China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Friday, September 29, 2006

What's it Going to Cost to Clean Up China?

Business Week Online
SEPTEMBER 27, 2006By Brian Bremner
A new report tries to quantify the country's colossal pollution problem. One estimate puts just the initial cost at $135 billion

Just how costly is China's environmental mess? The working assumption is that the situation is somewhere between really bad and off-the-charts ghastly. Yet getting a real statistical grip on the scale of the problem has been tough for Chinese leaders and outside observers alike. To its credit, President Hu Jintao's government is trying to remedy that and has just published a statistical portrait of the mainland's ecological woes that makes for some disturbing reading.

In early September, China's State Environmental Protection Administration and the National Bureau of Statistics of China published a two-year study that takes a stab at analyzing the real economic costs of the mainland's world-class industrial pollution problems.

The aim here is to adjust China's supersonic economic growth—the mainland clocked 10.6% growth in the first half—to reflect the price tag of environmental damage in terms of public health, lost agricultural production, and productive use of land and water from pollution. (You can find an English-language summary of the study at here.) HUGE BURDEN.  The study estimates that the economic cost from China's industrial pollution reached $64 billion in 2004, or about 3% the country's gross domestic product (GDP). "This striking figure just tells us that environmental pollution is quite severe at present," the report concludes. It's also a huge burden for a developing economy like China that still has big pockets of population barely making ends meet.

The cleanup cost of that mess in 2004 alone would have cost another $36 billion. China actually spent about a third of that amount two years ago, according to Stephen Greene, senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank, in a Sept. 25 report on the study.

What's worse, these numbers no doubt underestimate the real economic costs on the ground, as the report by the two agencies readily concedes. For instance, the analysis doesn't look at China's serious groundwater and soil contamination, which has hit agricultural productivity hard and will be costly to reverse. Nor does it examine the cost of depleted or poorly used land, forests, water, or fishery assets, and long-term ecological costs of, say, China's massive acid rain problem. BRAKE ON ECONOMY.  Even so, and putting aside these research shortcomings for the moment, the two agencies figure China would need a one-off investment of $135 billion to install the latest pollution-control technology to deal with the industrial pollution at its source and thus make a real lasting impact. That's about 7% of China's economic output. "The calculated figures again prove that environmental crisis is more and more severely restricting economic development of China," according to the environmental impact statement.

In its latest economic five-year plan, that runs from 2006 to 2010, China will commit $175 billion in a multi-year effort to clean up industrial pollution. It will probably take more money to get that job done, given the omissions in the current study. China, of course, isn't the first high-speed developing economy to grapple with the tradeoffs between prosperity that lifts millions out of poverty and environmental damage that degrades living standards. But it does need to do a better job on cracking down on industrial polluters and enforcing environmental protection laws already on the books.

THE PARTY FACTOR.  Pan Yue, vice-minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, has predicted that the "pollution load of China will quadruple by 2020" if nothing is done. Already, some 20% of the population lives in "severely polluted" areas, according to SEPA estimates, and 70% of the country's rivers and lakes are in grim shape, according to the World Bank.

One big problem for China's regulators, as Standard Chartered's Greene points out, is that local environmental regulators owe their allegiance to local Communist Party officials who control budgets and promotions. "When SEPA attempts to investigate, fine, or close down polluting facilities, localities often simply ignore them," he says.

Beijing deserves credit for trying to get a handle on the economic costs of its pollution scourge. But it's going to take a lot of political will, as well as money, to really deal with the problem at its source.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

China to lift ban on private cars on road for more than 15 years


BEIJING China will scrap its ban on private cars that have been on the road more than 15 years in favor of testing vehicles for road-worthiness, state media said Wednesday.

Chen Lin, deputy head of China's Ministry of Commerce, was quoted as saying that new standards had yet to be finalized but they would consider a car's safety and emission levels instead of time on the road.

The report did not say if the new standards would cut the number of cars on China's roads.

China is the world's fourth-largest carmaker and third-largest automobile marker, with 16 million registered cars in 2004, up dramatically from just 1 million in 1994.

The boom in autos has brought with it severe traffic congestion, air pollution and rampant road accidents.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Heavy polluters move to inland

Shanghai Daily Home
WHILE China's booming coastal cities are stepping up efforts to protect the environment, its inland provinces are producing more and more industrial waste.

"Even though China's coastal provinces are still the major source of sewage, inland provinces have begun to top the list of industrial waste producers," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs.

Ma said since governments of coastal cities have taken measures to reduce pollution, some industries that cause heavy pollution have moved to the less developed inland areas.

According to a database launched recently by Ma's institution, since 2004, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, southwest China's Sichuan Province and north China's Hebei Province have ranked as the worst in the nation in terms of the volume of organic waste in their waterways.

Another inland province Hunan ranks first in discharging poisonous pollutants such as lead, chrome, cadmium and other toxic by-products of industrial production, according to the database.

"I am really shocked at how seriously and rapidly the inland waters are being polluted," said Ma.

The database, named China Water Pollution Map (, provides information on water quality and the sources of water pollution discharge in 300 cities across China. It also lists more than 2,500 enterprises accused of causing water pollution.

Ma, who has been tracing China's water problems for years, said controlling the country's water pollution is not a technical problem and local governments can afford to control the pollution.

Ma criticized local officials for turning a blind eye to the environment in the pursuit of economic profit.

"Under protection of local authorities, some enterprises wantonly ignore their responsibilities and the cost of protecting the environment has been transferred from those enterprises to local people," he said.

The scholar also notes that many sewage treatment plants, built with heavy public financing are not in operation.

Ma said local governments don't want to spend money to run the sewage treatment plants. "Some environmental protection facilities have become image projects."

To solve the problem, Ma said public awareness of environmental protection needs to be improved.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Oil spill in Songhua River under control

Updated: 2006-09-24 09:29

BEIJING -- An oil spill in the Songhua River has been brought under control and will not threaten drinking water in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, state authorities said Saturday.

A man collects dead fish from a polluted river in Haikou, southern China's Hainan province, September 19, 2006. China has been hit by more than 130 water pollution spills nationwide since a toxic slick turned taps off for millions along the Songhua River late last year, a rate of one every two or three days, state media said on September 11, 2006. [Reuters]

A visible greasy slick in the river near the Songhuajiang Bridge was discovered Friday afternoon, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) said in a press release.

The administration sent out a working team to the spot for pollution control after it received report of oil leak early Saturday morning.

The provincial government took immediate measures such as using activated carbon to absorb the pollutants and building a blocking belt in the downstream to protect the water in the river and surrounding ecological environment, the administration said.

By 4 p.m. Saturday, the oil substance had been completely decomposed in the downstream area and the water quality recovered.

Primary investigation showed that the oil leak could have been caused by the diesel oil discharged from passing ships, the SEPA said.

Three suspected ships are now under detention for investigation.

Environmental departments would keep monitoring the Songhua River to make sure it is not polluted, the SEPA said.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Japan offers lesson on pollution, bubble economy

(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-09-21 11:20
China can learn from Japan on how to deal with pollution and avoid dangers of a "bubble economy," a Japanese former senior official said yesterday.

"Japan witnessed severe environmental problems in the 1960s, when numerous factories were set up under the impetus of industrialization," said Masayoshi Takemura, former chief cabinet secretary, at the Second Sino-Japanese Industrial Economy Forum in Beijing.

Japan then established an environmental administration system to handle pollution problems, he said.

In the '90s, the economic bubble began to burst after prices of Japanese land and stocks plummeted, causing tremendous bad debts, he added.

"Even if Japan stopped offering overseas direct aid to China, the two neighbours could collaborate with each other in areas ranging from personnel and assets to environment and energy conservation technologies," Takemura suggested.

China and Japan can play important roles in pushing forward the economic integration process in East Asia, said Long Yongtu, secretary-general of the Boao Forum for Asia.

"East Asia is the fastest-growing region in the world," said Long, adding that "integrated industrial chains have taken shape in many sectors in the region, such as auto and electronic industries."

Japan will play a leading role in the chain with its advantages in investment and technology, Long said. And China is famous for its abundance of high-quality and low-cost labour forces.

Furthermore, the economies of the two nations are highly complementary in many respects, he noted.

For example, about 100,000 Japanese are working in China with several million Chinese employees, Long noted.

Long also urged the two governments to provide the foundation that will ensure the progress of a more stable and transparent economic integration in the region.

Co-sponsored by CEC and Japan's Hitotsubashi University, the forum, first held in 2004, aims to exchange ideas on enterprises' development.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Authorities work on SO2 trade system

By Sun Xiaohua (China Daily) Updated: 2006-09-14 06:46

The State Environment Protection Administration (SEPA) and Ministry of Finance (MOF) are working together to start a cap-and-trade system to curb China's world-leading emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The country emitted 25.49 million tons last year, twice the capacity its environment can purify, SEPA figures indicate. And for the first half of this year, emissions have totalled 12.65 million tons, 4.2 per cent higher than in the same period of 2005.

Many Chinese factories installed "scrubbing" systems, which use either sodium hydroxide or sodium carbonate, to neutralize the effects of the SO2 in their facilities. But a report from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) showed that 60 per cent of the scrubbers are no longer operating because, lacking financial incentives and supervision from the State, plant officials turned them off.

"It indicates that to curb the increase of SO2 emissions, simply depending on installing scrubbers is far from enough," said Zhang Jianyu, programme manager in the Beijing office of Environmental Defence, a US-based organization that has been promoting emissions permit trading in China for years.

"The plants need an economic incentive to run their sulphur-neutralizing equipment. Supervision cannot reach every corner, where SO2 releases take place 24 hours a day."

That is where the cap-and-trade system comes in. In general, a "cap" is first established to reduce emissions to a lower level. The emissions allowed under the new cap are then divided into individual permits each for a certain number of units that are issued to the plants.

Companies are free to buy and sell the permits to continue operating in the manner most profitable to them. Those that are able to reduce emissions at a lower cost may then sell their remaining permits to companies whose emission reduction costs are higher.

The fixed cap guarantees a better environmental outcome, and the cap-and-trade system gives companies the flexibility to achieve their emissions targets in the most affordable way.

The State Council issued a document at the end of last year calling for strengthening environmental protection using this system.

But controversy has arisen over whether the plants should have to pay the State for their allowance quotas.

Wang Jinnan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, revealed at a seminar held in Hong Kong at the end of last month that the proposed charge for the emissions quotas (which would be tradable) was 630 yuan (US$79) per ton, according to a report in the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

"Electric power companies support actively the cap-and-trade mechanism, but they strongly oppose the charge on emission allowance," said Wang Zhixuan, director of the Environment Protection and Resource Conservation Department of the China Electricity Council.

"Charging an emission allowance quota is improper. The emissions allowance quota is different from the real emissions amount. Why are the plants required to pay for the quota?"

China's six largest electric power companies are discharging more than half of the total SO2 being emitted by the power sector.

Zhang, who is also a research fellow at Tsinghua University, also criticized the charge.

"The whole idea behind cap-and-trade is spending the least money to achieve as much pollution reduction as possible," Zhang said. "But charging the allowance will take the economic benefits away from companies who accumulate them through more efficient environmental management, which will discourage companies from supporting it and fail to help reach the political consensus."

"And charging companies for allowance allocation will transform their assets into liabilities, which will not make them look good on their financial statements."

Discussions on the matter are continuing between SEPA and the Finance Ministry, and the NDRC is expected to release the policy with final decision in a few weeks.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Green GDP Accounting Study Report 2004 issued

 BEIJING, Sept. 12  Via Xinhuanet-- "China Green National Accounting Study Report 2004" was issued jointly to the public by the State Environmental Protection Administration of China (SEPA) and the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS) on Sept. 08, 2006.

    The report, the first of its kind on environmentally-adjusted GDP accounting in China, and marks the fact that the initial progress had been achieved on Chinese green GDP accounting.

    The preliminary results show that economic loss caused by environmental pollution reaches 511.8 billion yuan, accounting for 3.05% of national GDP in 2004 while imputed treatment cost is 287.4 billion yuan, accounting for 1.80% of that.

    Vice Minister Pan Yue of SEPA and Commissioner Qiu Xiaohua of NBS both indicated that the calculated environmental damage cost is only part of actual resources and environmental costs due to localization of departments and limits to technologies, and the integrated green GDP accounting still needs more arduous efforts and has a long way to go.

    Green National Accounting (Green GDP Accounting for short) refers to an accounting system deducting natural resources depletion costs and environmental degradation costs ,so as to assess the quality of economic development in real sense.

    The Green GDP Accounting Research Project was launched in March 2004 jointly by SEPA and NBS. In the past two years, the technical team conducted accounting analysis on physical quantification of environmental pollution, imputed treatment cost and environmental degradation cost for 42 industries and 3 regions of the East, the Central and the West China.

    According to the accounting conclusion, economic loss caused by environmental pollution is 511.8 billion yuan, accounting for 3.05% of national GDP in 2004. Of the figure, environmental costs by water pollution, by air pollution and by solid wastes and pollution accidents are 286.28 billion yuan, 219.8 billion yuan and 5.74 billion yuan, accounting for 55.9%, 42.9% and 1.2% of the total costs, respectively.

    According to Pan Yue and Qiu Xiaohua, an integrated environmental and economic accounting system should cover at least five types of natural resources depletion costs (land, minerals, forest, water and fishery resources) and two types of environmental degradation costs (environmental pollution cost and ecological damage cost).

    Because of limitation to basic data and technical approaches, the accounting results in 2004 only represent the environmental pollution cost, without accounts of costs of natural resources depletion and ecological damage.

    The environmental pollution costs should include costs of over 20 items while the current Chinese Green GDP accounting only covers costs of 10 items (health, agricultural and materials losses caused by air pollution; health, industrial and agricultural production losses, and water shortage caused by water pollution; economic loss caused by land occupation of solid wastes and etc.).

    Groundwater, soil contamination and other key items are not dealt with in the accounting. On the whole, this accounting result is only a fraction of ultimate green GDP calculation result.

    In addition, some underestimates and missing items existed in the calculated costs of 10 items. Even so, the environmental pollution cost has accounted for 3.05% of the GDP. This striking figure just demonstrates that environmental pollution is quite serious at present.

    Apart from environmental pollution cost, pollution discharge amounts and treatment costs are also taken into calculation in the Green GDP accounting.

    The calculation result shows that the one-off direct investment of about 1,080 billion yuan, accounting for about 7% of the GDP that year, should be required if all the discharged pollutants from point source were treated or disposed of in 2004.

    Moreover, the additional operation expenses of 287.4 billion yuan (imputed treatment cost) are also needed for treatment, which accounts for 1.8% of the GDP in 2004. In fact, the pollution abatement and control investment only accounted for 1.18% of the GDP during the "Tenth Five-year Plan" period, which is of great gap with the accounting result.

    Pan Yue and Qiu Xiaohua also indicated that the accounting result is sufficient to roughly estimate the current economic and environmental situation even if it is still not complete.

    The calculated figures again prove that environmental crisis is more and more severely restricting economic development of China. In the traditional industrialization pattern, the GDP figure on the increase is based on the overdraft of resources and environment and public health.

    Even though the economic growth characterized by "high consumption, high pollution and high risk" is of its own historical significance in China, China's economy has been in the bottleneck period of resources and energy today and it cannot bear any risks of resources exhaustion.

    Meanwhile, Chinese society has also entered the period with various conflicts protruding in which per capita GDP is about 1,000-3,000 US dollars, which cannot bear up any social problems caused by environmental pollution.

    The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party put forward the setting of concept of scientific development and building a harmonious society of China, and then building of a resources-conserving and environment-friendly society.

    This means a significant sublimation of the political concept in China and provides a good opportunity for the Chinese economic growth pattern changing from traditional industrialization into new industrialization.

    However, any good concept or ideology must be supported or ensured by a stable and firm system. If we cannot develop a set of comprehensive or objective measurement indicator system for economic growth, it will be impossible for us to achieve the set goals of setting a scientific development concept and building of a harmonious society of China.

    Pan Yue noted that it would be a very long process to establish a green national economic accounting system ultimately as a result of obstacles in technology and system.

    But it will be too late if we don't take action until all the pre-conditions become mature. We have to tackle thorny problems one by one. If one project was conducted, we would tackle one problem; if one problem was settled, we would release it to the public.

    The further tasks of the working group should be as following: first, to improve accounting methods and conduct green national accounting as routine work.

    SEPA will conduct three basic surveys in succession such as a nationwide pollution sources Surveys, a nationwide groundwater pollution investigation and a nationwide soil contamination investigation together with other departments concerned to supplement this accounting basis.

    Moreover, the national survey for ecological damage loss will be launched soon in order to lay the foundation for calculation of overall environmental degradation cost; second, SEPA will place emphasis on research on how to formulate environmental and economic management policies related to pollution control, environmental revenue, ecological compensation and performance examination of governmental officers by using calculation results of green national accounting.

    Since the report has analyzed the data regarding 42 industries and 3 regions and compared the environmental pollution situation in different industries or regions, SEPA will be facilitated to identify emphases of pollution control, collocate industrial environmental protection functional zones and coordinate regional development orientation with a definite objective, in order to promote sustainable development of regional economies.

    Qiu Xiaohua said it was the common topic for statistical departments of the world all the time and it is an important task for the Chinese statistical department to explore green national economic accounting.

    The National Bureau of Statistics will implement the requirements of the State Council to provide guarantee or support for the implementation of the scientific development concept, vigorously push forward research and practicical work of green national economic accounting together with departments concerned.

    The experts' assessment meeting for Green GDP Accounting Research was held jointly by SEPA and NBS in Beijing in July 2006. The experts group consisting of academicians and experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), Chinese Academy of Society and Science (CASS) highly appraised the Green GDP accounting research.

    The experts group is of the view that accounting technology and methodology put forward in the project research are scientific and rational, which have laid a solid foundation for the establishment of an integrated environmental and economic accounting system and been of great reference significance for integrated decision-making on environment and economy.

    The expert group also agrees that the research is an important practice in following the people-oriented principle and implementing the scientific development concept, which is of innovative and landmark significance in Chinese environmental and economic accounting, and has met advanced international standards.

    Chinese Green National Economic Accounting Research has drawn great attention at home and abroad and obtained great support from international community.

    The Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Finance started the key national scientific research project; The World Bank set up technology-aid projects for specific purpose; the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the UN Statistical Commission, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the European Commission, Norway, Netherlands and China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) also rendered positive appraisal and encouragement for Chinese National Accounting Research.

    In addition, the pilot or experimental work has been done in Beijing Municipality, Tianjin Municipality, Chongqing Municipality, Hebei Province, Liaoning Province, Anhui Province, Zhejiang Province, Sichuan Province, Guangdong Province and Hainan Province in support of Chinese Green National Accounting Research.

    Nearly 30% of key industrial pollution enterprises, all the sewage plants, garbage treatment plants, big livestock and poultry breeding farms and 30,000 households were surveyed in the 10 provinces and cities.

    Besides environmental protection and statistical governments, the health, agricultural, water conservancy, civil construction, transportation and other related governments were also involved in the survey. At present, the pilot work has been going smoothly in China and is expected for completion before the end of 2006.

    Pan Yue and Qiu Xiaohua stated in conclusion that no any other country had ever conducted the complete and comprehensive environmental and economic accounting.

    Therefore, Chinese environmental and economic accounting research makes a good attempt for the developing countries in the field of Green GDP accounting. SEPA and NBS are planning to further expand accounting scopes, improve accounting approaches and gradually establish a Chinese regular system of environmental and economic accounting report.

(Provided by Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning)

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China's water woes could make it world tech leader

By Emma Graham-Harrison BEIJING, Sept 12 (Reuters Beijing plans to spend more than 330 billion yuan ($41.5 billion) by 2010 to provide sewage treatment plants to all cities. If it invests in next-generation plants that effectively reprocess water, it could tackle waste and water scarcity while boosting its own economy. "China, if it is going to remedy pollution, has to put in wastewater treatment. But that process constitutes an opportunity, because it can leapfrog to the latest technology," Paul Reiter, Executive Director of the International Water Association, told Reuters at a conference his group organised.) - China's bid to tackle widespread pollution and a shortage of water treatment facilities could make it a leader in waste management, experts said on Tuesday. But its rivers and lakes may need years to recover from chronic misuse, they said. More than two-fifths of cities, and tens of millions of rural dwellers pump used water directly into rivers, which risks damaging the heath of downstream users and the ecosystems of lakes where the water ends up. "It would be good for the environment, but its companies could also manufacture and market these systems." Instead of shipping waste water away from city centres to treat it before discharge into a river, the smaller modern plants clean the water for just one neighbourhood to a quality where it can be recycled back into an urban supply system. Reiter said the new plants, some no larger than an office building, are already economically competitive with old-fashioned treatment systems. Chinese firms are already manufacturing some components, mostly for export. Such systems will face challenges in a country where many treatment plants are not connected to sewage systems and where it is common for local governments to ignore new technologies because they are too costly or too complicated to use. FUTURISTIC SOLUTIONS China has around one fifth of the world's population but only seven percent of its water supply. The country is investing billions in a project to transfer water from the river systems of the south to the arid north, but the scarcity of its resources means that ultimately China will have to focus on more efficient management. Among the new systems being tested is one that would power treatment systems with the very waste they are filtering, by using bacteria to create biofuel cells. "We have already got cells which can power lightbulbs and we believe that in five to 10 years we could be in commercial production," said David Garman, President-elect of IWA. But at present, the lack of working treatment systems is storing up problems that could take decades to correct. The impact of wastewater run-off, including nutrient rich sewage, is compounded by careless and excessive application of fertilisers. More than half of Chinese lakes are suffering from eutrophication, said IWA president Laszlo Somlyody, meaning their waters are so nutrient rich that they feed excess growth of algae, which can choke out other aquatic life. Even when nutrient flows are cut back, the nitrogen and phosphorus that settles to the bottom of the lake at times of heavy pollution may keep on nourishing algae for years. Scientists have noted cases in which it has taken 15 years for lakes to begin to recover. "This is the inertia of the ecosystem, the memory of the pollution," Somlyody said.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

China detains executives in latest pollution case

BEIJING, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Chinese authorities have detained senior managers at two factories in southern China which leaked the cancer-causing chemical arsenide into a river, the official Xinhua news agency said. The plants in Hunan province, which had no pollution treatment facilities, had been closed down, Xinhua said in an overnight report seen on Tuesday. The pollution caused no casualties and Dongting lake, one of China's largest and downstream from the accident, had avoided serious pollution, it added. The report gave no details on how many people had been detained. The leak poisoned drinking water supplies for nearly 100,000 people and fire engines were bought in to distribute fresh water. Arsenide can damage the liver, kidney and cause lung or skin cancer. Rapid expansion in hazardous industries like chemical manufacturing and smeltering has led to an increasing number of pollution cases in China. Earlier this month, a lead smelter in northwest Gansu province poisoned hundreds. Last October, a chemical plant explosion in northeast China lead to benzene being discharged into a local river, forcing supplies to be cut off for millions and reaching as far away as Russia.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Can China Go Green?

By Elizabeth C. Economy | Monday, September 04, 2006

Can China overcome its abysmal environmental record and reverse decades of pollution and degradation of its natural resources? Elizabeth Economy, author of "The River Runs Black", outlines a possible scenario where sustained economic growth, sound policies and civil society all combine to put China on the path of becoming a model environmental citizen.

In the first scenario, China's economy continues to grow, producing more challenges for the environment but simultaneously spurring greater investment in environmental protection at both the local and national levels.

A booming environmental industry

If such a scenario were to play out, China's most vibrant

Premier Wen Jiabao uses his environmental expertise to push for broader environmental change.
cities – such as Shanghai and Dalian – serve as genuine models for other coastal and inland cities interested in attracting greater foreign investment and recognition for their livability.

As urbanization continues, satellite cities replicate the better environmental practices of the major urban centers rather than becoming dumping grounds for the cities' most polluting enterprises.

Shanghai becomes a center for the most advanced environmental thinking and cleaner production, prompting a booming industry in environmental technologies.

Environmentally conscious

Beautification campaigns clean up the city streets and Shanghai develops a high-speed transit system to its satellite cities, thereby sharply slowing the growth rate in car use in the city and surrounding environs.

The continued increasing wealth of the city and environmental education opportunities in schools spawn a highly energized green movement, which promotes recycling, water-saving measures and other grassroots efforts to protect the environment and the city's natural resources.

China's green future

In ten

China becomes world-renowned for the quality and quantity of its organic produce, particularly fruits and vegetables.
years, the water in the Huangpu River is once again safe for recreation and drinking, leading to a lively riverfront community.

At the same time, Premier Wen Jiabao uses his environmental expertise to push for broader environmental change. The political success of former Dalian mayor BC Xilai encourages other mayors to follow suit, using the environment as a stepping stone to positions of greater political prominence.

Throughout the country, tens of thousands of model environmental cities sprout, providing China's citizens with unprecedented access to a better future for themselves and their children.

Good-bye pollution

China’s entry into the WTO reinforces positive trends in the quality of goods produced, the development of a legal infrastructure and stronger enforcement capability.

Electricity supplied from the Three Gorges Dam – and natural gas provided by the West-East pipeline – dramatically improves China’s energy mix. Coal use decreases as the desire for efficiency and higher quality of life becomes paramount.

Fresh fruit — grown in China

Environment-related public health concerns diminish as China is

Tens of thousands of model environmental cities sprout, providing China’s citizens with unprecedented access to a better future for themselves and their children.
forced to rethink its rural development and agricultural strategies to accommodate WTO-levels of food safety.

As China moves away from intensive farming and toward other, more environmentally sustainable and lucrative crops, the country also becomes world-renowned for the quality and quantity of its organic produce, particularly fruits and vegetables.

In the automobile sector, Chinese joint ventures become leaders in producing fuel-efficient cars. Alternative fuel-cell vehicles dominate the roads, encouraged by the desire of Beijing to match consumer interests with the country's diminishing oil supply.

NGOs take the lead

On the governance front, China's NGOs continue to flourish, supported not only by the international community, but also increasingly by Chinese citizens who value a clean environment and are willing to contribute both financially and personally to ensure its sustainability.

China's top entrepreneurs become an important new source of funding for environmental NCOs, helped by new tax laws and a growing base of wealthy Chinese citizens.

The environment – a political platform

Small mass-based environmental NCOs emerge and the well-established NGOs expand

Urban planners, conservationists and business leaders join forces to develop western China in a model environmental fashion.
their membership and their mission as the next generation of environmental NGO leaders increasingly incorporates international practices of lobbying and lawsuits to protect the environment.

The international community — business, government and NGOs — joins forces with domestic NGOs and environmentally proactive government leaders to increase dramatically China’s technological and policy capacity to protect the environment.

A vast experiment

This partnership also transforms the Go West campaign into a vast experiment in sustainable development.

Urban planners, conservationists and business leaders join forces to develop western China in a model environmental fashion. They implement cleaner production, ensure public hearings for new development projects and establish local best practices with solar-powered office buildings, recycling centers and state-of-the-art public transportation.

Joining forces

The media, together with the public, serves as a watchdog to ensure that the

China's top entrepreneurs become an important new source of funding for environmental NCOs.
west does not become a new center for resource exploitation and polluting industry.

Finally, for the international community, this scenario offers the potential for improved implementation of international environmental agreements, declining or stable levels of China's greenhouse gas emissions and improvement in China's contribution to transboundary air problems, such as acid rain.

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Official: China's Songhua River suffering near-daily chemical spill


BEIJING China's Songhua River, the site of a massive chemical spill last year that halted water supplies to tens of millions of people, has been hit by more than 130 water pollution accidents in the past 11 months, state media said Monday.

Every few days, a chemical accident pollutes the Songhua, Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.

Pan blamed "irrational distribution of industrial enterprises" for the frequent accidents, the report said. No additional details were given about the scale or types of accidents.

Chinese leaders say the country faces a critical water shortage, in part because of chronic pollution and chemical accidents. Most of China's canals, rivers and lakes are severely tainted by agricultural and household pollution.

Last month, China said it will spend 1 trillion yuan (US$125 billion; €100 billion) to improve water treatment and recycling by 2010 to fight the mounting threat of urban water pollution.

The Xinhua report cited Pan as saying that China has over 20,000 chemical factories located along major rivers, including 10,000 along the Yangtze River and 4,000 along the Yellow River. It did not say how many were on the Songhua River.

Last November, a chemical plant blast spilled tons of benzene and other toxic material into the Songhua, halting water supplies to tens of millions in China and Russia. Local authorities were accused of reacting too slowly and delaying public disclosure of the spill.

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Forum explores to solve water woes

By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-09-11 05:16

Overseas investment is welcome in the water sector, which will be opened up further, Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan said yesterday.

"We'll continue to encourage overseas capital to invest in water conservation, sewage treatment, waste water recycling and other projects," Zeng told the Fifth World Water Congress on its opening day in Beijing.

In addition, domestic enterprises are urged to introduce advanced water treatment technology and management experience.

Held in Asia for the first time, the congress, which ends on Thursday, is sponsored by the International Water Association (IWA) and the Ministry of Construction to discuss issues on both local and global scales.

Minister of Construction Wang Guangtao told the gathering that as one of the world's fastest developing economies, China faces mounting pressure in water supply and pollution.

The country uses 7 per cent of global fresh water resources to support 21 per cent of world's population.

IWA Vice-President David Garman said that by holding the biennial congress, China could take a step forward in adopting advanced international technology in water treatment and management.

Antoine Frerot, chief executive officer of Veolia Water, said the robust policies China has adopted to open up its water sector are attracting more and more transnational companies to the Chinese market.

The world's leading water services company invested 470 million euros (US$597 million) in China last year; and this year, it has clinched two agreements bringing the total number of its projects to 19 in the country, Xinhua reported yesterday.

Vice-Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing told a press conference that China represents the world's largest water market; and although short-term profitability is not high, long-term prospects are rosy.

He also said that tariffs would not be raised dramatically to help resolve urban water problems. In China, tap water is priced at 20 per cent of its cost.

At least 3,000 professionals, including scientists, regulators and utilities' representatives from more than 90 countries and regions are participating in the congress

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Increase in environmental protests causes instability in China

Green Clippings - your weekly digest of environmental & conservation news

Date: Wed 06 September 2006

Environment-related riots, protests and disputes in China increased by 30% last year to more than 50 000, as pollution-related unrest becomes a contagious source of instability in the country.

Riots in Huashui in April 2005 resulted in battles between an estimated 10,000 police officers and desperate villagers, but it also proved a rare case in which citizen outrage prevailed over deeply vested interests.

"Without the riot, nothing would have changed," said Wang Xiaofang, a 43-year-old farmer. "People here finally reached their breaking point."

The Chinese people are taking to the streets to demand an end to the birth defects, polluted water, dead crops and murky air that are robbing them of their livelihoods and lives.

A government study released in mid-July found that 81% of the nation's chemical plants were dangerously near population centres and sources of drinking water.

Beijing recently promised to spend $175 billion on environmental protection over the next five years.

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Analysis: No room for Shangri-la in China

UPI U.N. Correspondent

KANGDING, China, Sept. 6 (UPI) -- What one generally regards as modern China and its pollution-belching factories dotting the landscape hardly seems to have room for the nostalgic notion of a Shangri-la.

Do not forget the ancient and the future reside side-by-side in China. In Beijing and eastern China in general it is not uncommon to go for days without seeing the sun in many urban areas. It is usually veiled by smog; sometimes at midday it may be strong enough to briefly break through and shadows may be cast.

To follow the sun one goes west.

If Shangri-la exists, and some tourist officials in parts of southwest China would like people to believe it does and can be found in their region, the road to it must start when one exits the 2.5-mile long Erlangshan Tunnel in China's "Land of Abundance," Sichuan Province.

When heading west by road, the tunnel pretty well marks the start of Tibetan Buddhist territory.

Tibet traditionally took up a large swath of what is now the southwestern part of the People's Republic of China. What is now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region is a province of China, while the other traditional provinces of Tibet became part of four adjacent provinces of China, some of which are incorporated into "autonomous" sub-regions.

I followed the route west to Kangding, a pleasant, small city squeezed at the bottom of a V-shaped green valley either side of a roaring white-water river. It's at the confluence of the Zheduo and Yala rivers. It is also where Chinese and Tibetans meet, and has been for eons. It is at an altitude of about 8,000 feet, with a peak, Mt. Paoma, looming another 1,000 feet above it.

Traffic on the main street goes one way on each side of the small river, crossed by several white stone footbridges. Five- or six-story concrete buildings with modern shops on the ground floor line the thoroughfare.

It is a mix of modern Chinese and ancient Tibetan dress. Men, called Khampas, wear cowboy hats. Yi Muslims wear skull caps. Women galore wear traditional Tibetan dress, but don't be surprised when they whip out a mobile phone.

This enchanting center, long a trading post between the two cultures, has a charm within -- excluding the mountainous backdrop -- that can best be seen in the mornings and again in the evenings.

Tai Chi exercises and choreographed movements with large flags are practiced to gentle music wafting across the town square in city center, hard by the river, in the morning.

In the evening, as daylight fades early because of the steep mountainsides, more upbeat music drifts across the plaza as hundreds of mostly older women and a healthy show of men perform steps like a local line-dance as they go around in a huge circle. Several young adults and even some children take part in the graceful whirl, stepping lightly as they motion with hands and arms. Tibetans and Chinese participate.

It is quite a sight, the happy throng dancing, the rapids roaring, the mountains looming above.

Farmers bring fruits in tall baskets on their backs, aiming to sell some refreshment to the dancers and their observers.

Near this mountain city with a moderate climate it is but a short jaunt to see glaciers, grasslands and relax in hot springs.

Is this Shangri-la?

It may be to the locals, numbering somewhat over 100,000, counting outlying areas, and those who want to hype it for tourists.

There are Buddhist temples, a school for executing Tibetan thangkas -- paintings on cloth depicting stories -- and even monasteries nearby. There are churches dating way back into the last century.

There's a French-founded Catholic Church on the main street, but the sanctuary is three flights up, from an alley entrance. A Catholic priest, who chatted with me in slacks and sport shirt, telling me he has three other churches he also serves, later donned vestments to say 10 a.m. mass for a congregation of about 20, mostly women. There was room for maybe 200 in the nave of the church. While it has arched windows, there is no stained glass to fill them. Just clear glass.

A storefront disguises the base of the not-too-grand church on the main street, along the river. The entrance is from an alley. It has a rectory, community center and the church proper.

A visiting churchgoer could pass it by if they don't step back a bit to see the blue cone-shaped spires of the house of worship. A small old, fundamentalist Protestant Church, that could hold perhaps 50 faithful, is squeezed in along a side street, a few blocks away, on the opposite river bank. A stove sits in the middle of where congregants sit in the small, dingy room with bare light bulb. A beautiful, recently done-up mosque also graces the town.

So storied is this place there is a song dedicated to it and its mountain peak, Mt. Paoma: the Kangding Love Song, beckoning domestic tourists from all corners of China. Mt. Gongga, at 24,784 feet, towering in the distance and claimed by Kangding, is regarded a sister to Mt. Everest, and is the highest mountain in Sichuan.

This is a gateway to the Chinese Ganzi Autonomous Region of Sichuan. Several miles up the road the highway splits into the major northern and southern land routes into Tibet from the east.

While Kangding is accessible from the east by the wending highway around, over and through layers of mountains, livestock often vying for right of way, if a traveler would rather pass on adventure, an airport is supposed to open in 2008.


(Editor's note: UPI sent U.N. Correspondent William M. Reilly to China earlier this summer. As a guest of the State Council Information Office he toured Tibetan regions of the nation, including Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, and areas of adjacent Qinghai and Sichuan provinces. He also traveled on the new Qinghai-Tibet railway. This is the second in a series of his reports.)

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Rules Ignored, Toxic Sludge Sinks Chinese Village

URAD QIANQI, China — Dark as soy sauce, perfumed with a chemical stench, the liquid waste from two paper mills overwhelmed the tiny village of Sugai. Villagers tried to construct a makeshift dike, but the toxic water swept it away. Fifty-seven homes sank into a black, polluted lake.

The April 10 industrial spill, described by five residents of the village in Inner Mongolia, was a small-scale environmental disaster in a country with too many of them. But Sugai should have been different. The two mills had already been sued in a major case, fined and ordered to upgrade their pollution equipment after a serious spill into the Yellow River in 2004.

The official response to that spill, praised by the state-run news media, seemed to showcase a new, tougher approach toward pollution — until the later spill at Sugai revealed that local officials had never carried out the cleanup orders. Now, the destruction of Sugai is a lesson in the difficulty of enforcing environmental rules in China.

“The smell made me want to vomit,” one villager said recently, as he showed the waist-high watermark on the remains of his home. There is no shortage of environmental laws and regulations in China, many of them passed in recent years by a central government trying to address one of the worst pollution problems in the world. But those problems persist, in part, because environmental protection is often subverted by local protectionism, corruption and regulatory inefficiency.

Even as many domestic and international environmental groups now credit China with beginning to take the environment seriously, pollution is actually worsening in some crucial categories. Emissions of sulfur dioxide, the building block of acid rain, rose by 27 percent between 2000 and 2005; government projections had called for a 20 percent reduction.

“It is clear the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection is coming to a head,” said Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, according to the official New China News Agency.

The broader tension of balancing environmental protection with fast economic growth is not likely to ease. China wants to double the size of its economy by 2020. And yet Mr. Zhou did not hesitate to assign much of the blame for the undercutting of pollution control efforts to corruption and fraud by local officials.

Despite its rising public profile, the State Environmental Protection Administration remains one of the weakest agencies in the central government bureaucracy and has sought to increase its regulatory powers. For years, it has complained that local environmental protection bureaus are accountable to local officials rather than the state agency. This has meant that local regulators had to answer to mayors or other local officials who may have had financial or other interests in protecting polluting industries.

In early August, SEPA announced that it would establish 11 regional offices to monitor pollution problems better. The agency also announced that local officials eligible for promotion would be judged on their pollution track record, in addition to how well they deliver economic growth.

Public disgust over pollution is growing. In May, the official English-language newspaper China Daily reported that more than 50,000 disputes and protests arose in 2005 over pollution. Public complaints to the national environmental administration rose by 30 percent.

“We have heard many complaints saying. ‘no clean official, no clean water,’ ” Zhang Lijun, a deputy director at SEPA, told China Daily.

Here in Urad Qianqi, a city along the Yellow River that encompasses Sugai, officials delayed for almost five weeks before finally refusing to be interviewed about the spill. Provincial officials also declined to talk, as did administrators with the paper mills and the local irrigation district.

In July, a reporter, photographer and researcher for The New York Times visited the village after being warned it was under official watch to prevent outsiders from entering. After nightfall, a sedan without license plates pursued the Times’s hired car and tried to force it to the side of the road. The Times’s car escaped to a highway but was later stopped by the police, who questioned the driver for about three hours.

Even without official cooperation, the basic chronology of the Sugai spill can be reconstructed through interviews with villagers, the handful of accounts in the Chinese news media and reports issued by the environmental agency.

For decades, the two factories, Saiwai Xinghuazhang Paper Company and Meili Beichen Paper Company, dumped their toxic sludge directly into the Yellow River. Five years ago, the introduction of new regulations ended that dumping, and factories began pumping the waste instead into a long drainage canal connected to the region’s intricate irrigation and flood protection system.

But in June 2004, the commission that regulates the irrigation system decided to address rising water levels in the system by dumping polluted canal water into the Yellow River. The release created a pollution slick that killed tens of thousands of fish and plunged the downstream city of Baotou into a drinking water crisis that lasted several days.

Industrial accidents are common in China. Millions of residents in Harbin, in northeastern China, were forced to depend on bottled water after a major benzene spill contaminated the Songhua River last November. During the first four months of 2006, SEPA reported another 49 “major’’ industrial accidents and illegal pollution discharges. A study it released last month found that roughly 80 percent of China’s 7,555 more heavily polluting factories are located on rivers, lakes or in heavily populated areas.

The official handling of the 2004 spill into the Yellow River was initially considered a groundbreaking success. The city of Baotou was awarded almost $300,000 in damages from the two factories and the irrigation district in what state news media called the first pollution lawsuit on the Yellow River. Government agencies ordered the factories shut down to install water recycling and treatment equipment. SEPA ordered the mills to comply with national water emission requirements.

Officials in Urad Qianqi decided instead to build large, temporary wastewater containment pools directly beside the river. Li Wanzhong, director of the Inner Mongolia Environmental Protection Bureau, concluded that those pools were a threat to the river. China Environment News, the official publication of the state environmental administration, reported that Mr. Li had ordered Urad Qianqi to close the factories if they continued to violate emissions standards.

But the factories were never closed. Then, a violent storm last April set off a crisis. High winds threatened to push wastewater from the pools into the Yellow River. Villagers were told that officials feared another spill into the river would expose their failure to carry out earlier orders. So officials ordered that a containment pool wall be broken so that wastewater could be diverted into a three-mile strip beside the river where several small villages, including Sugai, stood.

The only warning came from a Sugai villager who made a surreptitious telephone call from his job at one of the factories. A dozen farmers frantically tried to build a mud dike.

“The water was too high, and it didn’t work,” said one 37-year-old farmer, who, like other villagers, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “The water came all of a sudden. It was poisonous water, but I don’t know what poisons were in it.”

Three months after the spill, the homes remained uninhabitable. Large pools of black water festered in the lowest-lying areas. All but three houses — built on higher ground — had been abandoned. The farmland, once considered among the best in the area, was contaminated. Most residents had relocated to nearby villages after receiving cash settlements based on the size of their home.

“The reason this accident happened is that the local government didn’t follow the directives of the central government,” said a 40-year-old man whose father had lived in the village. He added, “They also wanted to protect the local industries.”

Urad Qianqi’s Communist Party secretary, Jia Yingxiang, later told the New China News Agency that installing the required wastewater treatment plants was too expensive. He said factories were allowed to reopen because so many local workers were dependent on them.

In fact, Urad Qianqi officials had promised in 2000 to build water treatment equipment but never did. Environmental regulators did examine the containment pools at the two paper mills. A government report after the April spill deemed the pools to be substandard and said that local officials and factory bosses had reduced the height of the walls to save money.

Health problems connected to the spill had begun to emerge in July. A dozen or more Sugai villagers had severe rashes on their legs. On July 13, government doctors arrived with ointments.

“The doctors didn’t say what was wrong with me,” said one 40-year-old mother with large red welts and rashes on her thighs. “It is hard to sleep at night because of the itching.”

Her husband, meanwhile, is worried about supporting his family. “Even if we put seeds in the earth there,” the man, 44, said, “they won’t grow because the pollution is too severe.”

China steppes up environment protection


09-05-2006 12:41

China is making huge efforts to protect its environment as the economy is growing fast...In February, the government issued a provisional regulation on disciplining dereliction of duty in environmental protection activity.And beginning in May, a law enforcement inspection group was sent by the National People's Congress Standing committee to conduct a nationwide inspection. However, recent survey and investigation show that more efforts are still needed for substantial progress.

China's top enviromental watchdog launched last Friday investigations into six of the nation's most notorious polluters.The county government of Xin'an in Luoyang of central China's Henan Province and the municipal government in Jinhua of East China's Zhejiang province are in the list announced by the State Environmental Protection Administration.

Deputy Researcher of Chinese Academy Social Sciences Li Yujun said:"The onging probe focuses largely on cases of local government's hazardous environmental policies and attempts at protectionism.We can see that the law enforcement of environmental protection is strengthened."

SEPA and the ministry of Supervision held their first round of joint investigations into four pollution cases this February. During the six-month probe, 42 factories were forced to upgrade their enviromental protection technologies, while another factory was closed down and two otehrs remain in the process of installing and testing equipment.

A report delivered in August at the NPC standing committee showed that the level of envrionmental pollution in China is still on the up but at a slower rate than before. The environmental authority has called for amendment of the environmental law.The current law was enacted in 1989 and has not been revised since. China has set a goal of cutting pollution output by 10 percnet, adjusted for economic growth, over the next five years. A nationwide network for environmentla inspection will also be set up by then.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Scientists say no toxic compounds found yet in China river spill

04/09/2006 10:50 KHABAROVSK, September 4 (RIA Novosti) - Russian scientists have found no sign yet of a toxic compounds in a Chinese river after a chemical spill into a tributary raised fears of an environmental disaster, Russia's Far East environmental watchdog said Monday.

The concerns emerged after Chinese media said on August 20 untreated industrial waste containing highly toxic benzene derivatives had been discharged from the Jilin chemical plant into a tributary of the Songhua, which runs into the Amur River in Russia's Far East. The reports provoked fears that a major environmental alert after an explosion last November would be repeated.

But Viktor Bardyuk, head of the Khabarovsk Territory's environmental department of the Ministry of Natural Resources appeared to play down the situation. "Russian experts took water samples on September 1-2 near the Chinese city of Jiamusi 35 kilometers [20 miles] upstream from the inflow of the Songhua into the Amur and analyzed them for aniline and amino methyl aniline."

The compound, which can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled, can cause nausea, breathing difficulties and can affect the nervous system.

Bardyuk said some samples had been delivered to Khabarovsk, a regional center in Russia, for a more meticulous analysis.

He said Russian and Chinese experts had started testing the Amur Sunday, with samples to be taken every morning from September 4 through 8 at Nizhneleninskoye, a town bordering on China.

The Khabarovsk authorities said toxic waste had been dumped into the river on August 20. China's General Consulate confirmed this but said there was no threat of the river's pollution and measures were being taken to prevent any environmental threat.

Tons of absorbent carbon have been delivered to Khabarovsk and other cities on the Amur, mirroring efforts taken at the end of last year to avert a catastrophe after a blast a Jilin Petroleum and Chemical Company plant in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang then caused 100 metric tons of benzene to spill into the Songhua.

But fears remain that potentially lethal benzene could have contaminated the water in a repeat of November's accident, which came close to creating an environmental catastrophe in the Russian Far East as a massive slick passed along the Amur before spilling into the Sea of Okhotsk.

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Bustling Beijing gives London an Olympic lesson

Jonathan Watts in Beijing
Tuesday September 5, 2006
The Guardian

On the northern outskirts of Beijing, an army of migrant workers is twisting and welding a 100,000-tonne tangle of steel into a stadium-sized bird's nest. A short sprint away, the scaffold wrapping of a vast swimming centre has been partly peeled away to reveal a translucent bubble-like coating. Everywhere thickets of cranes are raising up sports halls, athletes' dormitories and guest hotels.

The 2008 Olympics is shaping up to be one of the most spectacular festivals in human history - which could make it a hard act to follow for London in 2012. But on her first visit to China as minister for the Olympics, Tessa Jowell said yesterday that the UK welcomed the competition. "China is ambitious almost in a way no country has ever been in the way we are seeing the regeneration of probably no less than a third of Beijing," she said during a visit to the £246m national stadium, which is 80% complete with two years remaining until the Olympics.

But London, she said, was spending almost the same amount on its showcase venues. "Everyone involved in London has a sense of enthusiasm and the absolute determination to be the best. That is the promise that we made."

Ms Jowell's visit is the latest in a series of increasingly frequent cooperative exchanges between the two Olympic cities. Although London may be spending a similar amount on its stadiums, the money goes a lot further in Beijing, where land can be summarily requisitioned and labourers toil for little more than 1,000 yuan (£70) a month. With no unions, they can also be made to work round the clock, which means fewer time overruns. The bird's nest stadium, above - designed by Swiss architects Herzog and De Meuron in collaboration with China's Institute of Architecture Design and Research - is on schedule for completion at the end of next year. "The current situation matches our plan very well. I am confident that we will finish in time," said Zhang Hengli, the deputy general manager of the stadium. "Up to now we have not had even the smallest accident."

Other facilities, such as the £80m swimming centre are also taking shape without any of the delays that plagued preparations for Athens in 2004.

But the sporting facilities are only part of Beijing's Olympic project. Across the city, old hutongs - narrow residential alleyways - have been demolished to make way for new or widened streets, including a motorway and two ring roads. Included in new railway track is a line to the airport, where workers are building the world's biggest airport terminal.

No one doubts the buildings will be ready on time, but there are questions about the software, the environment and relations with the media.

Pollution is a bigger challenge. China has the highest sulphur dioxide emissions in the world and Beijing is often shrouded in smog. City officials insist, however, that by 2008 the air quality will reach internationally acceptable standards on two out of in every three days.

As part of a multimillion-pound effort to clean the skies, the worst-offending factories have been relocated and many coal-fired homes converted to gas. For the duration of the games, traffic will be restricted and construction sites ordered to halt work. Hundreds of public toilets are being rebuilt, thousands of dustbins will be added to the city's streets and 400 miles of sewerage pipes will be renovated.

One big unanswered question concerns arrangements for the tens of thousands of foreign journalists expected to cover the Olympics. Under current regulations, overseas correspondents are not free to make reporting trips outside of Beijing without permission. In bidding for the games, officials said the media would be free to cover all aspects of life in China.

Mrs Jowell said she would raise this issue with her counterparts in Beijing: "I will be talking about freedom of speech to the organising committee tomorrow. I think that it's very important that the commitments that have been made as part of the bidding for the games will be honoured."

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Fighting against dirty water

Just when you think China's water pollution problem couldn't get any worse, another chemical spill occurs, tainting citizens' drinking water, not to mention putting at risk the health of many animal and plant species.

About two weeks ago, a local chemical company polluted the northeastern province of Jilin in a tributary of the Songhua River with the chemical xylidine.

After an explosion at a chemicals plant last November, the same area was contaminated by 100 tons of benzene and other toxic chemicals, shutting-off the water supply to millions of people.

The incident was mismanaged from the outset, which did not help efforts to contain the problem.

Although the recent spill was contained and treated, the question must be asked why do incidents like this keep happening?

The answer lies in the fact that some local government officials are more concerned with maintaining rapid economic growth than fulfilling their roles as environmental stewards.

As China continues to be plagued by industrial incidents that contaminate its rivers, subsequent cover-ups of environmental incidents and corruption associated with environmental issues, China's environment watchdog, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) recently announced it would create a national network of 11 environmental monitors that will report directly to SEPA in an effort to stamp out cover-ups and corruption.

In addition to this new monitoring system, re-education campaigns aimed at local governments should be pursued in order to teach officials that development isn't just about gross domestic product (GDP) figures and that economic growth will be cancelled out by growing environmental costs.

Another strategy to avoid the mismanagement of environmental incidents would be to encourage the local media to promptly report on any environmental damage happening in their areas. This would increase accountability and help prevent practices such as the illegal dumping of chemicals into rivers from occurring.

The quality of China's urban water supply has also been in the news recently, with China's Vice-Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing saying China's urban water quality was worsening due to among other things agricultural pollution, waste water discharge in cities and industrial effluent.

Recently, the China Disease Prevention and Control Centre also said that outdated technologies from the beginning of the 20th century were still being used at most of China's waterworks.

In an attempt to remedy the situation the government has pledged US$125 billion to improve water quality over the next five years. The money will be put towards building desalinization plants and new sewage treatment works, while replacing decrepit pipes.

As China's water pollution problems heighten, it is timely that Beijing is hosting this month's World Water Conference.

The conference provides China with a great platform to air its water concerns, giving 3,000 experts and professionals the chance to offer solutions to some of its problems.

China must ensure discussions with its foreign counterparts on the current water crisis is high on the agenda and be open to offers of foreign assistance and expertise, as an effective way to solve such a vast problem will be through a united effort and a pooling of resources.

An inherent lack of co-ordination between water administrative departments of various levels must be resolved, with SEPA taking a more active approach in co-ordinating the various departments.

Central and local governments and all related departments are battling the same problem and the benefits of a united approach are numerous. What must be made clear to the Chinese Government is that the sharing of research, information and resources will bring about faster results

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Jade rush 'damages Chinese river'

 BBC News

Jade cutter in China
As resources dwindle the price of Hotan jade has soared
Jade prospectors are putting one of China's rivers in peril and could soon exhaust supplies of the precious stone.

About 200,000 people are sifting the Yurungkax river in Xianjiang for Hotan jade - which costs up to $120 (£63) a gramme - state media reports have said.

As well as the prospectors, around 2,000 mechanical diggers are sifting through the river bed for the gemstone.

Experts say the search is damaging the river bed and its biological system leading to serious soil erosion.

"The river bed, which is hundreds of millions of years old, is undergoing unprecedented degradation," said Wang Shiqi, a gemstones expert at Beijing University.

"If the mass hunting continues like this, the river's Hotan jade resources will disappear in five to six years," he added.

Dwindling supplies

The price of Hotan jade has surged in recent years as a result of a sharp drop in output.

The stone is deemed to be the highest quality because of its texture and colour - said to be "as white as sheep fat". Most of the seals of Chinese emperors were made of Hotan jade.

Most prospectors rush to the river in north western China during the summer, before it freezes over in the autumn.

In 2004, jade hunters using heavy equipment wrecked the ruins of an ancient civilisation dating back as far as the Han Dynasty, which began in 206 BC on the west bank of the Yurungkax river.

Despite the region's water conservation authorities admitting that the jade rush has damaged the environment, local authorities have yet to put any measures in place to limit activity at the river.