China makes most of our plastic carriers - it also recycles them when we toss them away. Crazy? It's become a fashionable thing to worry about - and there's a new It bag to prove it. Jonathan Watts in Mai and Jess Cartner-Morley in London report Jonathan Watts and Jess Cartner-Morley Saturday March 31, 2007 The Guardian Migrant workers sort waste for recycling in China Migrant workers sort waste for recycling in China. Photograph: Dapei Xin/EPA Five thousand miles from the nearest UK high street, a blue and white Tesco carrier bag flutters like a flag in the breeze. It is snagged on a twig above a Chinese stream that's choked with rubbish from around the world. Argos and Wal-Mart logos are visible in the fetid water and along banks that are strewn with plastic bags. There is even a green and white Help The Aged carrier with a UK website address on it. Article continues Here in Mai, a village in Guangdong Province, southern China, a community of recyclers ekes out a living from items considered so worthless in the west that they are given away free and quickly discarded. Carrier bags and bottles are shipped here from London, Rotterdam, Hong Kong and cities within China for chopping, melting and remoulding into pellets. Like many jobs outsourced to China, it's dirty, smelly, labour-intensive and poorly paid. There is so much rubbish to be recycled that parts of the village look like a dump. "The river is foul - we can smell it from our classrooms," says Wang Yanxia, a student at a local middle school. "When it rains, the water floods on to the path and the stench is everywhere." Villagers may not have heard of Tesco, but the British high street giant has an all too visible presence. One factory has even decorated its front gates with huge plastic banners advertising a Tesco mobile phone offer. If China is the end of the line for the plastic bag, it is also the beginning. Most of the carrier bags used in Britain are made in Chinese factories just a few hours' drive from Mai. From there, they travel halfway around the world, are dished out to British shoppers - and then at least some of them find their way back. The 10,000-mile odyssey between manufacturing and dumping is the story of our age, part economic miracle, part environmental tragedy. In the space of just 20 years, the fishing village of Shenzhen, in the south of China close to Hong Kong, has become an industrial powerhouse with a population of more than eight million and a container port that handles more cargo than anywhere in the world other than Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. This is where most of the planet's toys and shoes are made, where Apple outsources much of the production of its iPods, where Wal-Mart fills its shelves. And, naturally, it is also the place that makes billions of the plastic bags that briefly contain all these consumer goods. Shenzhen Delux Arts Plastics is a typical manufacturer, paying its workers about £60 a month to churn out 25,000 plastic carriers every day, a fifth of which go to Europe, some to Next in the UK. It is a simple, three-part process. Bags full of plastic pellets are fed into an induction pipe, melted together at a temperature of 180C and then stretched and wound on to rolls the width of the desired bag. Next, the rolls are fed through a series of cylinder printing presses, each adding a different colour, until the logo and lettering are complete. Finally, an army of workers on the second floor carries out the more labour-intensive process of melting handles on to the bags, checking quality and packing. From start to finish, it takes just five minutes to make a bag. The production cost for each bag is less than four pence, most of which goes on machinery maintenance, management and materials. The primary ingredient is polyfabric polypropylene or other types of plastic, all of them petroleum based and imported directly from Saudi Arabia or from refineries in Singapore and Japan. The industry has a significant carbon footprint. By one estimate, the US alone requires 12 million barrels of oil for the 100 billion bags its consumers use annually. For factory manager Andy Lue, the main concern is that the cost of plastic is rising along with the surge in oil prices. "Our customers would complain if we tried to pass on the extra cost of the materials," he says. The factory's main competitive advantage is labour, which accounts for less than a 10th of the production costs of a plastic bag. Wages in Shenzhen are low, and more than three-quarters of the population are migrants, many of them living in huge company dormitories far from their homes and families, and working in dirty, dangerous conditions. Over at the Delux Arts Plastics factory, pay and working conditions are above average for Shenzhen. The manager will not permit us to talk to employees, but we are introduced to "group leader" Chen Ping, a migrant from Guangxi Province, who tells us that the situation has improved enormously since she started working and living in the factory 11 years ago. "The managers realise they must let us eat and sleep better if they want us to work harder." Chen earns more than double the average factory salary, but her life is far from easy. Because she is a migrant, her two children will have to return to their home town to go to school, which means she will see them for only a few days each year, at spring festival. But she expresses no sense of grievance, even though the consumers who use her Next bags can easily pay more for a single shirt than she earns in a month. "I don't think it is unfair. We make these bags to be used. They have their own value." In Britain, plastic bags have long been a cause of irritation, partly due to their visibility. In gutters and branches, the useless, ugly flutter of discarded, brightly coloured plastic taunts us with human fecklessness. They pose problems for wildlife, they block drains. And 17 billion plastic bags a year are handed out to British shoppers. What has made them, suddenly, a very hot issue is the launch of another kind of bag - an item that has already become the status bag of 2007. This is not the reissued Chanel quilt-and-chain classic, the 2.55. It is not even the YSL Downtown, with its modish zips and snap fastenings. And - here's the thing - it costs £5. There is nothing inherently remarkable about Anya Hindmarch's I'm Not A Plastic Bag. It is a simple, rope-handled, sturdy cotton shopping bag, albeit one that's rather beautifully designed, as you would expect from the British Accessory Designer of the Year. What is significant, however, is the reaction to it at every stage, from the sketchbook to the checkout. There have already been queues at the Mayfair store Dover Street Market, when a few preview bags went on sale. At around the same time, the British Retail Consortium has announced a voluntary initiative to reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by 25% by the end of next year, through the use of alternative materials to make lighter-weight bags, by encouraging reuse, offering and promoting "bags for life", always asking customers whether they require a bag at all and providing bag recycling points. In other words: reduce, reuse, recycle. Friends of the Earth are quick to point out that, in the context of the scale of the environmental issues with which we are faced, plastic bags, which account for only 0.3% of the domestic waste stream, are not their top priority. Even so, the average person in the UK accepts, on average, five plastic bags a week. The decision as to whether to take a bag is almost a daily one. The supermarket checkout has become, therefore, a frontline of the battle for the environment, even more so because, unlike recycling or composting of domestic waste, it is a decision we take in public, and so reflects not only personal beliefs but what we see to be public norms. It is for this reason that Decline Plastic Bags Wherever Possible is the first action suggested in the book Change The World For A Fiver. "Declining plastic bags is totemic of lots of things," says Eugenie Harvey, co-founder of the global social-change movement We Are What We Do, which produced the book. "It's the most visible aspect of a whole set of behaviour around shopping: do you buy environmentally friendly washing powder; do you buy locally produced food?" Trevor Datson, spokesman for Tesco, calls the "Do you need a bag?" moment at the checkout "a constant conversation between us and the customer. I was in the Sandhurst store yesterday and my colleague on the checkout remarked to me how many more people remember to bring in their own bags these days." Hindmarch's bag may help. She has a knack for reading the zeitgeist, as illustrated by the phenomenal success of her Be A Bag range, whereby family photos could be made into smart handbags, a concept that in the six years since it was launched has been copied all over the world. The low price of the I'm Not A Plastic Bag - a fiver - was absolutely essential to the project, Hindmarch says. "And so was the point of sale, which had to be the supermarket checkout." Hindmarch is, however, a businesswoman, and as such knew that too many £5 Anya Hindmarch bags on the market would damage her upmarket brand. (To put the price in perspective, the Elrod, one of the key Anya Hindmarch leather handbag styles for this summer, sells for around £500.) Production therefore had to be limited, and so the bag had to be made in China if the figures were going to add up. "That was not ideal, of course," Hindmarch concedes, "but we have been careful about carbon-offsetting the project. Our aim was for the project to break even. None of the retailers involved in the project is making any money from it." A limited number of bags are currently on sale via Hindmarch's website, and from April 11, the remaining 20,000 bags will go on sale in Sainsbury's. The purpose of the Hindmarch bag is, says the designer, "to cast a spotlight on the issue. Just to plant an idea in people's heads that will make them think before automatically reaching for a bag." Finding a complete solution to the plastic bag problem is extremely complicated. All the supermarkets profess commitment to the issue, but all have different policies. Tesco produces all-degradable bags and operates a clubcard scheme to reward people for reusing bags, on the principle that "incentive is better than coercion, because if people do something resentfully, they are not making such a deep-seated change". Waitrose emphasises the "bag for life" scheme, which they were the first retailer to introduce 10 years ago. The Co-op's bags are degradable; Sainsbury's are made of one-third recycled material. The opening of the country's first organic supermarket, Whole Foods Market in Kensington, in June, may further accelerate the process of change - the store, like its Fresh & Wild predecessors, will refund customers 5p for not taking a bag. Friends of the Earth, however, would like to see a government tax on all plastic bags. Degradable and biodegradable bags are "not an environmentally friendly option", they say, and "will lead to the public becoming increasingly confused as to what they are supposed to do with them. Degradable plastic bags usually can't be recycled with normal plastic bags, and people may think they can put degradable bags into their compost bins, which they can't." Degradable bags are still made from plastic, so placing demands on oil resources. They contain a metal additive to make them degrade and tend to require sunlight to break down. If biodegradable bags end up in landfill, they will eventually produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Paper bags are no better, say Friends of the Earth, because they have less capacity for being reused, and require more energy and resources in manufacture and transport than plastic alternatives. Bags made from recycled plastics, which are then reused or recycled, are considered by many a better option, but recycling points for bags are as yet not widely accessible. In any case, all too often, a promise by municipal government to recycle simply means sending the rubbish to China. In trade terms, it makes an odd kind of sense. Historically, British merchants have always found it easy to fill their ships with goods on the route from China, but all too often they have been stuck with empty cargo holds in the opposite direction. This trade gap is the main reason why English gunboats forced opium on China in the 19th century. Today, however, the answer is not drugs, but garbage. China exports almost £12.6 billion-worth of manufactured goods and other products to the UK each year. In return, the UK sends back 1.9 million tonnes of rubbish, for the simple reason that it's cheaper than dumping it at a UK landfill site. Because the ships are almost empty on their way back to China, the cargo costs are tiny - it's cheaper to send a container of waste from London to Shenzhen than it is to truck it to Manchester. Under EU law, waste cannot be dumped abroad, but shipments for recycling are permitted. This means business for Guangdong Province, which is scattered with Steptoe and Son communities. There are the e-waste centres of Guiyu and Qingyuan, where families make a living from chopping up and melting down toxic plastics and metals from discarded computers, printers and mobile phones. Below them on the waste chain are the recyclers of plastic bags and bottles in Shunde and Heshan. Until recently, the most notorious of these was in Nanhai, a town just outside Guangzhou, where the streets were once piled high with rubbish and the streams thick with trash and pollution. Last month, however, after a series of embarrassing reports in the British media, the government was shamed into shutting down the entire area and banning imports of foreign garbage. Today, the streets of Nanhai are swept clean and the small recycling sheds are shuttered up. For many locals, however, this sudden concern about the environment is a financial disaster. "We were ordered to close last month because some foreign rubbish contained toxins," says Ding Chunming, who used to process bottles and bags. "It's a terrible blow because we only started this business last year. We get no compensation. All we can do is wait and hope the government allows us to restart business." But the industry has learned how to bypass laws and regulations. Many Nanhai refugees simply moved their scrapheaps to a new location. Two hours' drive away, we found a new recycling centre under construction in Shijing village. The concrete is still wet on the floor and many of the sheds are only half complete, but the task of buying, selling and sorting rubbish is already in full flow. The operation is remarkably specialised. There are sections just for discarded hotel welcome mats, the bases of revolving chairs, black buckets and the lids of shampoo bottles. A local businesswoman, who gave her name only as Ms Liang, was terrified that another critical news report would force her to relocate again. "We have only just got here from Nanhai," she says. "I have never dealt with foreign waste. I can't do it now and I won't do it in the future." But for others the trade in foreign waste is too lucrative to disappear quickly. We were approached by a scrap dealer who asked if we had any rubbish to sell. He was after PVC, but he put us in touch with a factory in Shenzhen that said it could deal with carrier bags despite the ban. "It can be done as long as the plastic is well enough packaged to get through customs," says the owner. "You should ship them to Hong Kong and we will deal with them from there. If the bags are sorted by colour, we can pay you as much as $100 a tonne." Farther away from the media spotlight and the scrutiny of environment officials, many factories are still reprocessing British carrier bags and other rubbish despite the government's ban. Another hour's drive away is Shunde, where European trash is baled up on the roadside. Much of it is from the UK - Tesco milk cartons, Walkers crisp packets, Snickers wrappers and empty packets of Bisto gravy and Persil powder - but there are also bales containing the packaging for Dutch confectionery and Italian nappies. The village of Mai is close by. Running through the community is a street of recycling firms, outside each of which stands a blackboard detailing the type, colour and quality of the plastic they deal in. Some are no bigger than a shed in which migrant workers sift by hand through hundreds of thousands of tiny plastic pellets, picking out discoloured flecks and bits of fluff. Mai Weibo buys semi-processed bags for 9,000 yuan a tonne (around £600) and, after painstakingly cleaning up the contents, sells the plastic on for 10,500 yuan - "We don't make much of a profit." The recycled plastic is not of sufficiently high quality to be used a second time for UK bags, so instead much of it is turned into red, white and blue plastic sheets, which are used for building site coverings and holdalls. Many locals believe the pollution is ruining their health. A local doctor says the village suffers from an unusually high incidence of respiratory diseases. "Perhaps it was the pollution or perhaps it was because everyone smokes cigarettes," he says. "This is a sensitive topic. Of course we want a garden-like environment, but people here have to make a living." Others say they have other priorities. "I don't care about the environment," says one migrant labourer. "I only want to make money. If your stomach isn't full, how can you worry about health?" Everyone condemns as an eyesore the ditches full of carrier bags, but nobody seems to take responsibility for clearing up the mess. In fact, the main concern of local businessmen and government officials is to avoid scrutiny. "The government has banned imported waste because of the media attention," says one local factory manager, whose warehouse includes giant baskets full of rubbish from the UK. "The Nanhai recycling business has been shut down. This area doesn't want to suffer the same fate because it would hurt the government's income." Britain's stance is also equivocal: dumping waste overseas is forbidden, but sending it to another country for recycling is acceptable. When told of the foul conditions at Mai, an official at the UK consulate in Guangzhou says that individual companies have to take action. "It is the responsibility of producers to make sure that waste is dealt with properly at all stages of the chain." Foreign governments have started to take action specifically on plastic carriers, some going much further than Britain's retailers and their aim for a voluntary 25% reduction in bag use by 2008. Ireland, for example, introduced a 15p "plastax" on carrier bags way back in 2002, which has subsequently led to a 90% reduction in use. Australia has launched a "Say No To Carrier Bags" campaign. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, the government has obliged supermarkets to charge for bags at least two days a week. Italy is promoting the use of biodegradable bags. In France, reusable plastic bags - which are heavier, easier to recycle and less likely to blow away - now account for more than half of the ¤770m market. Inevitably, however, even those eco-bags are made in Shenzhen. The main producer is the Richall Group, which must be one of the world's fastest-growing companies. Launched in 2003 with starting capital of just £1,000, last year it recorded sales of more than £3m, and this year that figure is expected to triple, thanks to business from Sainsbury's, Unilever, Disney, Budweiser and Nestlé, all of whom are looking towards reusable bags. Richall's president, Liu Tianyan, says attitudes are changing but, more importantly, so are materials. "We're never going to get rid of plastic bags completely, because in some cases, such as food wrappings, there is no good substitute. But in the case of shopping bags, I believe the flimsy plastic can be completely replaced." Not everyone thinks that would be a good thing. Peter Woodall, communications manager for the Carrier Bag Consortium, says, "It's important to forget the emotion and look at the science. We are not filling our landfill with plastic bags. That is simply a myth. When real science is taken into account, the best environmental choice is plastic. Life-cycle analysis shows that if you use a conventional bag four times and then recycle it, that is better than using a 'bag for life'." Environmental campaigners, meanwhile, believe the only solution is to make rich countries deal with their waste locally. "That's the only way to make the whole community feel the impact," says Kevin May at Greenpeace's office in Beijing. "If you can easily dump waste overseas, then there is no motive for having a waste-reduction programme at home. The argument that developing nations need recycled resources from wealthy nations is only partly true. The environmental costs are too high. Just look at the filthy water and polluted air of China. If we can stop the waste trade, I am sure it will lead to more sustainable development around the world." The apparent intractability of the plastic bag problem is all the more remarkable considering that our dependency on them is a recent phenomenon. Polythene was not even invented until the 30s, and plastic bags did not become common in supermarkets until the 70s. The idea that we can't live without them is a very modern one.
Saturday, March 31, 2007
· One-fifth of rubbish in province is imported · Recycling firms relocate to get round crackdown Jonathan Watts in Mai Saturday March 31, 2007 The Guardian
Mai village in Guangdong province, southern China, suffers from a Made-in-Britain eyesore: Tesco and Argos plastic bags choke the waterways, snag on tree branches and contribute to a rotting stench during floods and hot weather. There is even a green and white Help The Aged carrier bag printed with a slogan proclaiming the charity's fight against "poverty, isolation and neglect".It is a side-effect of globalisation. Many of these products were manufactured in China, shipped to the UK for use and sent 5,000 miles back for disposal.
China exported £12.6bn worth of manufactured goods to the UK last year and received an estimated 1.9m tonnes of rubbish in return. Under EU regulations member countries are not allowed to dump garbage overseas, but are permitted to send sorted waste for recycling.
Environmentalists say this is irresponsible because much of the recycling is carried out in poorly-regulated communities, where health risks and pollution worries are a low priority.
Guangdong is scattered with scavenging centres. In Guiyu and Qingyuan small family-run businesses chop up and melt down toxic plastics and metals from discarded computers, printers and mobile phones. In Nanhai and Shunde factories deal with mounds of plastic bags and bottles. About 20% of the waste comes from overseas according to local sources.
A series of exposés in the domestic and foreign media prompted the government to crackdown on the business earlier this year. Guangdong's provincial government banned unlicensed businesses and individuals from importing plastic waste and suspended operations at factories that failed to meet environmental standards.
Last month factories in the most notorious district, the Lianjiao area of Nanhai, were shut down. But most firms simply relocated.
Two hours drive away a new recycling centre is under construction in Shijing village, which is now littered with scrapheaps. The dealers said they would no longer touch foreign waste.
In nearby Shenzhen and Shunde businessmen were still reprocessing carrier bags and other UK waste from the UK. "It can be done as long as the plastic is well enough packaged to get through customs," said the owner of one factory.
At "plastic street" in Mai village, dozens of small plastic recycling firms line the road. Most of the work is done by migrant workers who are paid about £50 a month.
Thousands of plastic carrier bags were being blown into ditches and waterways, creating an eyesore and a bad smell. Students at the local school said the stench came into their classrooms and got worse when the fetid stream floods.
The sanitary department of Shunde township said it was unaware of the mess in Mai village.
"We have a project to clean up villages in this area but we haven't got round to Mai yet," said a spokesman. The provincial government declined to comment.
Britain supports the recycling business. "It allows for a more sustainable use of world resources, but it should be carried out under strict environmental controls," said the UK consulate in Guangzhou. When told of the impact on Mai village it said individual companies should take more responsibility.
Greenpeace believes that wealthier countries should deal with their waste problems at home, rather than exporting them to developing countries, which have to pay the environmental costs.
"If we can stop the waste trade I am sure it will lead to more sustainable development around the world," said Kevin May, toxics campaign manager at Greenpeace's office in Beijing.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Russia and China developing treaty on water pollution
MOSCOW: Russia and China are drawing up a treaty on cross-border waterways that could determine compensation if an industrial accident in one country pollutes rivers that flow into the other, a senior environmental official said Thursday.
In 2005, an accident at a Chinese chemicals plant sent a toxic spill into the Amur river in Russia's Far East, forcing Harbin, the biggest city in China's northeast, to temporarily shut down running water to 3.8 million people.
Oleg Mitvol, the deputy head of Russian environmental watchdog Rosprirodnadzor, said the agreement could be signed in the fall. One of the problematic areas of the talks was Russia's interest in how to compensate for damages caused by pollution from the Chinese side, he said.
A fire at a chemical plant in Jilin in November 2005 caused a spill of toxic nitrobenzene and other chemicals into the China's Songhua river. The Songhua flows across China's northern border into Russia, where it becomes the Amur River and supplies water to the city of Khabarovsk.
According to Mitvol, the Songhua basin is home to 70 million people and some 2,000 companies, of which more than 100 are large petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and pulp plants. By comparison, just one million people live in the Russian cities along the Amur, Mitvol said.
Citing Russian data, he said that up to ninety percent of the pollutants in the Amur originate from Chinese companies. "According to our information tens of petrochemicals are to be built in the Songhua basin in the near future," he said.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
China may stop 'dragon project'
Dragons are important symbols in China
Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 March 2007
It was originally due to be completed in time for the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in 2009.
It is located on top of the Shizhu Mountain, which was designated a national forest park in 2005, in the central province of Henan.
The dragon is seen as a national symbol representing prosperity and good luck.
The Henan Environmental Protection Agency says it has sent a team to investigate the project that started without the necessary environmental assessments, Xinhua news agency reported.
"If the project fails our assessment, we will order it be stopped or the demolition of the completed part," an unidentified official with the administration was quoted as saying.
An online survey showed more than 90% of respondents disapproved of the dragon, Xinhua said.
"The planned dragon is like an expressway which will damage vegetation, affect the landscape and destroy the local ecological system," Wu Mingzuo, director of Henan Ecology Society, was quoted as saying.
"Shizu mountain is a symbol of Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, who is considered the earliest ancestor of China," the Shanghai Daily quoted Dai Songcheng, director of the Henan institute of culture, as saying.
"Such an immense structure on the mountain top is disrespectful to Huangdi."
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's environmental agency has lifted a freeze on projects by a power company and others in the northern city of Tangshan after local officials moved to strengthen pollution controls.
The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) found Tangshan, in Hebei province, had closed or cleaned up heavily polluting plants, and some new projects could proceed, the agency announced on its Web site (www.sepa.gov.cn) late on Monday.
The agency also said it had lifted restrictions on Hong Kong-listed Datang International Power Generation Co., which had been accused of skirting environmental approval rules for a power project in Tangshan.
SEPA had banned dozens of industrial projects in January as the Chinese government sought to strengthen environmental controls in an effort to rein in both pollution and unfettered investment.
Tangshan, whose abundant coal has attracted heavy industrial investment, shut down or upgraded dozens of small steel mills, coke plants and factories, SEPA's vice director Pan Yue said.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
Progress comes at a high price for China and India, but there are grounds for hope Jonathan Watts in Linfen, Randeep Ramesh in New Delhi Monday March 26, 2007 The Guardian Residents of Linfen, China, wear masks to protect themselves from the pollution. Photograph: Wu Hong/EPA
"We only see the sun for a few days each year," said Zhou Huocun, a doctor in the outlying village of Liucunzhen. "The colour of our village is black. It is so dirty that nobody airs their quilts outside any more so we are getting more parasites. I have seen a steady increase in respiratory diseases as the air quality gets worse and worse."
Linfen is the frontline of the battle against global warming. For the past five years, the city of 3.5 million people has been the most polluted place on the planet, bottom of the World Bank's air quality rankings, and a symbol of the worst side-effects of China's breakneck economic growth.
Enveloped by a spectral haze, the city lies at the heart of a 12-mile industrial belt, fed by the 50m tonnes of coal mined each year in the nearby hills of Shanxi province. The New York-based Blacksmith Institute puts it alongside Chernobyl on a list of the planet's 10 most contaminated places.
What Linfen symbolises is the cost of development in China and the other most populous country: India. Both economies are growing explosively, leading to a rapid expansion of their middle classes. This in turn has seen a growing appetite for power - one sated by the building of dirty, inefficient coal-fired plants that are slowly cooking the world's atmosphere.
The effects have been dramatic. By 2009 China is predicted to overtake the United States as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. India has recently become the fourth biggest polluter, but its steeply rising emissions will see it in third place within a few years.
China's three decades of industrial blitzkrieg has extracted a heavy price. Seventy percent of its rivers are contaminated. In the southern Himalayas, ancient glaciers are melting. Further north, encroaching deserts threaten the livelihoods of 400 million people.
India, which is only half as rich as China, has also suffered. The frequency of catastrophic weather events such as flash flooding, say Indian meteorologists, is increasing. Clouds of brown soot cover the skies above the Indian Ocean for months each year. Agricultural scientists in the subcontinent note rising temperatures caused wheat yields to drop by a 10th last year.
The new consumption culture has brought western-style affluence that largely rural India can barely cope with. Car sales are growing at 20% a year, but there are not enough roads for anyone to drive on. India - unlike China, Europe and America - does not set any fuel economy standards.
The result is that in the backstreets of a city such as Kanpur on the banks of the Ganges sit lines of cars, their engines idling in the sun. Kanpur, with 3 million people, is the world's seventh most polluted place, according to the World Bank study. A thick brown haze of exhaust fumes is visible at street level.
Last year the Guardian found hundreds of people queuing outside the government hospital, their mouths covered with dirty rags. "About 40% of the patients coming with respiratory diseases are affected by the atmospheric pollution," said Dr R P Singh, who describes the air as a "killer".
The environmental problems in India and China, which between them have 2.4 billion people, have become an excuse for inaction elsewhere. Many Britons argue that whatever positive steps they take will be insignificant compared with the negative impact of economic growth in Asia. As Tony Blair puts it: "Close down all of Britain's emissions and in less than two years just the growth in China's emissions would wipe out the difference."
British officials on a visit to Delhi this year told the Guardian that they were sceptical that India and China would sacrifice growth for green measures. "They are talking about climate change but doing very little in reality," said a source.
But for those seeking good news, it can be found even in China. Linfen is trying to clean up. By the end of this year, the city aims to close 160 of 196 iron foundries, and 57 of 153 coking plants. By replacing small, dirty and dangerous plants with large, cleaner and more carefully regulated facilities, the local government in Linfen plans to drastically reduce emissions. Central heating will be provided by gas instead of coal.
The changes are being driven by business (nobody wants to invest in such a polluted place), bureaucratic self-interest (local officials find it difficult to be promoted) and shifting political priorities.
"We have more power than before," said Yang Zhaofen, director of Linfen's environmental bureau. "The mayor says we can sacrifice economic growth in order to improve air quality. That used to be unthinkable."
There are already small signs of change. Last year, Linfen's residents breathed 163 days of unhealthy air, 15 days fewer than in 2005. Many factories have already been closed - not a wisp of smoke emerges from their chimneys. Thanks partly to such measures, Linfen lost its bottom spot in China's latest pollution rankings to the far-flung western city of Urumqi.
Both Beijing and New Delhi argue that they must use more energy to lift their populations from poverty, and that emissions per person are a fraction of those in rich states. Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, told a conference this month: "The principal polluters are the United States and countries of western Europe. Per capita emissions are far ahead [of India and China]. You cannot preserve energy by perpetuating poverty in the poor nations."
The figures bear out his words. India emits 1.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. China puts out 3.5 tonnes. Both are less than the global average of 4.2 tonnes. The comparable figures for the UK and America are 9.6 and 20.2 tonnes respectively.
Last year the Indian president, Abdul Kalam, a former scientist, called for 25% of power generation to come from renewable sources by 2030. The figure is now just 6%.
The country, which started its renewables ministry a decade ago, is building the world's biggest wind farm site, with 500 turbines outside Mumbai. The farm will have a capacity of 1,000MW.
"We are helping to make India one of only four countries in the world that can manufacture and export such technologies," said Tulsi Tanti, founder and managing director of Suzlon, which is building the wind farm. "Global warming created a great awareness for us. We have the support of the government and with the economy growing by 8-10% there will be a power deficit which we can fill with clean wind power."
In China there's also a growing appreciation of the unsustainable nature of red-hot economic growth, which has led to new green policies. In an address to the National People's Congress this month, the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, promised that "backward" factories would be shut down and energy efficiency improved to "bring pollution under control and protect the environment".
Previous leaders have failed to keep similar pledges. Mr Wen acknowledged that China had fallen short of its environmental targets last year. According to the latest five-year plan, China should use 20% less energy per unit of economic output by 2010. Last year, however, it managed to improve energy efficiency by only 1%.
Yang Ailun, climate campaigner for Greenpeace in China, said the country was slowly waking up to environmental problems, but not necessarily in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. "They are worried about the immediate causes of pollution - like river contamination - rather than global warming. Climate change seems far away," she said. "If the government is really serious about environmental protection, then we need to change our economic structure and reduce our dependency on coal."
The timing is critical. The Kyoto protocol, which required developed countries to reduce their emissions by 5% from 1990 levels, expires in 2012. China and India were not given targets under the Kyoto protocol while America refused to ratify it. The upshot is that none of these three giants have any binding commitment to cut emissions.
But for an effective replacement for the protocol, these three will have to take part in negotiations by 2010. Much depends on the US, which is responsible for about a quarter of all emissions. Without willing American engagement, the chances of a new agreement are small.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last month reported that global warming was "unequivocal" and caused by human activity, said the only reasonable solution was to cut emissions of greenhouse gases gradually, while attempting to find new, low-carbon, energy sources, such as wind, solar, water and nuclear power.
"But we cannot ask developing countries like India and China to bear all of this burden. Both have a point when they say that all the carbon dioxide was emitted in the process of the west becoming industrialised especially by the United States," Dr Pachauri said. "India and China will argue that this is not a problem created by themselves."
"Instead we will find that people in the west will have to change their behaviour and conserve energy, use less power, perhaps wear warmer clothes in cold winters rather than turning up the central heating. It also means countries like India will need help building railways so that their public transport systems can cope with the growth."
When negotiations start this December for a deal to replace the Kyoto protocol, China and India will resist binding targets to reduce emissions. New Delhi will probably seek technology to reduce carbon emissions from its power plants. At most, Beijing might agree to goals on energy efficiency and greater use of alternatives to coal and oil.
Shame could prove the great motivator. "The whole world will soon say to China, 'You are the number one emitter. You have got to do something,'" said Jeffrey Sachs, head of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Speaking at a recent lecture in Beijing, Professor Sachs said China needed to move quickly towards clean coal and carbon capture technology. "The safe use of fossil fuels is the single most important source of hope in China and India."
March 26, 2007 RealclearPolitics.com By Peter Brown
Most Americans think of China as an economic and potential military rival that is taking their jobs and threatening their future. Although accurate, that view fails to acknowledge the complexity that makes China's exact course anyone's guess.
In truth, leaders of the world's most populous nation are walking a tightrope much like Western societies which try to balance the often conflicting interests of the poor and the middle class.
That is a major change in China, where for the previous half-century, helping the peasants and making sure all lived equally was the charge of the communist government.
But 21st century China is neither fish nor fowl; it is the world's fastest growing economy, where capitalism seemingly has replaced socialism as the financial model with a zeal that would make Adam Smith proud.
This has greatly raised Chinese living standards. But, in the process, it has created a tiered society; a growing middle class that has benefited enormously from the shift towards capitalism, and the largely rural poor who have been left behind.
China is still officially a socialist country, and only this month gave its first serious legal protections to private-property owners. Even so, especially in the rural areas, it is not completely clear what is owned by whom.
And, the new private-property law became reality only because the government squelched dissent from those who cling to the socialist ways of the past - highlighting the authoritarian political system that is little changed from the days of Mao.
As surprising as it may seem to those who see only the country's remarkable economic growth, there is significant opposition to capitalism within China.
It comes from the several hundred million of Chinese who have not shared in this rise in living standards. (For comparison's sake, remember the total population of the United States is about 300 million.)
Most of the improvement in Chinese living standards has occurred in the cities. Chinese officials, who could be expected to minimize the problem, said last year there were 23,000 "mass incidents," which is bureaucratese for riots.
And, that is the rub.
China has ostensibly embraced the free enterprise system for all it is worth, in many ways much more so, for instance, than European nations that still clings to the notion of a nanny-state economy with a large government role.
But that has created severe internal pressures in China that are often frustrated by the governmental system which sharply limits personal and political freedoms.
Historically, nations that opted for capitalism see their incomes rise, but they also experience an economic stratification in which some people do better than others, causing resentment and if the gap is wide enough, political unrest.
At the same time, history tells us that societies in which capitalism flourishes have been incompatible with authoritarian government control.
So far, China has been able to finesse these internal contradictions.
The question is how long it can do so and avoid embodying the worst of both systems; the brutality that laissez-faire capitalism can inflict on those at the bottom economically, and the rigidity that authoritarianism uses to stifle political change.
No one wants to stop the nation's economic march. The Chinese, for instance, live with pollution caused by industrialization that would be intolerable in the United States because of their single-minded goal of boosting the economy.
They have begun to enjoy the fruits of modern, middle-class life, and the Communist Party's leaders are frantic to keep living standards rising, which requires they smooth the way for capitalism and foreign investment.
By symbolically embracing private property, the Chinese have are moving full-speed towards capitalism. They understand the risks if they ignore the needs and wants of those who have not yet enjoyed the benefits of the new Chinese economy.
Yet, the tightrope they walk gives them little choice. Why else would the Communist Party, which in Chinese literally means "the public property party," use all its power to make sure the right to private property became enshrined in law?
Sunday, March 25, 2007
By Emma Graham-Harrison and Gerard Wynn
BEIJING/LONDON (Reuters) - China is on course to overtake the United States this year as the world's biggest carbon emitter, estimates based on Chinese energy data show, potentially pressuring Beijing to take more action on climate change.
China's emissions rose by some 10 percent in 2005, a senior U.S. scientist estimated, while Beijing data shows fuel consumption rose more than 9 percent in 2006, suggesting China would easily outstrip the U.S. this year, long before forecasts.
Taking the top spot would focus pressure on China to do more to brake emissions as part of world talks on extending the United Nations' Kyoto Protocol on global warming beyond 2012.
Thirty five developed nations have agreed to cut emissions under Kyoto and they want others -- especially the United States and China -- to do more.
"It looks likely to me that China will pass the United States this year," said Gregg Marland, a senior staff scientist at the U.S. Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), which supplies data to governments, researchers and non-governmental organizations worldwide.
"There's a very high likelihood they'll pass them in 2007."
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced by burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas for heat, power and transport. Most scientists say it is a key contributor to global warming.
Marland used fossil fuel consumption data from oil company BP to calculate China's CO2 emissions in 2005 at 5.3 billion tonnes, versus 5.9 billion for the U.S., with respective growth in 2005 of 10.5 percent and less than 0.1 percent.
In 2006 Chinese fuel consumption rose 9.3 percent to the equivalent of 2.4 billion tonnes of coal that year, the deputy head of the office that advises China on energy policy, Xu Dingming, said on Thursday.
This was faster than BP's estimate of a 9 percent rise in China's oil, gas and coal consumption in 2005, to 1.45 billion tonnes of oil equivalent.
The International Energy Agency (IEA), which advises 26 rich nations, had already said last November that on current trends China would overtake the United States as the world's biggest carbon emitter before 2010.
China's Office of the National Coordination Committee on Climate Change said it could not comment on either forecast as it did not have a reliable estimate of the country's emissions.
"These figures are very complicated -- we don't have an estimate of CO2 for such a recent date," said an official who declined to be named. "We have just set in motion our national reporting plan... but it will not be done for two or three years."
US CITIZENS STILL TOP EMITTERS
U.N. data for 2003 put the U.S. top with 23 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions and China second on 16.5 percent. But U.S. individuals were far bigger emitters, at 20 tonnes per capita against China's 3.2 tonnes and a world average of 3.7.
China argues that wealthy nations are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and should lead the way in cutting emissions.
And much of the growth in China's emissions is to produce goods consumed in the West, raising ethical questions over who bears responsibility for those emissions.
Higher economic growth and fuel use translates into higher emissions, particularly in China, which gets around 70 percent of its energy from coal, the highest carbon-emitting fuel.
CDIAC's 2004 emissions estimates, based on BP data, closely matched the IEA's estimates for the same year -- reached using its own energy data and U.N. emissions calculation methods, strengthening the reliability of the BP data, Marland said.
He estimated a plus or minus 15 to 20 percent error in the Chinese data versus a possible 5 percent U.S. error margin.
China's rapid growth in carbon emissions is threatening to outweigh efforts by the European Union and others to tackle climate change -- EU leaders said earlier this month they would cut the bloc's greenhouse gases by at least a fifth by 2020.
But China between now and 2015 will build power generating capacity equal to the entire existing capacity in the whole of the European Union, the IEA estimates.
China's growth has been fueled largely by burning coal, and it is still building new power plants at an unprecedented rate. Last year alone it added around 100 gigawatts of new generators, approaching France's entire capacity, most of them coal-burning.
A United Nations panel of climate scientists predicted last month a "best estimate" that temperatures would rise by 1.8 to 4.0 Celsius (3.2 to 7.8 Fahrenheit) this century, blaming mankind's emissions of greenhouse gases like CO2.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Source: China Daily
UPDATED: 08:18, March 22, 2007
Twenty-one domestic environ-mental groups yesterday called on the public to celebrate World Water Day 2007, which falls today, by boycotting products from companies that cause pollution.
"On this special day, we would like to ask China's vast consumer population to think about how companies behave with regard to the environment and to let those considerations influence their buying patterns, thus putting pressure on enterprises that cause pollution to change their ways," said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, one of the groups involved.
Among the other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) making the call were Friends of Nature, Earth Village and Green Earth.
The group produced a blacklist of the country's worst polluters, compiled using data from the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs.
For the past three years, the institute has operated a website, which provides statistics on the water pollution situation in China, based on information from a range of environmental watchdogs.
Yesterday's list featured several multinational companies, including Panasonic Battery (Shanghai) Co Ltd, which was named for releasing wastewater in 2005 and 2006 that did not meet the standards of the local environmental protection bureau; Pepsi-Cola International (Changchun) Co Ltd, which was criticized for a similar offence in 2005; and Shanghai American-Standard Ltd Co, which is alleged to have caused water pollution in 2006.
Despite the presence of the multinationals on the list, the bulk of those featured were domestic small- to medium-size firms, Ma said.
"China is currently suffering from a severe water pollution problem," Liao Xiaoyi, the founder of Earth Village, said.
"Factories are spewing out huge amounts of wastewater, which is causing real harm to the environment and posing a serious threat to public health. But because of the booming economy, they are enjoying big sales without being punished for polluting our precious water resources.
"This sends the wrong message that they don't have to worry about protecting the environment."
By releasing the list, the environmentalists hope consumers will make more "green" purchases, so putting pressure on producers to pay more attention to environmental issues.
"The conditions are ripe for consumers to support the Green Choice initiative, because they have multiple options and the government is very open on the provision of environmental information," Ma said.
However, one environmental expert, who asked not to be named, reminded the initiators of Green Choice to double check the accuracy of the information released by the government.
HONG KONG: Worsening air pollution has become one of the most contentious issues in the vote on Sunday for Hong Kong's chief executive, with the incumbent blaming the problem on emissions drifting across the border from mainland China, while his challenger contends that not enough is being done within Hong Kong.
A report released Wednesday about the sources of pollution in Hong Kong is likely to intensify the debate.
The outcome of the election is not in doubt. Only 796 people are allowed to vote, mainly businesspeople with ties to the mainland, and 641 of them have said that they support the Beijing-backed incumbent, Donald Tsang. His pro-democracy rival, Alan Leong, has only received 132 nominations.
But the election has put the spotlight on an issue that poses a growing problem across much of East Asia: the ever-expanding plume of toxic air pollution that rises from Chinese factories and floats toward China's neighbors. Particles from Chinese coal-fired power plants in particular are now drifting across the Pacific and are becoming detectable along the West Coast of the United States, particularly in mountainous areas.
The election has had the unexpected effect, however, of turning Tsang into a critic of air pollution from the mainland. Criticizing mainland China has been politically delicate in Hong Kong since Britain returned the territory to Chinese rule in 1997. Even officials in South Korea and Japan have been wary of assailing an increasingly assertive China for the periodic clouds of pollution that drift over Seoul and Tokyo.
But faced with growing local criticism for the dense smog that now shrouds Hong Kong most of the year, Tsang said in a recent speech that "the lion's share" of the air pollution in Hong Kong came from adjacent cities in Guangdong Province. He has called on Hong Kong companies do more to limit pollution from companies they own on the mainland.
Hong Kong government agencies under Tsang have been arguing that 80 percent of the entire tonnage of air pollution released in the Pearl River Delta region comes from mainland cities.
Leong, for his part, contends that Tsang is too reluctant to address pollution released in Hong Kong itself by cars, ships and power plants. "I don't think he is doing anything," Leong said Wednesday evening.
A local nonprofit group, Civic Exchange, released on Wednesday a report prepared with Hong Kong University experts showing that most of the pollution in the densely populated heart of the city comes from local sources.
The report calculated that smog limits visibility to less than eight kilometers, or five miles, for 89 percent of the year. Anthony Hedley, chairman emeritus of the department of community medicine at Hong Kong University, said that mortality from respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases increases sharply when this occurs.
On 36 percent of the days each year, the pollution is worst at the border with the mainland and spreads across the territory of Hong Kong, the report said. But on 33 percent of the days, pollution is worst in the center of the city and comes mainly from vehicles on local roads and shipping in the harbor. On another 20 percent of the days, the report estimated, pollution is also worst in the city center and comes mainly from vehicles and local power plants.
Shipping traffic in and around Hong Kong has risen over the past decade as Chinese exports have soared. Local power plants have increased their reliance on coal as a depleted natural gas field nearby has provided less gas.
The report did not compare the severity of pollution on days when the wind blows from the mainland with days when the pollution is mainly local. Some of the clearest skies Hong Kong residents had seen for months occurred in February, when mainland factories closed for a week during the Lunar New Year holiday.
The Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong responded in a statement by noting that the report included a mention that 60 percent of the entire tonnage of air pollution in Hong Kong's air over the course of a year came from the mainland.
Christine Loh, the chief executive of Civic Exchange, is a longtime supporter of greater democracy in Hong Kong. But she said that she had not endorsed Leong's candidacy and that the report was released just before the election only because of a delay in preparing the document.
Arthur Bowring, the managing director of the Hong Kong Shipowners Association, said that the trade group favored global regulations requiring refiners to produce much cleaner fuel for ships; refiners currently allocate the thickest, most polluted fuel to the shipping industry. "The refiners are resisting it; they want us to continue burning their waste; they say they don't have the capacity" to produce enough high- grade fuel, Bowring said.
But the shipowners' group opposes local regulations on shipping, a step increasingly advocated by environmentalists here; the Civic Exchange report suggested several limited local measures. Hong Kong is the world's most densely populated place, according to Demographia.com, and the port is just upwind of the most heavily populated areas.
Jane Lau, a spokeswoman for CLP Group, a big electric utility here, said that the company had chosen ultralow- sulfur coal to burn since 2005.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
|Using too much energy in China is taboo, but stronger discouragement is needed|
|By LAN XINZHEN|
Energy consumption reduction is working, but too slowly. China's energy consumption per unit of the GDP dropped by 1.23 percent in 2006 from the previous year, according to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics on February 28. It is the first decline since 2003.
However, the decrease didn't meet the requirements by the Chinese Government, which aims to cut the energy consumption per unit of the GDP in 2010 by 20 percent in comparison with that of 2005 and to reduce that of 2006 by 4 percent year on year.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also confirmed in his government work report to the recent Fifth Session of the 10th National People's Congress that China missed the target of reducing the energy consumption per unit of the GDP by around 4 percent and cutting the total discharge of major pollutants by 2 percent, which was set at the beginning of 2006.
Given the current situation, it poses a heavy task for China to fulfill the expected target of consumption reduction over the short term.
Premier Wen Jiabao attributed the setback in his work report to the insufficient industrial restructuring, over-growing of the heavy industry (especially sectors with high energy consumption and high pollution), outdated productivity capacity, and the failure of some local governments to enforce environmental regulations and standards. The premier noted it takes time for relevant policies and measures to take effect.
Other causes for last year's setbacks include the lack of awareness of the difficulty of the task, loose supervision and implementation, and a deficiency in investment in environmental protection, said Zhou Shengxian, Vice Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration, in reviewing last year's task.
Illegal discharge and lax law enforcement let environmental protection remain serious problems, which are also contributors to the failure of last year, Zhou pointed out.
Xu Huaqing, Director of the Energy Research Institute of the State Development and Reform Commission, identified the rough transformation of China's mode of economic growth as the fundamental reason. Xu said currently, the Chinese economy is mainly driven by industries, over 60 percent of which is made up by the chemical industry with high energy consumption.
The total energy consumption in 2006 rose by 9.3 percent year on year, and coal consumption was up 9.6 percent. Crude oil was up 7.1 percent and natural gas was up 19.9 percent, according to a report of the National Bureau of Statistics.
"Excessive reliance on consumption of energy and resources is a feature of the Chinese economy," Xu said.
China had increased investment in industries featuring high energy consumption and heavy pollution, which has been driven by domestic demand since the end of 2002.
Among China's industrial sectors with investment exceeding 5 million yuan in 2003, the steel industry saw an investment rise of 96.6 percent, the electrolyte-aluminum industry an increase of 92.9 percent and the cement industry a surge of 121.9 percent. Macro-control measures enforced in 2004 cut the respective growth rates to 32.3 percent, 43.3 percent and 91.1 percent.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Can China go green?
16.03.2007 By Stephen Roach, global economist at Morgan Stanley, as first published on Morgan Stanley’s Global Economic Forum
Pollution is invariably one of the first impressions visitors form of China. From bicycles to cars in 25 years, urban China rarely sees much in the way of blue sky anymore. Rapid and large-scale industrialization only compounds the problem. The Chinese government knows full well it must take prompt and forceful actions to avoid an environmental crisis. There are encouraging signs it is now rising to the occasion. Can China pull it off while, at the same time, staying the course of its remarkable economic development strategy?
What is the scale of China's pollution problem?
On a per capita basis, China’s pollution problem hardly jumps off the page. Its ratio of carbon emissions per person is less than half the global average and less than one-tenth that of the world’s biggest polluter – the United States. China’s enormous population, of course, distorts those comparisons. On an absolute basis, it’s a different story altogether. China’s total carbon emissions are more than double those of Japan and Russia, fractionally behind the European Union, and a little more than half those of the US. The essence of the Chinese environmental degradation problem is both its scale and growth. Over the 1992–2002 period, CO2 emissions in China have expanded at a 3.7% average annual rate – more than two and a half times the global average of 1.4%. At that rate, according to a recent report issued by the International Energy Agency, China will surpass the United States as the global leader in carbon emissions by 2009.
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In terms of sulphur dioxide, China’s current rate of discharge is already double its so-called environmental capacity – responsible for an acid rain that now covers about one-third of China’s total land mass. According to SO2-based measures of air pollution, seven of the ten most polluted cities in the world are in China. With respect to the emissions of organic water pollutants, China leads the world by more than three times the number two polluter – the United States. Moreover, fully 90% of China’s urban rivers are polluted, and 90% of its grassland has been degraded. (Data cited above are from Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth , Nicholas Stern’s The Economics of Climate Change , and a recent paper prepared by the Development Research Center of China’s State Council, “China: Accelerating Structural Adjustment and Growth Pattern Change” ). China’s environmental moment of truth is now at hand.
Why economic rebalancing could solve environmental problems
The problem is twofold, in my view: It is not just an issue of moving from dirty to clean technologies that drive production, distribution, and transportation platforms, but it is also a matter of shifting the macro structure of the Chinese economy from a pollution-intensive to an environmentally-friendly mix. This latter point is a key and often overlooked aspect of China’s environmental challenge. It is also a crucial element of the rebalancing challenge that shapes China’s macro debate.
The issue, in a nutshell, is that the Chinese economy is heavily skewed toward exports and fixed investment – two sectors that now collectively make up over 80% of China’s GDP. This concentration represents the most lopsided mix of a major economy in modern history. It is not sustainable from a macro point of view in that it threatens to produce the twin possibilities of a deflationary overhang of excess capacity and a protectionist backlash to an open-ended export boom. And it is not sustainable from an environmental point of view because the industrial-production-driven export and investment booms have a natural bias toward excessive carbon emissions.
This latter conclusion is key but, unfortunately, difficult to quantify in light of the paucity of data on the carbon intensity of the various sectors of the Chinese economy. Bear with me as I take you through a brief, but important, digression that uses the United Kingdom production model to illustrate what China is up against. The Stern Review contains a detailed breakdown of the carbon intensity of 123 production sectors in the UK economy. Not surprisingly, services are at the low end of the UK spectrum in terms of carbon emissions – averaging around 0.3 on the carbon intensity scale; for manufacturing industries, the range is wide – motor vehicles (0.5) and sporting goods/toys (0.8) are at the low end while the paper (2.4) and steel (2.7) industries are at the high end. A comparable dispersion is evident in the energy share of total UK business costs – with non-transportation services at the low end of the spectrum and manufacturing industries at the high end.
OK, China is not exactly England. But I strongly suspect – and this is my key analytical leap of faith – that the relative dispersion of the carbon- and energy-intensity of the major sectors of the Chinese economy is comparable to that of the UK. In other words, just as manufacturing is more carbon-intensive than services in the UK, the same ranking is likely in China. Under that presumption, consider the following: The latest data put China’s industrial sector at around 52% of its GDP – well in excess of the 32% share of the average developed economy and considerably higher than the 37% average of the low- and middle-income countries of the developing world. That means the manufacturing-intensive Chinese economy is most likely highly skewed toward a pollution- and energy-intensive model of economic activity.
In the case of China, there is an important twist – it is the heaviest consumer of coal of all the major economies in the world today. According to China’s Development Research Center, coal-driven power accounted for fully 79% of total electricity generated in 2003 – eight percentage points higher than in 1990 and essentially double the 40% share of coal-powered electricity for the world as a whole. The adverse environmental implications of coal power are well known; according to the Stern Review, the CO2 emissions of coal per unit of energy generation are twice as much as those associated with the combustion of natural gas and about 50% more than those generated by oil-burning technologies. Inasmuch as UK coal consumption – fuelling 34% of the country’s total energy generation – is less than half the share in China, there is actually good reason to believe that the pollution implications for the Chinese economy per unit of GDP would be a good deal worse than those implied by the British results cited above.
The India comparison is also an interesting one in putting Chinese environmental issues in perspective. India’s per capita carbon emissions are only about half those in China and its total emissions are about one-third those of the Chinese. But the 4.3% average annual growth rate of Indian CO2 emissions over the 1992-2002 period is more than 15% faster than the rapid growth evident in China over the same period – suggesting that if India stays its current course, its environmental threats will quickly get out of hand. Even so, the structure of Indian GDP – a much smaller industrial portion (28%) than China (52%) and a much larger services share (53%) than China (34%) is biased toward a less pollution- and energy-intensive growth trajectory. That’s not to let India off the hook on environmental issues but only to stress that China is very much in a league of its own.
Is China taking steps towards solving its pollution problems?
China has a rare and important opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. A successful rebalancing of the Chinese economy – moving away from excess reliance on investment and exports and embracing more of a pro-consumption growth model – would be a huge plus in dealing with two key issues: On the one hand, it would enable China to avoid the capacity excesses and protectionist risks that might arise from a continued irrational expansion of a severely unbalanced real economy. But it would also have the advantage of tilting the mix of Chinese output away from a pollution- and energy-intensive growth trajectory.
The latest statements from official Beijing are quite encouraging in addressing this conjoined problem. Premier Wen Jiabao’s 5 March “Work Report” to the National People’s Congress strongly endorsed a strategy of macro rebalancing, energy conservation, and environmental remediation. Just as China has had the will and determination to deliver on the reform front over the past 28 years, I am hopeful that it will rise to the occasion and deliver on the rebalancing front. In the end, there is no other choice. And time is growing short.Technorati Tags: green, china
China on the right track toward green growth
Updated: 2007-03-16 19:57
BANGKOK -- Backed by a strong leadership, China is believed to be on the right track and expected to be a driving force for the developing Asia to make a shift toward a more sustainable and environment-friendly economic growth model, according to a top United Nations official for the region.
Kim Hak-Su, United Nations Under-Secretary General and the Executive Secretary of UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP), voiced the organization's support and confidence of success for China's determination and latest moves to embrace a Green Growth model as desired by UNESCAP, in an interview with Xinhua on Thursday at the UNESCAP headquarters in Bangkok.
Mr. Kim flied to Beijing Friday to attend the China Development Forum 2007 (CDF), in which he will share a "Green Growth" blueprint proposed by UNESCAP for policy-makers of China, to echo the theme of the forum -- "China: Toward New Models of Economic Growth".
The CDF, an annual event sponsored by one of China's leading thinktanks Development Research Center of the State Council, will gather around 80 leading executives, academics, and senior government officials from China and abroad at the prestigious Diaoyutai State Guesthouse to have a high-end brainstorm.
The forum takes place right after the conclusion of the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Among the hot issues raised during the two-week meetings was resources conservation, reduction of emissions and pollutants.
The so-called "Green Growth" model, endorsed by a regional ministerial conference on environment and development in 2005, means to shift focus on "economic efficiency" of the economic growth pattern prevailing in our world today, which is based on market prices that do not reflect the ecological costs, towards " ecological efficiency", which emphasizes the efficiency of resource use and minimization of environmental damage, in order to achieve a sustainable economic and social development.
Kim said it is a most urgent task to discard the current "grow first, clean up later" mentality and to shift toward a green growth pattern for the Asian developing countries, which has seen a rapid economic growth rate in latest years, but on the base of high environmental cost and huge waste of resources which are already limited in face of higher population density.
Among them China was the most notable, maintaining an unprecedented 9-10 percent growth rate in more than two decades. That raised concerns about how long and in what way China could sustain this high growth.
According to Kim, the risk resides in that China's growth is more manufacture-oriented, with 53 percent of GDP deriving from manufacturing, which means China burdens higher ecological costs. "We have no doubt the Chinese government has adopted the concept of Green Growth, although it may bear another name in China, and we believe China's on the right track to do it," Kim said, pointing out that China has taken moves to address resources reservation and pollution deduction. UNESCAP would like to act as a reminder and offer some advice for the Chinese government to implement related measures.
The UNESCAP proposed five major policy tools to achieve Green Growth, including introduction of green tax, which uses pollution levels as taxing base while reducing income tax, investment on sustainable infrastructure such as resource-efficient public transport and utility services, promotion of sustainable consumption pattern and life-style, and promotion of green business.
The implementation of these measures can only be driven by a determined and powerful government. While a stable and strong leadership constitutes the biggest strength of China to enable the government to enforce the policy measures in local levels and to convince its citizens to change mentality about growth and their consumption patterns in long run.
Kim noted that he is happy to see that the Chinese government has already in last year announced six policy-direction towards a more sustainable growth model and listed resource reservation and environment protection as a major national policy in its "11th Five-Year Plan (2006 to 2010) for National Economic and Social Development". Among the important targets for the period are a reduction in energy consumption per unit of GDP by 20 percent, and a reduction of emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent.
Kim said he has full confidence that China can fulfill these tasks and he hoped China can serve as a role model of Green Growth for other developing countries in the region to follow suit.Technorati Tags: china, green growth
Thursday, March 15, 2007
China’s Environmental Future
Randall Parker at Future Pundit wrote an important and insightful article a few days ago about ”Asian Air Pollution.”
He points out that many South Asian countries—especially China—are growing so fast, industrializing so fast, and urbanizing so fast that they are polluting more heavily and more widely than any population has ever done before.
It’s common to hear people talk about the amazing growth of the Chinese economy, and to assess the potential ascendancy of China as an economic superpower competing with, or even overtaking, the United States. But will that scenario actually come to pass? Or will the looming difficulties of critically bad air, water, and soil pollution be enough to slow down the Asian juggernaut?
In our ongoing CRN Global Task Force Scenario Project, workshop participants often bring up China’s economy, China’s military, and China’s increasing technological prowess as vital factors to consider in creating plausible stories about the next 10 to 20 years. Conventional wisdom seems to say that if China and the other rapidly expanding South Asian economies are confronted with severe environmental hardships, it’s not likely to occur soon enough or be serious enough to derail their race to the top.
That is probably the case. But considering the amount of pollution they are producing, and taking into account our incomplete understanding of complex ecological systems, it would not surprise me if those problems grow faster than most people anticipate.
Technorati Tags: china，environmental, future
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Chinese pollution makes American storms worse
By Jonathan M. Gitlin | Published: March 12, 2007 - 12:12PM CT
They say all politics are local, but perhaps they should also say that pollution is global. We already know that the more severe effects of climate change won't be on the countries that contribute the most carbon but the poorest parts of the world, and that's not the only example. Although the past few decades have seen huge improvements made in air quality in the US, booming industrial production in China coupled with much more lax environmental regulation has seen the air quality in that nation plummet.
But the consequences of this pollution aren't just being felt in China and the surrounding regions. New research from a team at Texas A University has looked at the effect of pollution from power plants in China and India and demonstrated an effect on the Pacific storm track. Aerosols and soot from coal power stations are seeding clouds leading to alterations in the frequency and severity of weather events over the US. Comparing satellite data between two 10-year periods—1984-1994 and 1994-2005—there was a significant increase in storms of between 20 and 50 percent in the latter period, especially around winter.
There are also knock-on effects predicted to influence climate change in the arctic, where dark soot deposits can change the albedo and further exacerbate the fast warming trend we are seeing in this region.
As the polluters in this case are India and China, there isn't a huge amount that the people affected by these increasingly strong winter storms can do, but there are some signs that attitudes in the region are changing. China in particular has been making more noises about cleaning up its act, and certainly has the political structure whereby changes can be forced through with much greater ease than the horse trading we see in the West. Still, with the oft-quoted figure of one new coal-fired power-plant coming online each week in China, the problem may well get worse before it gets better.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
The Rain in China Falls Mainly on the Plains, Thanks to Pollution
March 09, 2007
Heavy pollution in China means less rainfall on its mountains, which means less water for its people
Mountains are fountains. Humid air crashes into upthrusted rock and releases its water in the form of rain, snow or ice. But the tiny particles created when fuel is burned—aerosols—can interfere with this process by providing even more impurities in the air on which water can condense. The many more resulting smaller droplets collide less often, thus forming fewer raindrops and, ultimately, less rainfall. Or so the theory goes. And now, records stretching back 50 years for a mountaintop in China strongly support this idea.
Atmospheric scientist Daniel Rosenfeld of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jin Dai and colleagues from the Meteorological Institute of Shaanxi Province in China and Zhanyu Yao of the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences studied the records of precipitation and visibility at Mount Hua in central China. The site, one of five sacred mountains in China (familiar to many as a backdrop in martial arts films), has had a meteorological observatory on its peak since 1954.
The observatory's records show that visibility on the mountain on average has declined from roughly 30 kilometers to just over 10 kilometers from its two-kilometer-high summit. They also show that rainfall has dropped by as much as 17 percent compared with the precipitation in Huayin, a town at the foot of the range, and in Xi'an, the closest big city. "The average precipitation over Mount Hua is almost double that of Huayin in relatively good visibility of around 20 kilometers," the researchers write in a study published in the current Science. "The amount of precipitation approaches that of Huayin at visibilities of eight kilometers and below."
The sacred mountain is not the only place affected—an observatory in the U.S. Rocky Mountains detected a 50 percent reduction in snow as a result of aerosol pollution—but it is the only one with longstanding records to prove it. It also explains the widely observed trend—from Canada to South Africa to Israel—of a decrease in highland precipitation compared with that in adjacent lowlands. Pollution is not just obscuring the majestic view, it is also choking the mountain streams.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
The greening of China
Beijing's admission of missing a goal on energy use hints at a new worry over global warming.The Monitor's View
Both the US and China – the largest emitters of greenhouse gases – have a goal to make sure those emissions grow more slowly than their economies. Yet both are barely making progress. Of the two, China now seems to want to act more boldly.
On Monday, its prime minister, Wen Jiabao, admitted that China was failing badly to meet a 2010 goal of reducing by 20 percent the amount of energy it takes to generate each dollar of national income. He also said the country missed a goal to reduce pollution discharge.
Not only are such official admissions rare in China, but Mr. Wen also promised the Communist Party-controlled legislature that the government would "resolutely close down" the "backward" steel and iron foundries that burn coal as well as shutter the most inefficient power plants. He declared that China must "bring pollution under control" and reduce energy consumption because such goals are the "main fulcrum for changing the pattern of economic growth."
That's quite a shift from simply encouraging gung-ho economic growth. It's a recognition that pollution, along with global warming, will probably harm China's future, and perhaps even set back the party's primary aim: Raise per capita income, especially in rural areas.
Much of China's worst pollution comes from a surge of new energy- intensive heavy industries built since 2001. Many were built by local officials eager to promote business but who also ignore Beijing's dictates.
And there are plans for at least 300 more coal-burning plants to feed China's huge energy appetite. Tailpipe emissions, too, are increasing as the number of vehicles rises about 15 percent a year. Of the world's 20 most polluted cities, 16 are in China. Air pollution floating from China is changing the weather in the Pacific.
With a shortage of arable land and water, China cannot afford to ignore warnings from climate scientists that rising temperatures will reduce water flows from snowy mountains in the west. Food security is essential to the Communist Party's hold on power.
The old Red China won't become a Green China anytime soon, though. Environmental laws are vague and enforcement is weak. Some new technologies for cleaner uses of coal are being tried. But stronger incentives are needed to overcome a desire for profits by localities.
Fortunately, the government is pushing "pollution credits" trading that can drive investment toward clean industries. And the party is allowing more freedom for environmental activists to report pollution problems and to challenge local authorities. Many Chinese are questioning whether the rush to riches is worth the price of toxic air and water. The new eco-activists could be the buds for a renewed democracy movement in China.
Both the US and China are experiencing a public awakening of concern over global warming. China's response so far is mainly top down from Beijing. In the US, much of the action remains at the grass-roots level, although a new Congress and President Bush might work together this year to boost the federal role in rolling back use of carbon energy. And both nations have increased their cooperation to find solutions.
As giant CO2 emitters, the US and China must lead the world in quickly tackling global warming.
China to stockpile more oil
tanks will be built in Guangdong's Zhanjiang city and Huizhou city, as Huang Huahua, the governor of the southern province said yesterday on the sidelines of the fifth session of the 10th National People's Congress.
decided in 2003 to build strategic oil reserves to curb possible future shortages.
one of the project, to be completed in 2008, includes four strategic oil stockpiles with a total capacity of 16.2 million cubic meters.
are located in Zhenhai and Zhoushan in east China's Zhejiang Province, Huangdao in east China's Shandong Province, and Dalian in NE China's Liaoning Province.
two of the project calls for more bases that will store 28 million tons of oil.
sites include: Hainan Island, cities in Guangdong Province and Gansu Province in NW China.
Liucheng, Communist Party chief of China's southernmost province of Hainan, said the island also wants to build an oil reserve base for either strategic or commercial use.
to give more details, Wei said the provincial government was negotiating with international petroleum syndicates.
boasts distinctive advantages for building both national strategic oil reserve base and commercial oil reserve base," he said.
imported 47 percent of its oil last year.
Kai, minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said yesterday the country had been actively establishing oil reserves to ensure national energy and economic security.
nation's oil imports in January rose 3.5 percent to a record of 13.7 million metric tons (3.2 million barrels a day), the General Administration of Customs said last month.
addition to fulfilling its oil reserve plans, the Guangdong governor also revealed yesterday that the province would strictly monitor the province's big energy enterprises to restrict their waste discharge.
measures include satellite surveillance of industrial areas, and prosecuting firms that breach pollution laws.
offenders will be blacklisted and named by the government.
governor said the province's major thermal power plants would be equipped with desulfurizing filters this year to reduce air pollution.
southern province, one of the country's biggest
energy consumers, maintains the lowest level nationwide of energy consumption
rate per unit GDP value, Huang said.