some of the spiraling costs of construction, the operators are overlooking some of the problems, Fan believes.  In a recent article for the Chinese National Geographic magazine, he noted that original models suggested that sedimentation would threaten the port at Chongqing within 20 years, but the process could now accelerated.   

"This was just a simulation, which means the result may turn out to be more serious," Fan told Interfax.

Surrounding areas are well aware of the problems they are facing as a result of the Three Gorges impoundment. One reason why Chongqing has invested RMB 1.5 bln (USD 187.5 mln) to build a new port at Cuntan, according to Fan, was the fact that the current port at Jiulongpo would soon be immobilized by silt streaming down the upper reaches of the Yangtze and accumulating close to the dam.

The never-ending battle against nature continues, and each solution creates further problems for the army of government experts assigned to monitor construction, who respond to each and every potential crisis with a new set of measures, systems and projects.  Silt build-ups at the dam lead to plans to trap the silt further upstream in Sichuan and Yunnan by constructing two massive new dams. The authorities insist that they can avert potential landslides by implementing a monitoring system, and if plant species are endangered by the rising waters, why not set up a gene bank in order to help preserve biodiversity? 

CTGPC has been given the go-ahead to build two massive new hydropower plants at Xiluodu and Xiangjiaba, both on the Jinsha River, the Yangtze's western branch.  The two projects, with a combined generation capacity that will exceed the Three Gorges facility, are being constructed partly in order to alleviate the silt pressures flowing in from upstream. "Building more dams to relieve silt build-ups only transfers the problem upstream," said Patricia Adams, the executive director of Probe International, a Toronto-based pressure group, in a telephone interview with Interfax.

Some critics have even suggested that the benefits of the Xiluodu and Xiangjiaba projects has been exaggerated in order to provide more work for the engineers, technicians and laborers on the CTGPC payroll as construction at the Three Gorges comes to an end.  Construction at Xiluodu was officially launched at the end of last year.   

An additional 80,000 people are to be relocated in 2006, according to official figures, but experts estimate that in the rush to raise the water level and generate as much electricity as possible, the figure may be much higher.  Fan notes that the slope of the reservoir will be crucial.  A slope at the upper edge of the reservoir in Chongqing would mitigate the problems of silt, but it would also increase the number of displaced farmers, and the developers are currently debating which is the best option, Fan Xiao wrote in Chinese National Geographic magazine.

Each new step in the mammoth project is greeted with dismay by its opponents, and they are keen to limit what they believe will be irreversible damage to the region's geology.  The higher the water level, the greater the possibility of disaster, they claim.  "53 scientists have signed a petition saying that the depth of the water should not go past 156 m," said Patricia Adams.

"The China People's Political Consultative Conference submitted a report to the State Council last year, objecting to the earlier-than-scheduled completion of the 156 m [water level] target," said Fan Xiao.  "But the CTGPC insisted on fulfilling its plan, and no support was given to the opponents in the end."

The Chinese government, with their battalions of environmentalists, geologists, meteorologists, archeologists and hydrologists, insist that they have done everything in their power to minimize the problems that might transpire from the world's biggest water project, but Patricia Adams told Interfax that the efforts were far from sufficient.  She said that the Chinese government have "ignored the real costs of the Three Gorges in order to justify a bad decision".

The government have said that they have put in place measures and monitoring systems aimed at reducing the threat of landslides, reservoir-induced seismicity, water pollution and sedimentation, but Adams is skeptical.  "If anything," she said, "they [the risks] have been confirmed.  These problems just cannot be addressed, and short of draining the reservoir, nothing can be done to avert them."

"As long as the reservoir is filled even at a low level," she said, "they need a state-of-the-art seismic monitoring system, which they don't have.  They need a warning system and an evacuation plan, which they don't have."

"{The Dam] is a huge risk introduced into the river valley," Adams said, "threatening not only those communities that live within the flood zone around the reservoir, but the millions of people downstream from the dam itself that is at risk of overtopping, perhaps structural damage and, god forbid, catastrophic failure." 

Echoing Fan Xiao, she said that priority had always been given to the profits of the state-owned operator of the project. 

And while the problems associated with relocated migrants are severe, they can at least be resolved, financially.  "But they cannot alleviate the geological problems," she said.

China says that the advantages of hydropower are self-evident.  The fuel, water, is renewable and the cost of generation is cheap.  But the government are still forced to "distort the electricity market", says Adams.  "In order to protect these big dams, all competitors are kept out in order to guarantee profits.  The cost of 8-9 cents per kWh is also much more expensive than other sources of power, but it is subsidized by the government.  The price people are being charged is 3 cents, which means there are terrible distortions." 

"For political reasons, these big dams are being protected from financial consequences and the costs of the impact on downstream communities," she said.  

Hydropower projects "are perfect crucibles for generating corruption", she said.  A more transparent and decentralized system would expose the Three Gorges Project as inefficient and uncompetitive.

"Decommissioning does happen when the operators have to relicense their dam and undergo cost-benefit analysis.  When the real costs of dams are analyzed, decommissioning starts to happen."    

Many are worried about the potentially catastrophic consequences of the Three Gorges Dam.  It may continue to operate smoothly for a few years, but its operation span is estimated to last a century.  Fan Xiao notes in China National Geographic that although a number of problems have already arisen as a result of the impoundment of the dam, it may take twenty years before the full extent of the damage manifests itself. 

New dams being constructed in China are "benefiting from the propaganda push caused by the Three Gorges," said Adams.  The proposed Nu River projects in Yunnan Province are "riding the waves of Three Gorges propaganda, the absence of good analysis and the distortions in the electricity market."

The government have justified the hydropower boom as a vital fuel for economic growth in some of China's more impoverished regions.  "The need for economic growth is a legitimate and noble question, but the real question is whether or not hydro dams deliver it, and the answer is no," said Adams.

"The local people get all the costs and none of the benefits," she said.

Large-scale dams are a symptom of centralized control and the state monopoly over the power industry.  "If you're a community in Yunnan Province what you need is a decentralized system that you can control yourselves, where the costs and benefits can be controlled by yourselves."

Technorati Tags: ,