China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Monday, October 30, 2006

NGOs urged to play bigger role to protect environment

CHINA'S environmental non-governmental organizations have been called upon to play a bigger role in promoting and supervising environmental protection, now an important part of China's social and economic construction.

Zhu Guangyao, deputy head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, said in Beijing on Saturday that environmental protection in China has undergone historic changes.

"Environmental protection has become a major task of China's modernization. Environmental capacity has become a major consideration in planning development projects. Environmental administration has become a major means to adjust economic structure. Environmental standards have become a major condition for market access. Environmental cost has become a major factor in the price formulation mechanism," Zhu told a conference on sustainable growth.

He said the new circumstances have given non-governmental organizations more opportunities to advise the government on environmental affairs, protect the environmental rights and interests of the public, mobilize the public to participate in environmental protection, and promote international exchanges and cooperation in this field.

The conference was sponsored by nearly 400 Chinese environmental NGOs. By 2005, China had 2,768 environmental NGOs representing 224,000 environmental activists.

Zeng Xiaodong, vice chairman of the All-China Environment Federation, said China has 315,000 NGOs of various sorts representing more than three million people. The number of environmental NGOs remains relatively small, but he predicted the number of environmental NGOs and environmental activists will grow fast in the next five to 10 years.

Activities of China's environmental NGOs include educating the public about the importance of environmental protection, promoting methods to cut consumption of electricity and water, championing environmental petitions, and organizing activities to clean the environment.

The legal service center under the All-China Environment Federation has provided legal assistance to victims of 68 pollution incidents since its establishment more than a year ago.

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Explosion at an oil tank being built by China's CNPC kills 12

BEIJING (AFX) - An oil tank of China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) that was under construction exploded last night, killing at least 12 people, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The blast happened in Dushanzi district of Kelamayi city in Northwest China's Xinjiang at 19:20 pm yesterday, the report said.

Rescuers have found 12 bodies on the site of the explosion, where 24 workers were working before the accident, it said.

The exploded tank, which has a volume of about 100,000 cubic meters, is intended to store crude oil bumped to China through the Kazakhstan-China oil pipelines, according to Xinhua.

The explosion did not affect the operation of the Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline, it said, citing unspecified sources.

The chances for a second blast or serious environmental pollution are very slim, the report said.

Pollution threatens China's oldest hydropower station

KUNMING, Oct. 28 (Xinhua) -- Water pollution is
threatening China's oldest hydropower station -- built nearly a century ago --
and has forced it to halt operation several times.

    The Shilongba Power Plant, located in the western
suburbs of Kunming, in southwest China's Yunnan Province, was built in 1908
using German technology and equipment, said deputy director Tian Jinghua.

    It draws freshwater from Dianchi Lake to generate
power, Tian said.

    But it has had to suspend operation several times in
recent years because of water pollution, he said. Chemical plants on the upper
reaches of the Tanglangchuan River have been discharging acidic effluents into
the lake.

    In November 2003, acidic water "attacked" the power
plant, triggering direct economic losses of up to 19 million yuan (2.4 million
U.S. dollars), he said.

    The latest incident occurred on Oct. 15 and 16 this
year. Highly acidic water forced the plant to stop generating power for 15
hours, he said.

    A probe by local environment authorities found that
two of the three chemical plants on the upper reaches of the Tanglangchuan River
were covertly discharging highly toxic waste water.

    Two guilty plants were ordered to suspend operations
and improve their production processes and were fined 50,000 and 60,000 yuan,
said Li Li, director of the Pollution Control Department of the Kunming
Environmental Bureau.

    The three polluters each agreed to pay 20,000 yuan to
the power plant to partially compensate its economic losses.

    "But imposing paltry fines is not likely to deter
chemical plants," said Li Li.

    She pointed out that a Kunming chemical plant would
have to spend 760,000 yuan over a six-month period to dispose of waste water
correctly but can only be fined 100,000 yuan if it violates waste water
discharge regulations.

    Environmentalists have called for tougher penalties
for polluters and for actions to raise awareness of environmental protection
among the public.

    Water pollution is a very serious problem in China.
Nearly 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes are polluted to various degrees,
government statistics show.

    China discharged 52.4 billion tons of waste water in
2005, up 26 percent on 2000. Only 52 percent of the waste water was treated
before being discharged.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chinese, French companies agree on emission credit purchase deal

UPDATED: 08:51, October 26, 2006 Via Xinhuanews

State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) said Wednesday in Beijing that Electricite de France (EDF) has agreed to purchase greenhouse gas emission reduction credits from its biomass power project.

The project, run by National Bio Energy Company, a subsidiary of the SGCC, has given the two companies an opportunity to cooperate under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), said Liu Zhenya, general manager of the SGCC, without revealing the value of the deal.

The CDM programs encourage China to improve energy efficiency and protect the environment by using clean energy for electricity generation, said Liu.

Established under the Kyoto Protocol, CDM is a market-based mechanism that allows developed countries to fulfill their greenhouse gas emission reduction obligations by investing in clean energy projects in developing countries such as China.

With rapid economic growth and a large population, China is currently the world's second largest energy consumer and producer and the third largest oil importer. Coal consumption has resulted in much of the atmospheric pollution in China.

National Bio Energy Company, which promotes China's renewable energy industry through biomass power generation, currently runs 14 projects across the country, with an aggregate capacity of 350,000 kilowatts.

The company aims to generate 55 percent of the country's biomass power in 2010, or three million kilowatts, in order to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1.2 million tons.

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

China to track down pollution sources

    BEIJING, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) -- China will conduct its first nationwide survey to track down the sources of pollution in its latest anti-pollution campaign.

    All factories, stock farms and urban institutions which release sewage, rubbish and medical waste will be surveyed.

    The survey will be carried out from December 31, 2007 by the State Council and will last for one year. The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) will gather and then publish the results in 2009.

    China was ranked the world's worst sulphur dioxide emitter in 2005 with more than 25.5 million tons, 27 percent more than in 2000.

    According to its 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), China aims to reduce the discharge of key pollutants including sulphur dioxide (SO2) by 10 percent by 2010.

    However, SEPA statistics show that SO2 emissions in the first half of 2006 were up 5.8 percent on last year and one third of the country's territory was affected by acid rain last year.

Energy giant signs carbon credits deal

By Wang Ying (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-26 09:07
The trading arm of Paris-based energy giant EDF (Electricite de France) Group yesterday signed an initial agreement with China's leading electricity distributor to buy 1.5 million tons of annual greenhouse emission credits under the Kyoto Protocol carbon-trading scheme.

EDF Trading signed a letter of intent with China National Bio Energy Co Ltd, a renewable energy developer invested by the State Grid Corp of China, to purchase carbon credits from its China National Bio's three biomass power generation projects located in China.

The accord was based on the clean development mechanism (CDM) system under the Kyoto Protocol's climate improvement initiatives. The international Kyoto Protocol allows affluent countries to achieve greenhouse gas emission targets by funding pollution cuts in developing nations and has spawned a global carbon market.

Located in East China's Shandong Province and Northeast China's Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces, the three CDM projects are expected to come on stream in the first half of next year, and could cut carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 1.5 million tons a year by 2010, said Lin Mingshan, general manager of Beijing-based China National Bio.

"These are the projects that will benefit both sides. China is fulfilling its duty to improve the nation's environmental conditions by massively investing in such projects," Lin said.

Lin yesterday refused to give the financial figures involved in the EDF deal.

Established in July last year, China National Bio is currently building as many as 14 biomass generation plants across the nation, boasting a total installed capacity of 350 megawatts (MW). These plants use biomass sources such as the stems of cut wheat to generate electricity.

In the next four years, China National Bio plans to expand its biomass-fuelled capacity to more than 2,000 MW, accounting for 55 per cent of the nation's biomass power generators.

"By then, we will be able to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 12 million tons per year," the company said in a statement, without disclosing the investment involved.

Lin told China Daily that he expected more such CDM co-operation deals to be hammered out in the future with EDF or other potential buyers.

The carbon credit market in China is heating up with the central government's recent incentives prompting an increasing number of energy firms to heavily invest in renewable energy projects.

"The potential of the CDM market in China is huge," Wang Qi, secretary-general of Beijing-based China CDM Federation, told China Daily in an earlier interview.

"There's great potential for profitability. An increasing number of companies, big and small, domestic and foreign, are flocking into China's carbon market," said Jiang Yun, programme manager of the China Energy Conservation Association.

EDF Trading was set up five years ago and became a wholly owned subsidiary of EDF Group in mid-2003.

Now one of the leaders in European wholesale trading of electricity, gas and coal, EDF Trading optimises EDF's distribution and generation network through buying and selling both electricity and primary fuels, and manages EDF's diverse commodity risks on an integrated basis. European energy giant EDF operates coal-fired power plants with an installed capacity of 3,720 MW in China.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

When the Yellow River Runs Red

Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2006
The pollution of China's rivers has become sadly commonplace. Can the government clean them up?

In a country changing as rapidly as China is, people often take comfort from things that remain the same. That may explain the alarm felt by residents of the western city of Lanzhou on Sunday morning, when they noticed that a stretch of the 3,400-mile Yellow River was not yellow — not even tan — but a color closer to magenta. By the next day China's official news agency, Xinhua, had published photographs of the Biblically hued slick and reported that an unknown substance spilling out of a local sewer had caused the river to "turn red and smelly."

Chemicals spill into Chinese rivers nearly every day, and have left nearly all of the nation's surface water unfit for human consumption. Lanzhou's red tide, though dramatic, has so far has not been reported to have poisoned drinking water. The spill occurred during repairs at a steam-heating station, when water containing a pink dye to distinguish it from drinking water was discharged into a local septic system, and then flushed into the river. Lanzhou's environmental officials said Tuesday they were still assessing the impact of the spill, and that those responsible would be punished.

China has long referred to the Yellow River — which runs a silted (hence "yellow") course from the plains of Qinghai near Tibet to the Bohai Bay, opposite the Korean Peninsula — as "China's Sorrow." The name refers to the floods that have plagued people along its banks for millennia, but it has resonated painfully in recent years as the river has fallen victim to excessive damming, frequent pollution and misguided diversion schemes.

In 1972, for the first time in China's recorded history, the Yellow dried up in patches and failed to reach the sea. Since then it has run dry so long and so often that some scientists have suggested it ought to be a considered an inland body of water, or even a seasonal phenomenon.

The Yellow's sorrows reflect the situation of China's other waterways. Rivers in other parts of the country have run black and occasionally turned other unnatural colors from an overloading with effluents from paper mills and dye factories. According to recent government figures some 320 million Chinese still lack access to clean drinking water. Lead and arsenic have been among the contaminants reported in recent pollution scandals.

Last November, the Songhua River (in the northeast of the country) absorbed hundreds of tons of toxic benzene after an explosion at a chemical plant. The extent of the danger was made public only after household taps for 9 million people in the city of Harbin had been shut off, and just days before the slick crossed the border into Russia. The botched response led to the dismissal of China's top environmental official and to renewed calls for transparency and stricter enforcement of environmental standards. But little has changed. Recently Pan Yue, deputy director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration admitted the Songhua had seen some 130 "pollution accidents" in the past 11 months.

Though China's central government has prioritized cleaning up its polluted rivers and has pledged vast sums for the purpose — one plan is to flush the Yellow with water diverted from the cleaner Yangtze — enforcement of environmental laws at the local level remains spotty at best. Local government officials often have a stake in the very factories responsible for the pollution. Typically, officials from Beijing announce a plan to visit, and their local counterparts scramble like frat boys preparing for a parental visit after a keg party. The mess is temporarily tidied and offending factories closed for a few days, but when the Beijing officials depart, the party resumes.

On the Tangbai River in central China, for example, officials from Beijing visited and promised a clean-up after a campaign by local activists drew national media attention to the cocktail of pollutants including chromium, benzene and volatilized phenol that had poisoned wells and, in at least one village, caused rice to stop growing and cancer rates to spike. But just last month, a tributary of the Tangbai was so polluted that when a TIME reporter drove by, hundreds of people stood along the banks of a stream with a powerful chemical stench, pulling out dead and dying fish. According to the fishermen, the same thing happened every month when paper mills and fertilizer factories upstream discharged their wastewater tanks. Stripped to their underwear and wading into the foul water with nets and baskets, the locals regarded the situation as predictable, even humdrum — an aid to fishing.

But when pollution strong enough to kill fish by the bucket-load becomes commonplace, it's more than the water that's tainted. The Yellow River turning red may be another warning to Beijing of the perils that lurk in its waterways.

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Cap urged on power plants' sulphur dioxide emissions

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-10-25 06:40

US experts have suggested China's air pollution controls should start with caps on the sulphur dioxide emissions of coal power stations.

Nearly half of China's cities have heavily polluted air, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

Yesterday SEPA Deputy Director Zhang Lijun told an international seminar on air quality management in Beijing that in most cities with a population more than 1 million, the percentages of sulphur dioxide and particles far exceeded the standard.

In response to the problem US researchers have suggested coal power plants need to be tackled first.

"Coal-fired power plants are major sources of sulphur dioxide, and it would be a good idea to start with them in the air pollution control campaign," said John Chang, team leader of indoor air research with the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Chang and 65 other US experts were in Beijing for the seventh Sino-US Technology and Engineering Conference. They also visited two demonstration power plants fitted with advanced desulphurization facilities.

"We were told that more coal-fired power plants would install desulphurization equipment," said Chang. "The government is determined to control air pollution, but the key will be whether these power plants permanently adopt the equipment."

The government plans to cap sulphur dioxide emissions at 23 million tons by 2010, according to the 11th Five-Year Plan.

Coal-fired power plants alone emit more than 60 per cent of the total sulphur dioxide pollution, with SEPA statistics showing that 16 million tons out of the total 25.5 million tons of sulphur dioxide was emitted by coal power stations.

China currently lacks a continuous emission monitoring system to provide data and a basis for implementing a reward-punishment system for power stations, said Chang.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Chinese river mysteriously turns red

A local resident stands near a section of China's Yellow River which has turned red after pollution caused by discharge from a sewage pipe in Lanzhou, in western Gansu province Monday Oct. 23, 2006. A kilometer-long section of the river turned "red and smelly" after a sewage pipe discharged red liquid on Sunday. Environmental protection officials took samples and were trying to determine whether the sewage was toxic. (AP Photo/EyePress)


Oct. 23, 2006, 8:06PM
Chinese river mysteriously turns red

BEIJING — A half-mile section of China's Yellow River turned "red and smelly" after an unknown discharge was poured into it from a sewage pipe, state media said Monday.

The incident in Lanzhou, a city of 2 million people in western Gansu province, follows a string of industrial accidents that have poisoned major rivers in China over the last year, forcing several cities to shut down their water systems.

It wasn't immediately clear what was tainting the section of the Yellow River. Environmental protection officials took samples and were trying to determine whether the sewage was toxic, the official Xinhua news agency said.

"Residents were alarmed to see a sewage pipe pouring red water into the country's second longest river" on Sunday between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., the agency said.

A news photo from the local paper showed a resident in the city center by a stretch of the river _ a drinking water source for millions _ that was rose-colored instead of the usual milky brown. Other photos showed patches of bright red and pink.

An official from Yellow River Water Resource Committee in Lanzhou confirmed the pollution. He said they were still analyzing the sample and had not determined what caused it. Like many Chinese officials, he gave only his family name, Wang.

Environmental protection has taken on new urgency for Chinese leaders following a November 2005 chemical spill in the Songhua River in northeastern China which forced the city of Harbin to shut down its water supply for days and sent toxins flowing into Russia.

China's cities are among the world's smoggiest, and the government says its major rivers, canals and lakes are badly polluted by industrial, agricultural and household pollution.

Hundreds of millions of people live without adequate supplies of clean drinking water. Throughout the country, protests have erupted over complaints by farmers that uncontrolled discharges by factories are ruining crops and poisoning water supplies.

"The Yellow River is the mother river of our country," said one bulletin board posting Monday on, a major Chinese news Web site. "See how it has been ruined!"

Said another: "Let the mayor of Lanzhou drink the water and then they will immediately have measures in place to deal with the environmental pollution."

Kang Mingke, an official with the city's environment protection bureau, said there were no chemical plants located nearby, according to Xinhua. He said the red water could have come from central heating companies who dye their hot water to prevent people from diverting it for their own use, the news agency said.

John Hocevar, an oceans specialist for Greenpeace USA, said that the photos he had seen of the spill might indicate a "red tide," a burst of toxic plankton in the water, spurred by the presence of nutrient-rich waste from the sewage spill.

Alternatively, he said industrial toxins could have caused the red color. "It's too early to say what's exactly in this," he said. "It could be just about anything."

Noting that local government officials have said there is no industry in the area, Hocevar said if the discoloration is the result of industrial waste, it would have to come from illegal dumping.

"For a spill this size to have this kind of effect, it would have to be illegal," he said.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

China city shuts 43 cement factories for pollution

By John Ruwitch DONGGUAN, China, Oct 19 (Reuters) - A city in China's booming southern province of Guangdong has closed 43 cement factories for pollution, a vice-mayor said on Thursday, a move that was in line with a government campaign to cool the overheating economy. Three other cement factories in Dongguan, a haven for Taiwan investors, were still operating but were environmentally friendly, Dongguan Vice-Mayor Zhou Zhina said, adding that none of the 43 was foreign invested and that all have been compensated. "Pollution from cement factories is pretty severe and they are not very safe," Zhou said in an interview with Reuters and a small group of foreign media. "For the sake of bringing Dongguan's environmental protection up a step, we closed the 43 cement factories" over the past two years, Zhou said. The central government is also trying to temper the pace of its economic rise with a focus on balanced growth and greater respect for the environment. The closures of the cement plants were in line with a central government move to cool the economy by curbing investment and bank lending which have spawned production overcapacity. Gross domestic product in the first nine months grew 10.7 percent from a year earlier. Economists say the central government has had difficulty reining in provincial governments eager for breakneck growth, but Guangdong officials appear to be toeing the central government line after Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu was sacked last month for corruption after defying the central government's macroeconomic measures. Hong Kong's Beijing-funded Wen Wei Po newspaper said Dongguan authorities also closed down 206 brick factories and 90 quarries, and pledged to spend 21.193 billion yuan ($2.65 billion) to curb pollution. Sulphur dioxide emitted by cement factories in Dongguan accounted for about 10 percent of the city's total sulphur dioxide emission, the daily said. China has set a goal of cutting pollution output by 10 percent, adjusted for economic growth, over the next five years. But China's official environmental monitor State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) found that sulphur dioxide emissions had grown 5.8 percent in the first six months of this year, the Economic Daily reported, quoting data from 17 provinces. China's key measure of water pollution -- "chemical oxygen demand" or COD -- had risen 4.2 percent compared with the same period last year, the newspaper said. SEPA chief Zhou Shengxian blamed soaring energy consumption, unbridled construction investment and spotty enforcement of environmental due diligence for the emissions increases, the daily said. On Wednesday, state media cited China's State Oceanic Administration as saying the Bohai Sea, the body of water between China and the Korean peninsula, was so polluted it would "die" within 10 years. (Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Benjamin Kang Lim)

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Report List World's 10 Worst Pollution Spots

NEW YORK, New York, October 18, 2006 (ENS) - The world's 10 most polluted places threaten the health of more than 10 million people in eight countries, according to a report released today by a U.S. environmental action group. Three of the most polluted sites are in Russia, the report said, with the remaining seven located in China, Dominican Republic, India, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Ukraine and Zambia.

The report was released by the Blacksmith Institute and compiled by a team of international environment and health experts, including researchers from Johns Hopkins University, Mt. Sinai Medical Center and City University of New York.

"A key criterion in the selection process was the nature of the pollutant," said Richard Fuller, director of Blacksmith Institute. "The biggest culprits are heavy metals - such as lead, chromium and mercury - and long-lasting chemicals - such as the `persistent organic pollutants.' That's because a particular concern of all these cases is the accumulating and long lasting burden building up in the environment and in the bodies of the people most directly affected."


Children scavenging a mine in Kabwe, Zambia, one of the sites on the list. (Photo courtesy Blacksmith Institute)

With the exception of Chernobyl, the Ukranian site of the world's worst nuclear disaster, most of the locations on the list are little-known - even in their own countries.

The most-polluted sites primarily affect communities deep in poverty, the report said, but there are potential remedies.

"Problems like this have been solved over the years in the developed world, and we have the capacity and the technology to spread our experience to our afflicted neighbors," the report said.

The list includes:

  • the Chinese city of Linfen, located in the heat of the country's coal region and chosen as an example of the severe pollution faced by many Chinese cities;

  • Haina, Dominican Republic, the site of a former automobile battery recycling smelter where residents suffer from widespread lead poisoning;

  • the Indian city of Ranipet, where some 3.5 million people are affected by tannery waste, which contains hexavalent chromium and azodyes.

  • Mailuu-Suu, Kyrgyzstan, home to a former Soviet uranium plant and severely contaminated with radioactive uranium mine wastes;

  • the Peruvian mining town of La Oroya, where residents have been exposed to toxic emissions from a poly-metallic smelter;

  • Dzerzinsk, Russia, the site of a Cold War-era chemical weapons facility;


    A child stands on a battery casing in the Dominican Republic. The world's most polluted sites all impact very poor communities. (Photo courtesy Blacksmith Institute)

  • the Russian industrial city of Norilsk, which houses the world's largest heavy metals smelting complex and where more than 4 million tons of cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, arsenic, selenium and zinc emissions are released annually;

  • the Russian Far East towns of Dalnegorsk and Rudnaya Pristan, whose residents suffer from serious lead poisoning from an old smelter and the unsafe transport of lead concentrate from the local lead mining site;

  • and the city of Kabwe, Zambia, where mining and smelting operations have led to widespread lead and cadmium contamination.

"Living in a town with serious pollution is like living under a death sentence," the report said. "If the damage does not come from immediate poisoning, then cancers, lung infections, mental retardation, are likely outcomes."

The report warns that there are some towns where life expectancy approaches medieval rates, where birth defects are the norm not the exception."

"In other places children's asthma rates are measured above 90 percent, or mental retardation is endemic," it said. "In these places, life expectancy may be half that of the richest nations. The great suffering of these communities compounds the tragedy of so few years on earth."

Blacksmith said it plans to circulate the report extensively to development agencies and local governments, working to place clean-up on the policy agenda in their respective countries and to initiate fundraising to help these regions.


Tannery runoff in India is polluting the water supply of some 3.5 million people. (Photo courtesy Blacksmith Institute)

"The most important thing is to achieve some practical progress in dealing with these polluted places," says Dave Hanrahan, Blacksmith Institute's chief of global operations. "There is a lot of good work being done in understanding the problems and in identifying possible approaches. Our goal is to instill a sense of urgency about tackling these priority sites."

"This initial Worst-Polluted Places list is a starting point," Hanrahan added. "We are looking to the international community and local specialists for feedback on the selection process and on our list. We want to make sure that the key dangerously polluted sites get the needed attention and support from the international community in order to remediate them."

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Seas, rivers face serious pollution threats

Updated: 2006-10-16 19:50

China will make an all-out effort to protect its marine environment, which is
facing very serious pollution threats, said the country's top environment
official Monday.

"China is a country with huge marine resources, and its oceans and coastal
regions are crucial parts of the country's economy," said Zhou Shengxian,
director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

"But pollution control in and along China's rivers and seas is still under
great pressure," Zhou said, adding that pollution originating on land had been
on the rise for many years.

Zhou made the remarks in Beijing at a five-day GPA workshop, a global UNEP
(the United Nations Environment Programme) program on action to protect the
marine environment.

"Marine environment crises occur regularly in China, and pollution is still
very serious at the mouths of major rivers and some bays," Zhou said.

Measures to clean up the environment will focus on northeastern Bohai Bay,
the areas around the mouth of the Yangtze River and the southern section of the
Pearl River in Guangdong Province, he said, adding that sewage discharge would
be restricted in these areas.

The three key areas pinpointed by Zhou are close to China's three major
economic engines -- the Bohai industrial belt, the Shanghai region, and the
Pearl River Delta in Guangdong, bordering Hong Kong.

Zhou took over the SEPA office last December after his predecessor Xie
Zhenhua was sacked over a chemical spill that seriously polluted the country's
northeastern Songhua River.

Cities along the river, including Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang Province
and a city of more than 3 million people, were forced to temporarily shut down
tap water. Russian environmental officials were then mobilized to join pollution
control efforts as pollutants flowed down the river towards China's northern

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Visions of Green

After decades of rapid economic growth, Asia's environment is at a tipping point. A Special Report on the scale of the crisis?and how to confront it

If you want a sense of the challenges facing Asia's physical environment, just go to Beijing?and breathe. The Chinese capital's constant swirl of production, construction and transportation creates a noxious smog that blankets the city on bad days, cutting both visibility and life expectancy. At the junior world track-and-field championships in Beijing this August, young runners choked and sputtered their way to lackluster performances, a bad omen for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. Asia has a history of holding an Olympics in a city with foul air. Tokyo, site of the 1964 Summer Games, was so polluted in the '60s and early '70s that citizens walked the streets in surgical masks, while Japanese cities like Minamata, where thousands were stricken with severe neurological damage due to industrial mercury poisoning, became bywords for ecological catastrophe. Fast-industrializing Japan was commonly expected to become an environmental dystopia. But today, Tokyo is one of the world's cleanest megacities, with the view often clear all the way to Mount Fuji. Stricter laws, tougher enforcement and a hard-earned environmental consciousness have made Japan a nation whose record is something to which other Asians can aspire, rather than a misery to be deplored.

Asia is at a crossroads. The question facing the region today is whether the forces that allowed Tokyo to clean itself up can kick in quickly enough in Beijing, or Bombay, or Jakarta, or a thousand other places where environmental damage threatens the quality of life for this generation?and the next. We can't wait long for the answer. By any measure, the state of Asia's environment is depressing. In the Philippines, a mountain of trash looms outside the capital. In Vietnam, the fertile Mekong River is imperiled by upstream damming. In Chongqing, the worst drought in a century is draining what little drinkable water is left. In Nepal, melting alpine glaciers are threatening to release devastating floods on the land below. In India, the Bengal tiger is nearing extinction, and it might just be joined one day by the foreign executive in Hong Kong, where pollution is driving expatriates to flee to greener cities. As for Bangladesh, you could churn whole forests listing its environmental troubles, but it might not matter?if global warming causes sea levels to rise just 1 m over the coming decades, 17% of the country will be underwater anyway.

Bringing this litany of disaster to an end will not be easy. For here is Asia's dilemma: the forces damaging the environment are the same ones that drove the economic miracle that has lifted more than 270 million Asians out of poverty in the past 15 years. Economic growth means more production, more jobs, more food on the table, but it also means more smokestacks, more logging, more chemicals dumped into the water. Asia, however, is running out of room to grow. A 2005 United Nations report warned that although one-fifth of Asians still exist on less than $1 a day, "the region is already living beyond its environmental carrying capacity." In August, Zhou Shengxian, director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, said: "It is clear the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection is coming to a head."

Economic growth has been responsible for much of Asia's environmental disaster?but it can also spur its recovery. For as a nation such as South Korea shows, growth can give rise to environmentalism, as richer citizens demand that government and industry clean up. But Asia can't wait for the invisible hand to grow a green thumb; its problems are too intractable for that. Asia's future has to become one of sustainable "green growth," which protects and repairs the environment without hindering the economic development that remains a matter of life and death for too many. Improved environmental technology can help developing Asia become as efficient in cleaning up pollution as it is in creating it, but only if the commitment is made before we pass the point of no return. "I feel that every day is a race," says Barbara Finamore, director of the China Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S. NGO. "It's a race to the death."

Ask five Asian experts to identify the region's most pressing environmental problems, and you'll get five different answers. Alex Wang of the NRDC says it's air and water pollution. For Elsie Cezar of the Philippines' Environmental Management Bureau, it's waste disposal and deforestation. World Wildlife Fund Cambodia's Teak Seng tags the illegal wildlife trade. All those problems have something in common: what makes them worse is what's making Asia richer. Take deforestation in Indonesia, which loses almost 2 million hectares of woodland a year. As China's economy has surged, so has its demand for timber?the country is now the destination for half of all tropical trees logged globally. In April, Indonesia announced that China had placed a $1 billion order for more than 700,000 cu m of a special hardwood tree to be used in constructing facilities for the Olympics. That lumber, at least, will be legal?a recent report by Greenpeace named China's booming furniture industry as the engine of worldwide illegal logging, although the developed countries that eagerly buy China's low-cost chairs and tables share the blame. At the current rate, Indonesia's lowland rainforests, home to the most diverse collection of trees on earth, could vanish forever by 2010.

Indonesia is a poor nation that needs the billions China sends its way, just as China needs the funds its furniture factories bring in. "The mentality is still that development should be put in front of the environment," says Jayaradha Veerasamy of the Malaysian Nature Society. But the hidden costs of environmental degradation can be catastrophic?nowhere more so than in natural disasters that have become increasingly common in Asia. The impact of climate change on the frequency and intensity of storms is still uncertain; but there's no doubt about other facts that worsen natural disasters. Deforestation can make devastating landslides more common, just as the destruction of coral reefs and underwater mangrove forests stripped coastlines of a vital defense against the 2004 tsunami. Without better preparation of the sort Japan perfected against natural disasters, death tolls will only rise as urbanization packs formerly rural populations into areas more vulnerable to earthquakes, floods and storms.

But economic growth may also create a solution by turning environmentalism into a valued consumer good. Just as richer people want more cars, TVs and air conditioners?all of which lead to more pollution?they also want air that doesn't make their children asthmatic, and water that might even be drinkable out of a tap. Economists have a term for it: the environmental Kuznets Curve, which hypothesizes that once per-capita incomes reach a certain level?in some past examples, around $5,000?pollution levels begin to plunge, as they did in once-filthy cities like London and Los Angeles. "You have the phenomenon of people with higher incomes feeling inconvenienced by pollution and wanting the government to spend money to fix it," says Finamore. If it happened in Tokyo in the '70s, it can happen in Bombay some time in the next couple of decades.

Pessimists will say that even at their current torrid rates of growth, it will take decades before nations like China and India are rich enough to decide they want to be clean?and by then the damage may be irreversible. The good news is that today's Asians may not have to wait that long. Contemporary antipollution and energy-efficiency technology is far superior to that used in the West's first cleanups. If developing Asia commits soon to investing in environmentally friendly policies and technology?clean coal plants, efficient water pricing, natural gas-powered bus transit?the region could take a green leap forward. To be sure, that will require serious investment from those developing advanced technologies in the rich world, but the scale of Asia's environmental challenges is so immense that everyone has a stake in its success. The pump is already primed: in August the World Bank brokered the largest ever greenhouse-gas contract, which will see European and Asian organizations pay two Chinese chemical firms $1 billion to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 19 million tons a year. "There's a paradigm shift beginning to manifest itself in Asia's environmental policy," says Cornie Huizenga, who heads the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities for the Asian Development Bank and World Bank. "You're starting to see investments shift as well."

Carbon credits alone will not buy a better environment for Asia. A revolution in awareness must be embraced by the individual, with inspirational Asians leading the way, like Tsering Dorje, the Tibetan activist fighting the illegal wildlife trade, or Vu Thi Quyen, who founded Vietnam's first homegrown environmental group. Those efforts can be multiplied by the growth of established environmental NGOs. India is blessed with some of the best organizations, like Sunita Narain's Centre for Science and the Environment, but even in China environmental groups are expanding in fits and starts. Politicians, too, must play their part, making sure that a commitment to a new sort of growth is taken seriously from the halls of government ministries right down to tiny villages.

Yale University's Center for Environmental Law and Policy recently ranked nations on environmental performance and found that good governance was even more important than income. That's one reason why highly regulated Singapore has proven far better at combating pollution than laissez-faire Hong Kong. It also means that China, which will really decide the future of Asia's environment, needs to match its bold national goals with local follow-through?something it has conspicuously struggled to do so far. "There's that old adage in China that the mountains are high and the emperor is far away," says Dan Dudek, chief economist for Environmental Defense. China's growth-obsessed, corner-cutting local governments cannot be allowed to drive the country's environmental policy.

Some days?when the air is heavy in Hong Kong and the gridlock is choking Jakarta?it seems to take optimism bordering on willful ignorance to feel positive about the future of Asia's environment. But other nations, including Asian ones, have faced down pollution and come clean. There are times, and places?everyone who lives in Asia has known them?when it seems it will take a miracle to save the region's environment. It wouldn't be Asia's first.

China's environmental watchdog puts Shanghai expressway on blacklist, for noise pollution

SHANGHAI, China China's environmental watchdog has included Shanghai's outer ring road, which circles the city and is the main access for both of its airports, on its blacklist of construction projects.

Other projects cited by the State Environmental Protection Agency included a coking plant in northern China's Shanxi province that failed to get approval, or to build water treatment or coal gas purification facilities for its coking ovens, used to process coal into higher grade coke used for steelmaking.

The list, seen Friday on the agency's Web site, showed partial results from investigations into 2,453 construction projects built in 2000-2005.

The Shanxi coking plant was ordered to stop operations and was given an undisclosed deadline to meet environmental standards, it said.

The list also included several power plants and highways in two other parts of the country.

The inclusion of Shanghai's outer ring road is something of a loss of face for China's largest city, which prides itself on its modern skyscrapers, roads and other showcase sites.

In recent years, the city has redoubled efforts to clean up fouled waterways and improve compliance with auto emissions controls.

But the city failed to abide by an order to install noise barriers along parts of the highway by July 2004 and now faces a new deadline for compliance, the agency said.

An official in the Shanghai city government office, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said the city was aware of the problem and was working on a "detailed plan" to solve it.

The environment agency's statement cited an unnamed "responsible official," who slammed local governments for disregarding efforts to reduce energy consumption and pollution, hurting public health and lifestyles.

"The main reason is that local governments pursue fast economic growth but neglect the price of environmental destruction," it said.

The agency, until recently virtually toothless in its efforts to enforce pollution and other safeguards, appears to have gained greater influence in part due to a recognition by top leaders of the severe damage wrought by three decades of breakneck industrial development.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Farmer: If I can be green, anyone can

UPDATED: 08:30, October 11, 2006, China Daily Via people`s Daily online

When Chen Faqing says he is selling his Audi out of concern for the environment, he has far greater aims than just cutting one gas-guzzler out of the system.

The farmer-turned factory owner and environmental activist is selling up to fund his latest green venture a website dedicated to bringing China's illegal polluters to book.

The site,, was launched in June, and last month the 40-year-old was nominated as "a civilian hero" in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, for his environmental protection work in that part of East China.

As well as setting up the website, Chen has taken environmental cases to court even though he has faced intimidation and two arson attacks on his home which he says were intended to scare him off.

Moreover, Chen also put up his own money to fund advertising campaigns to raise awareness of environmental protection, paying out more than 470,000 yuan (US$58,750) in the past two years.

All the advertisements have a simple message: Treating the environment well is the same as treating yourself well.

All the advertisements carry Chen's name and proudly proclaim his status as farmer, a badge of honour he clings to.

"A lot of people in the city seem to think people from the countryside are peasants only able to take responsibility for farming," he said.

"I just want people to know that if I as a farmer a position many Chinese believe to be the lowest level in society have a sense of responsibility for environmental protection, so should they.

"More importantly, if even we farmers are paying attention to the problem, the government certainly has no excuse to ignore pollution."

Living in Renhe County in Yuhang District, 25 minutes' drive from Hangzhou, Chen became successful through poultry farming and a business buying and selling canal barges.

In 2001, he co-invested in a factory in the village, and sublet the premises, securing him a stable income of more than 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) per year.

There is no doubt Chen is in a position to sit back and enjoy a comfortable life, but he says dust pollution from a quarry near his village made him take up environmentalism.

He could not live happily and healthily, he says, when the whole village was enveloped in choking dust.

Chen's county is home to more than 10 stone quarries, some less than 2.5 kilometres from his house.

"The pollution was around when I was little," said Chen, who added that there had been quarries in the area for 100 years.

When he was young, he said, the situation was not too bad but then stone extraction became more heavily industrialized and demand grew. By the late 1980s dust had become a major blight on villagers' lives.

Private quarries operated for more than 20 hours each day to maximize output and the resulting dust and noise had a profound effect on people.

"We couldn't dry our clothes outside and could only rarely open the windows of our homes; dust gathered absolutely everywhere," Chen said.

More than 100 mine workers have been diagnosed with lung diseases caused by the pollution. Because quarry workers often changed jobs, it has been very difficult for anyone to hold quarry owners to account and demand compensation, Chen explained. At first Chen complained to county officials but, angered by their indifference, the farmer, who was only educated as far as junior middle school, started to teach himself environmental law.

At first he wanted to take all the quarry owners to court but realized it would be a long, drawn out, expensive and likely fruitless exercise, with possible fines too small to act as a real deterrent.

Instead he moved his attention to the top of the chain, suing the Yuhang District Environmental Bureau (YDEB) in June 2002, accusing it of not fulfilling its legal responsibilities.

"I constantly complained to the bureau, but they just asked why I could not keep quiet like everyone else. Because the pollution had existed for more than 20 years, I was supposed to get used to it rather than complain to try and make things better," he remembered.

"Although the bureau went through the motions of making sure regulations were followed, enforcement was weak the quarries continued to pollute," he said.

Although he bought a camera to record photographic evidence, eventually Chen lost the case, but he still believes his action made a difference.

"After the case, the bureau and local government made real changes to clean things up. All the quarries were ordered to install water sprinklers to reduce dust. As a result, the environment has got much better, and I am happy about that," he said.

In December 2003, Chen filed a lawsuit against the Zhejiang government and Zhejiang environmental bureau, requiring them to prevent pollution in the Dongtiao Creek headwaters protection area which supplies water to over 800,000 residents in Chen's home county, and to carry out measures to improve water quality.

Again, he lost the case.

But Chen doesn't for a minute regret his actions; he believes his efforts have at least been noticed by environmental protection departments. And that is all he wants.

Chen subscribed to the newspaper China Environment News, after the lawsuit.

What astonished him was the worsening pollution across the country. However, it is impossible for an individual to prevent the situation getting worse by taking all enterprises to court.

Chen realized the key point was to raise awareness among the public and businesses and he thought about making public advertisements about environmental protection.

However, as he knew nothing about TV advertisements, Chen prepared 20,000 yuan (US$2,500) and paid a visit to the Hangzhou TV Station Comprehensive Channel in May 2004.

Staff were surprised to hear he wanted to use his own cash to make a public advertisement, usually made using State funds.

Touched by his sincerity, the channel director accepted his request and arranged 10-second advertisements every hour for a week, for 10,000 yuan (US$1,250) in total.

Chen's eyes were glued to the TV screen all week; no one enjoyed the advertisements more than he did.

"It didn't worry me to see my fortune go in a few seconds. In effect, they only charged half the amount I had prepared to spend, so in other words, I got an extra 10,000 yuan," Chen said with a smile.

Later, he left for Beijing to look for national media to do advertisements. He chose the People's Daily as he believed the majority of its readers are officials. Chen has spent 170,000 yuan (US$21,250) posting four advertisements in the paper over the past two years.

Furthermore, last May he told the Chinese Environmental Cultural Promotion Association to make 32 billboards for a few provincial capital cities, costing 250,000 yuan (US$31,250).

But he said he does not have as much money as people think.

"If I have more money, I will do more public advertisements, for sure," he said.

He pointed out that some cities have put a lot of effort into environmental protection, but the high costs involved sometimes mean their economic development is not as good as in other cities where polluting enterprises do little to help the environment and in fact are the pillar of the local economy.

This can lead to a vicious circle, whereby cities put the economy first without considering environmental protection.

"This is a matter for the whole country rather than a particular city," said Chen.

"Either humans eliminate pollution, or pollution kills human beings. The environmental protection issue is very pressing right now," he added.

Chen launched his own environmental website on June 5, 2005, the World Environment Day.

After receiving calls from around the country, Chen, along with his assistant Chen Zhenlin, wrote some of the complaints on his website, and then submitted them to relevant governmental departments.

The number of complaints has reached 47, but only 8 of them have got feedback in Zhejiang Province, while nothing has been heard from other provinces.

"An environmental department has a responsibility to receive complaints and provide feedback within a certain period. But because of the bureaucratic style of work, it is so difficult to fully rectify a situation," he sighed.

Chen criticized singers or film stars who have become environmental ambassadors in a few cities, but have done little except perform a few times. None of them have done anything related to environmental protection, he said.

"We should make real progress rather than be busy seeking so- called environmental ambassadors," he suggested.

Chen never tells his wife what he is doing, as he doesn't want her to worry too much.

His house was set on fire once in 2003 and the year after.

With the help of neighbours, his foster mother, who lived upstairs, escaped from one of the fires. Since then, she has moved her bedroom to the ground floor in order to escape easily in case it happens again.

Chen said he had good days and bad days. "Sometimes I feel depressed as it seems there is no end to this work for which I should not really be responsible. But I just cannot ignore it. Generally, I enjoy what I do, and that's enough," he added.

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Hong Kong leader targets air pollution


HONG KONG Faced with air pollution levels that on some days force the elderly and the asthmatic to stay indoors and have some foreigners contemplating a move to cleaner climes, the government of this financial city said Wednesday that it was time to get tough on the worst polluters.

Donald Tsang, the Hong Kong chief executive, outlined an anti-pollution agenda in an annual policy address that promised some carrots and the threat of big sticks to get industry and the polluting public to help clean up the city's frequently murky skies.

"There are no magic bullets, no quick fixes and certainly no easy laws that can quickly solve environmental problems," Tsang said. "It is imperative that we set our goals before it is too late and work relentlessly to achieve them."

But environmental groups said Tsang's promises were too little, too late.

On a day when clouds and smog blotted out the sun, Tsang spoke to the local legislature of an "Action Blue Sky Campaign." Although he promised to be generally guided by the "polluter pays" principle, he promised 3.2 billion Hong Kong dollars of public money to help get 74,000 old diesel commercial vehicles off the roads.

The money, equivalent to $410 million, would be spent on subsidies to encourage the owners of vehicles with pre-Euro standard emission controls, or Euro I standard, to upgrade to Euro IV vehicles over a period of 18 months to three years. Tsang also announced tax cuts on low-emission, high fuel-efficiency cars and trucks.

The government estimates that 25 percent of local air pollution comes from the buses, cars and trucks that wind through the narrow canyons of apartment buildings and office towers of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. But a large part of Hong Kong's air quality problem lies across the boundary with mainland China in the Pearl River Delta, one of the great manufacturing hubs of China.

In winter, when the winds blow from the north, pollutants from the power plants, factories and cars of the delta settle over Hong Kong, producing a sharp deterioration in air quality.

For a city with tens of thousands of foreign professionals working in it, the issue has become as much about attracting business and investment as preserving health and quality of life.

In the days leading up to Tsang's speech, news media reported on foreigners who have either left Hong Kong with their families or contemplated leaving, citing worsening air quality. Some foreign businesses have said it was a factor in where they would locate, according to news reports.

The U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, James Cunningham, spoke in a recent speech of "an air pollution challenge of alarming proportions." He pointed to studies showing 80 percent of Hong Kong's pollution could be attributed to the industrialization of the delta.

That Tsang dedicated much of his annual speech to the topic several months before a re-election bid reflects the growing political significance of the environment. He also dwelt at length on economic development and social infrastructure, but had little to say about one of the hottest political topics here - a timetable for introducing full democratic rights.

Edwin Lau, director of Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong, an environmental group, said the political potency of environmental issues had long been growing, but the government had neglected to deal with air pollution early enough. Although he welcomed some of Tsang's initiatives, Lau said the plan "was not very strong and doesn't go far enough."

Tsang has negotiated an air-quality management plan with neighboring Guangdong Province, which lies within the Pearl Delta region, that sets a series of specific emissions reduction targets by 2010. He has also imposed emission caps on some power plants in Hong Kong and tried to carry out energy reduction measures in government offices.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

From murky waters grow lucrative deals

International Herald Tribune

CHONGQING, China From the heights of this sprawling hillside city, the turbid, coffee-colored waters of the Jialing River, sluggish and drawn low by a once-in-a-century drought, seem an unlikely raw material for a thriving business.

But for Sino French Water Development, the river is satisfying a growing thirst for clean drinking water in this municipality of 32 million people in south-central China.

Water treatment is becoming a big business across China as demand for clean water expands along with rapid industrialization and a mass migration of people from the countryside to towns and cities.

Additional services to treat wastewater are also sorely needed as pollution from agriculture, industry and sewage increasingly contaminates rivers, lakes and dams in a country where per capita water resources are less than a third of the global average. For Sino French, that translates into a billings boom.

Under a 50-year contract that began in late 2002, Sino French pipes water to more than 850,000 residents in a joint venture with the city government. The company pumps from the Jialing River to its four treatment plants that serve a rapidly expanding area of northern Chongqing. Sino French is a partnership between the French company Suez Environnement and a subsidiary of the Hong Kong company New World Development.

Demand for water in the year to August increased more than 13 percent from a year earlier, according to company figures. In August alone, the volume of water sold increased 26 percent from a year earlier, although this growth was amplified by sales to surrounding drought-stricken areas.

"This is a great contract for Sino French," said Robert Brito, managing director of the joint venture. "I have never come across this level of growth in any city I have worked in and with that growth comes water sales."

What makes China even more appealing to domestic and international water services companies is that the authorities realize that a shortage of fresh water poses a threat to the country's economic health. There are now clear signals that China is prepared to spend heavily to avert a crisis.

The authorities plan to spend about $125 billion over the next five years to improve water supply and wastewater treatment, according to recent reports in the official media. More than $43 billion has been earmarked for sewage treatment plants in urban areas.

"This is the price China will have to pay if it wants to sustain its economic growth," said Jean-Louis Chaussade, chief executive of Suez Environnement. "They really understand that growth can be limited by contamination."

The local authorities still dominate water treatment services, but foreign specialists like Suez Environnement, a division of the French utility company Suez, and its competitor, Veolia Water, a unit of Veolia Environnement, are increasingly looking to China for growth.

The two French companies are the leading foreign water treatment suppliers in China, but their combined business accounts for a small portion of the overall market, according to industry analysts.

Siemens, the German engineering conglomerate, is also seeking to expand its water treatment business in China. The company last month bought a Chinese industrial water treatment specialist, CNC Water Technology, for an undisclosed price. Since 2002, CNC had been involved in some of the biggest projects in China for desalination and municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, Siemens said.

Water treatment specialists expect local and foreign private companies to expand their share of the market as the municipal authorities begin to phase out subsidies and move toward recovering the full cost of water supply and waste treatment.

"The penetration of private companies will get deeper as cities get richer and increasingly adopt user-pays approach to water and wastewater," said Fiona Waters, a director of GHK Hong Kong, an economic development consultancy.

One advantage for foreign companies is that they often have access to state-of- the art filtration and treatment technology needed to tackle heavy contamination. An estimated 70 percent of China's lakes and rivers are now polluted, according to environmental experts.

Official figures show that only half of the urban and industrial wastewater is treated in sewage plants before discharge. In rural areas, which are home to the bulk of China's people, sewage treatment is virtually nonexistent.

Environmental groups also complain that many Chinese factories lack adequate wastewater treatment facilities. And many of those that have installed the legally required equipment do not operate it, in an effort to save money.

For Suez Environnement, China accounts for about 5 percent of the company's overall business, with revenue increasing 20 percent in 2005 to about €600 million, or $755 million.

The company's total investment in China, where it will soon operate 20 joint ventures with local governments through Sino French, now exceeds €327 million.

These joint ventures treat or manage water distributed to 13.5 million people in major cities including Chongqing, Tanggu, Qingdao, Sanya, Shanghai, Changshu and Macao.

About 20 percent of China's urban population, or 250 million people, drink water that has been treated in plants designed and built by Degrémont, a unit of Suez Environnement. Profits from China are already approaching the 10 percent annual average return on capital that the company gets from its global operations.

"We expect it to be as profitable as the rest of our businesses in coming years," said Chaussade, the chief executive.

One reason for this strong performance is that so-called collection rates, or the proportion of customers paying for their water, is close to 98.5 percent, about the same as in Britain. In the Chongqing venture, the collection rate is 98.5 percent.

"Chongqing people pay their bills," said Brito, the managing director of Sino French.

Last month Suez expanded its presence in this city on the junction of the Yangtze and Jialing River valleys. Through Sino French, it signed a 30-year contract with the local water authority to manage, operate and maintain a €60 million wastewater treatment plant that can handle 300,000 cubic meters, or 10.6 million cubic feet, of sewage a day. Before the plant began operation, this volume of raw effluent would have been discharged directly into the Yangtze.

For cities like Chongqing that are upstream from the Three Gorges Dam, curbing the discharge of wastewater and raw sewage is crucial to preserving water quality in the reservoir, which will soon fill to capacity. Some environmentalists warn that the dam could become a vast sewer if pollution in its headwaters continues unchecked.

"Water protection and water treatment is of very great importance to our city," Yu Yuanmu, vice mayor of Chongqing, said at a reception last month for visiting Suez executives. "Chongqing is a big environmental protection market, and companies from the United States, Europe, Japan and other countries are showing great interest."

Veolia Water is also expanding rapidly in China, where it is involved in the supply of water to almost 19 million people. The company said last month that it had signed its 19th water contract in China, a 30-year deal to manage the water supply for Liuzhou, a city of a million people in Guangxi, an autonomous region in southern China. It said the contract was expected to generate revenue of more than €340 million.

But China's huge budget for water treatment will not translate into a nationwide bonanza for local or foreign companies, senior Suez executives have said. They say they believe that the bulk of sewage and water treatment will remain the responsibility of government, particularly in poorer and remote areas.

"We are looking at cities that are growing and are reasonably affluent," Chaussade said.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Nation needs daily pollution fines, official

(Reuters) via Chinadaily
Updated: 2006-10-08 09:21

China should slap daily fines on firms that pump untreated waste into lakes and rivers, because current penalty limits make long-term pollution profitable, an official was quoted on Saturday as saying.

Normally, fines for pollution are capped at 200,000 yuan ($25,300) regardless of how long a factory ignores pollution regulations, China Daily said.

A layer of smog hangs over central Beijing, as seen from a plane Wednesday, October 4, 2006. Severe pollution is increasingly sparking unrest in rural areas, where the environmental has all too often been sacrificed for profit -- worrying the government and prompting repeated promises of cleanups. [AP]

China's per-capita water resources are less than a third of the global average and falling, and its problems are compounded by chronic pollution, waste and poor management. Around 300 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

A daily charge would give companies an economic incentive to clean up their waste, the paper quoted Mao Rubai, chairman of the Environmental and Resources Protection Committee of China's parliament, as saying.

"The punishment should be calculated from the day that a factory is found guilty of pollution discharge until the day its emissions meet environmental protection requirements," Mao said.

His views were backed by a study by China's State Environmental Protection Agency, which has suggested daily fines of 40,000 yuan up to 100,000 yuan, the report added.

More than one quarter of the water in the Yangtze River, China's longest, is so polluted that it cannot be treated to make it drinkable. Most of the Yellow River -- the cradle of Chinese civilisation -- is not fit for drinking or swimming either.

Beijing is currently looking into revising its Clean Water Act, which came into force in 1984, the paper added.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Beijing braces for holiday chaos as smog settles

Reuters via

Thursday, October 5, 2006; 11:07 PM

BEIJING (Reuters) - Smog shrouded Beijing on Friday as hundreds of thousands of cars headed back to the capital near the end of the week-long National Day holiday, prompting warnings to China's notoriously negligent drivers.

Thursday saw a sudden surge of traffic flow in and out of Beijing, as people rushed home for the Moon Festival on Friday, a traditional holiday for family reunions, the eating of mooncakes and, for some, gazing at the full moon, if possible.

"Clear and sunny weather this autumn added to the number of people who decided to hit the road," the China Daily said, as a mix of fog and pollution blanketed the city for the first time in days.

The National Day break, which ends on Saturday, is a "Golden Week" holiday which, along with Chinese New Year and May Labour Day, spurs one of the biggest migrations of humanity.

Some 330 million Chinese were due to take to the roads over the holiday, up 2.4 percent from 2005. The China Daily said nearly 300,000 vehicles poured into the city on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"A huge traffic jam is expected on the city's main roads from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. today," the newspaper said. "Traffic officials have urged residents to avoid the rush hour and ride public transportation to alleviate congestion."

China has the most dangerous roads in the world, with accidents killing almost 100,000 people last year, or about 270 a day.

The high toll is largely a result of negligence, with drivers commonly switching lanes without looking or signaling, ignoring traffic lights and even throwing their vehicles into reverse when they have missed a highway exit.

China Can't Afford the Risk of Turning Japanese:

By William Pesek

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Overheating. Creaky finances. Social instability. Corruption. Demographics. Pollution. China sure does face a bewildering number of risks.

Yet Asia's No. 2 economy is confronting a new one, and a dangerous risk at that: complacency.

Officials in Beijing haven't scrapped efforts to modernize and open the economy. Rather, the spin is that the world should expect ever greater things from an economy that this year leapfrogged past the U.K. to become the fourth biggest.

A look below the surface suggests something different is afoot. On the one hand, there are signs of reform-fatigue. On the other, the nation's current leaders seem more interested in solidifying power than making tough decisions to engineer China's transition from socialism to capitalism.

Now doesn't all this sound like Japan's experience over the last two decades?

A favorite parlor game among economists is to discuss how China can learn from Japan's bubbles in the 1980s and the deflationary 1990s. Debates tend to focus on how China should avoid a massive currency revaluation of the kind Japan agreed to in the mid-1980s and later regretted. Others say China can learn from Japan's success in tackling its bad-loan crisis.

The lesson may lie in claiming economic victory too soon.

Engineers Needed

Even if China avoids overheating this year, there's still considerable heavy lifting to be done. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao face a daunting balancing act. They must create millions of jobs to maintain social order, while also slowing the economy. They need to do so without conventional tools such as monetary or fiscal policies, which are underdeveloped in China.

What's troubling is that Chinese leaders appear to view themselves as overseers of rapid economic change rather than engineers of it. Walking China's tightrope will require bold steps forward, not just astute managing. Hu and Wen have dropped few hints that they are doing the former, and all too many that their focus is on the latter.

While it wasn't appreciated at first, turning China's managers into active reformers may be what Henry Paulson had in mind when he shifted the U.S. Treasury Department's focus away from China's currency toward financial liberalization. It's hardly a sexy topic, yet the Treasury secretary may have the right idea here.

Paulson's Campaign

Lawmakers in Washington seeking big increases in the yuan's value to reduce China's trade surplus won't be impressed. Still, Paulson may understand what officials in Beijing know all too well: China isn't ready for the 20 percent or 40 percent revaluation that many U.S. politicians want. As China glosses over its economic cracks, the yuan can strengthen and China's critics will be made happy.

Getting there will require unprecedented efforts in China. One wonders if things are moving in the other direction. Just look at how Chinese officials who once enthusiastically courted foreign investors are growing reluctant to approve fresh deals.

The experience of Germany's Schaeffler AG is but one example of China's changing regulatory environment. Media reports say it may fail in its bid to buy Luoyang Bearing Science & Technology Co. And Washington-based private-equity firm Carlyle Group is still awaiting approval for plans to buy a stake in Xugong Group Construction Machinery Co.

China's heavy-handed efforts to censor the Internet and the media speak more of the Communist Party's weakness than strength. The country has been slow to clamp down on intellectual-property- rights violations, something that hurts China more than it does the multinational companies whose goods are pirated. China won't enjoy a startup-business boom until entrepreneurs can bring their products and ideas to market and make a profit.

Japan-Like Mistake

Perhaps the biggest issue is that China is making the same mistake that Japan did after its bubble burst and plunging asset markets took the economy down, too: It's trying to grow its way out of difficulties.

Untold numbers of bad loans? No problem, we have 11 percent growth, Chinese officials seem to be saying. Raising hundreds of millions out of poverty? Rapid growth will save the day. Stock exchanges that trade more like casinos than markets? Again, we'll grow our way to health. Ditto for other challenges such as cleaning the environment, handling an aging population and addressing corruption that keeps prosperity from getting to those who need it most.

Japan tried to grow its way out of its troubles for more than a decade. Only in the early 2000s did corporate executives and bankers roll up their sleeves to reduce debt, dispose of bad loans, cut costs and increase efficiency. This week, Japan's finance minister, Koji Omi, finally declared victory over deflation. Land prices in the largest Japanese cities rose for the first time in 16 years in the 12 months ended July 1.

Not an Option

Complacency remains a big risk in Japan. Even though it's growing again and companies are adding staff, Japan needs to accelerate efforts to upgrade its economy. Trouble is, Japan is highly skilled at bringing its economy back from the brink of crisis; it's not good at using the good times to fix problems.

China can't afford such complacency. As a uniquely wealthy nation, Japan can survive with a credit rating lower than Botswana's. China, a developing nation facing an ever-growing list of challenges, won't be able to mimic that approach. For China, turning Japanese just isn't an option.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Environmental protection officials sacked over arsenide pollution

UPDATED: 15:44, October 03, 2006 Xinhuanews

The head and a deputy head of a local environmental protection bureau have been fired over an arsenide spill that caused a water shortage for 80,000 people for four days in central China's Hunan Province.

Chen Lin, director of the Linxiang City Environmental Protection Bureau, and Liu Yushu, one of the bureau's deputy directors, were removed from office for the bureau's lax supervision of the companies that caused the pollution, according to government sources with the Yueyang City.

Warnings and other penalties were given to five other officials, including Hu Zhirong, the secretary of the Linxiang city committee of the Communist Party of China, Lu Shuhua, vice mayor of Linxiang city, and Mao Zhibing, acting mayor of Linxiang.

The pollution was reported on Sept. 8, when workers from the local environmental monitoring center conducted routine testing of water quality in the Xinqiang River of Yueyang County and found the content of arsenide was ten times higher than normal.

Two chemical plants, the Yueyang Haoyuan Chemical Plant and the Taolin Lead-Zinc Ore Chemical Plant, both less than 20 km from the polluted river, were blamed for illegal discharges of a highly toxic arsenic compound into the river.

The two plants have since been closed.

The pollution forced the local government to suspend drinking water supplies to 80,000 people for four days. No casualties were reported. A chronic intake of arsenide could cause liver and kidney damage or lung and skin cancer.

Investigators said the two plants severely violated environmental laws and regulations.

The local government also violated rules when issuing pollutant discharging permits and were lax in their supervision, they said.

Managers of the two companies, Yao Zhaohui and Liu Chengping, have been arrested. They may face criminal charges and prosecution.