China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Monday, February 26, 2007

How China is Starting to Turn Green

BC Politics

Written by Natalie Bennett

Published February 23, 2007

"But what about China?" That's one argument often put when Greens sit down to debate the need for dramatic action to cut greenhouse gas output in the West from their opponents. The line runs that since China's economy and greenhouse gas output is growing so fast, and its population is so vast, that there is no point in doing anything in the West, at least until the Middle Kingdom signs up for considerable restrictions on its emissions.

But what is the state of environmental thinking in China? At a London School of Economics Environmental Initiatives Network seminar this week, the editor of the website China Dialogue, Isabel Hilton, attempted to answer that question.

She said that much-touted "new city" of Dongtan was typical of the top-down environmental model now being applied in China. If you spoke to the senior leadership and read the 11th Five-Year Plan you'd feel good about China's moves on sustainable development, she said. That plan represented a substantial change in direction from the 10th, which although it set a few environmental targets, all of these were missed and there were no consequences.

The 11th Plan by contrast represented a rebalancing of growth model - the terminology was of working "towards a harmonius society" At the official level that's fine, and also encouraging is the view on the street. The general view is clearly that the environment needs to be cleaned up.

Where the problem lies is in the middle levels of officialdom. Ms Hilton spoke about Anwei province, which has a huge coal industry that has caused enormous environmental damage about which there is great local concern. But the businessmen who run the companies that run the mines aren't worried, because of course they don't live in Anwei province, and the environmental damage doesn't affect them.

"The 'development first, environment second' Jiang Zemin model is still held very widely across the country," Ms Hilton said. For most Chinese, pollution was the price you have to pay for prosperity. Memories of hunger and deprivation were still strong.

Another aspect of contemporary China was that it didn't really feel comfortable in the world, as a global player. The last time the nation was really engaged with the rest of the world was in the Ming dynasty. Yet the Internet was providing a new and very broad (if still politically limited) window on the world for huge numbers of Chinese people. "For us to engage with China it needs to be across very broad spectrum. Just at official or political levels is not enough."

Ms Hilton said there was a common misconception about China that there were no politics: but there are, just almost all inside the Communist Party. Another misconception was that public opinion didn't count, but this was becoming less and less true. "Protests are embarrassing. If the public get the idea that the price of unsustainable development is too high, the government will change course, as it did in 11th Five-Year-Plan."

The view emerging from China Dialogue was that the environment was high on the list of the people's concerns, particularly obvious observable issues such as particulates and "cancer villages". Climate change is, however, way down on the list of priorities. But, said Ms Hilton: "Think back 10 years and you could have said that of the West."

Asked about Chinese official attitudes towards the "contraction and covergence" philosophy, Ms Hilton said that the Chinese regarded this as writing off the past too easily. But nonetheless, the Chinese had brought down the point at which they were prepared to accept greenhouse gas outputs from 2050 to 2018, and there was a sense that might be shifting a bit more. "A lot of that is going to be determined by the approach of the US. If there is no pressure from the US, China is not going to put pressure on itself."

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China speeds up first survey on soil pollution


Updated: 2007-02-22 17:18

China is speeding up its first survey on soil pollution which is costing the

country more than 20 billion yuan (about 2.5 billion U.S. dollars) a year,

according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) recently.

However, the administration did not provide any details of the ways in

which they might complete the survey, which began last July, more quickly.

The investigation focuses on farmland protection areas, main

grain-producing areas, the Yangtze Delta Region, Pearl River Delta Region, and

areas around Bohai Bay.

China launched two nationwide investigations

into its soil quality respectively in the 1950s and 1970s but the two previous

ones investigated the fertility of the soil rather than soil pollution.

The central government is to allocate 1 billion yuan (125 million U.S.

dollars) for the national survey which will be concluded in 2008.


the survey, plans will be drafted for soil pollution prevention and pilot

projects on rehabilitating and treating the soil will be carried out. A soil

quality supervision and management system will also be built.


director Zhou Shengxian has said that China faces "serious" soil pollution that

jeopardizes the ecology, food safety, people's health and the sustainable

development of agriculture.

It is estimated that 12 million tons of

grain are polluted each year by heavy metals that have found their way into

soil. Direct economic losses exceed 20 billion yuan (about 2.5 billion U.S.

dollars), according to SEPA figures.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

China to Hold Provincial Officials Accountable for Environmental Harm

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Starting in 2008, China will expand its recent Regional Permit Restriction to provinces nationwide in an effort to push them to achieve pollution reduction goals, the country’s top environmental authority, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), announced on February 12.

The regional measure, adopted in January, suspends SEPA approval for all construction projects in regions that fail to achieve certain pollution reduction requirements, including conducting environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and building pollution prevention facilities. Shortly after the measure was instituted, SEPA blacklisted four municipalities and four power giants in the country for violating these rules.

The Regional Permit Restriction is the strictest administrative measure SEPA has taken in its 20-odd year history and was adopted after China failed to meet its overall environmental protection targets last year. SEPA director Zhou Shengxian revealed that the country discharged 25.9 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 14.3 million tons of organic compounds into the nation’s waterways in 2006, a 1.8 percent and 1.2 percent increase over 2005, respectively. Rates of discharge fell last year (by 11.3 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively), but the nation’s annual pollution reduction goals are far from being met, Zhou said.

The major factors to blame, Zhou believes, are the old production modes still existing in China’s economy and the unexpectedly fast GDP growth rate experienced last year. When the nation set its pollution control target of 10 percent reduction for its 11th five-year plan (2006–10), the estimated annual GDP growth was 7.5 percent. Yet the actual figure exceeded the projection by 3.2 percent and increased along with the pollution.

Zhou admits that current Chinese efforts to combat environmental pollution are insufficient. Over the past five years, as much as 47 percent of the investment pledged for this task became empty rhetoric. To make the situation worse, law enforcement and supervision has remained weak.

Zhou is confident that the remaining three years of the 11th five-year plan will see a gradual reduction in pollution.

At the Central Economic Work Conference in late 2006, a three-day annual event to set major economic strategy and policy for the year to come, China’s top decision makers set a 2 percent pollution reduction target for 2007. Zhou promised that SEPA would use harsh measures to guarantee attainment of this goal.

So far, the Regional Permit Restriction has been far from an empty threat. When one of the four cities blacklisted in January ignored the measure and continued its environmental offenses, SEPA intensified administrative punishment and invited widespread media exposure of the violator. This unusually hard stance for SEPA, which traditionally has been mocked as a “rubber stamp” agency for its weak authority, has astonished many local officials. Once SEPA upgrades the Restriction to the provincial level, officials there will likely suffer politically for their poor environmental records.

SEPA will continue to encourage industrial restructuring this year, with the aim of phasing out old and heavily polluting industrial facilities, production modes, and products, according to Zhou. By the end of 2007, the administration hopes to close all grass pulp production facilities with an annual capacity of less than 34,000 tons, all chemical pulp production lines with an annual capacity of less than 17,000 tons, and all diosgenin facilities (a chemical used to make hormones) with an annual capacity of less than 100 tons. It will also vigorously promote the adoption of advanced clean technologies in those industries.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Will Beijing's Air Cast Pall Over Olympics?

The Wall Street Journal By SHAI OSTER February 15, 2007; Page B1

City Moves to Cut Pollution,But Neighboring Provinces Could Balk at Restrictions

BEIJING -- The 2008 Summer Olympics isn't the only thing looming on Beijing's horizon. There's also a lot of pollution from neighbors clouding the city's air.

Even if the city does all that it can, Beijing officials have recently acknowledged that without the cooperation of nearby provinces such as Shanxi, Shandong, Inner Mongolia and Hebei, there's a good chance that China's promise of a green Olympics will instead be a hazy shade of gray.

[Olympics Slideshow promo]1
In 2004, two runners died during Beijing's marathon.

These neighboring provinces are among the most polluted regions in the world, infamous for coal mining, power plants, cement plants and steel coking. These are all pillar industries that are essential to fueling China's growth but unfortunately rely on burning huge amounts of dirty coal.

Even if Beijing shuts down all its factories, bans all nonessential traffic and orders everyone to turn down air conditioning, Chinese and foreign scientists say there is no way to keep the winds from carrying pollution across the borders.

All that has started to worry some of the world's elite athletes, who are preparing to compete here in 2008. Last summer, for example, British doctors tested runners taking part in the World Junior Championships held in downtown venues that will be used for the Olympics. The results showed that on Monday, after factories were closed for the weekend, athletes were unaffected -- but as the week continued, air quality quickly sank.

"I don't think we're likely to see any world records in the marathon," says Marco Cardinale, a doctor who is the research manager of the British Olympics Association, referring to the upcoming Olympic event in Beijing. Pollution could trigger asthmatic attacks in susceptible athletes and take a toll on those who spend a lot of time outdoors. "It's not only the air quality, but the heat and humidity combined with poor air quality. I think it's very unlikely we'll see outstanding performance in endurance sports," says Dr. Cardinale.

So far, the U.S. Olympics Committee says that it's monitoring air quality in China but is not advising changes in training routines. Some U.S. running coaches are reviewing the measures taken to deal with competing in the Athens Olympics, where air quality was also a concern.


To tackle Beijing's pollution, officials have formed a high-level group on China's state council, or cabinet, to work on reducing pollution levels from nearby provinces.

He Kebin, a scientist at China's prestigious Tsinghua University, is advising the Beijing officials on how to keep clean. It's a tough job, he readily admits, especially because of rising awareness of the environment. For example, expectations will be higher for Beijing than when the Games were held in 1984 in Los Angeles, which had similar smog problems. Even if Beijing's air is within China's national safety limits, the pollution would still be some two to three times worse than what someone in New York is used to. "Someone from Miami or Hawaii would think New York is dirty. But if they come here? There's a difference between regulations and what people expect," says Mr. He.

The stakes are high for Beijing. The Olympics are being cast as a kind of coming-out party for China, a chance for this rising power to showcase its economic, technological and cultural might. Tens of thousands of reporters will be attending, along with perhaps two million other visitors, in what may be the biggest influx of outsiders the Chinese capital has ever seen. Chinese authorities are trying to avoid a public-relations disaster like what happened on a smaller scale in Hong Kong last year, when marathoners collapsed after running in heavily polluted air.

To get the Olympics in 2001, China promised to reduce concentrations of dangerous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous dioxide and ozone to within World Health Organization accepted levels. China also pledged to keep concentrations of particulate matter, a component of smog, down to levels similar to major cities in developed countries. Scientists say that ozone and fine particulate matter are especially dangerous.

Currently, Beijing fails on all counts. Thick, soup-like haze coats buildings -- and lungs -- many days of the year, despite claims that two-thirds of the year are "blue days," or at national standards. Studies have shown that during the summer months, pollution levels can spike to at least two to three times the level considered safe in the U.S. or by the WHO. For fine particulate matter, considered dangerous at any level by the WHO, Beijing has levels routinely three to four times as high as recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

[Beijing's Air Quality]

Teams of scientists are now busy working on the problem. They are modeling pollution flows to figure out just where dirty air is coming from -- and what parts of China will essentially have to be shut down to guarantee pollution won't overwhelm the Games.

Beijing has already improved its air quality dramatically from the dismal days of the late 1990s by taking a series of measures. City officials have banned nearly all power plants from downtown and switched from coal to natural- gas-fired heating. The government has even forced Shougang Corp., China's third-biggest steelmaker, which supplies jobs, tax revenue and a big chunk of the city's pollution, to move to an island hundreds of miles away. Construction this month starts on a new, multibillion-dollar plant. The city is trying to figure out what to do with the roughly 80,000 workers at the current plant and how to use the huge old building once it's abandoned.

But Beijing has another problem: citizens' rampant love of cars that is putting thousands more vehicles on crowded streets each month. In the past half-dozen years, China has also been adding more polluting heavy industries. The city can try to address that by banning cars from large areas of the city and closing the remaining factories.

[Plant Photo]
The Shougang Corp. plant, now a major Beijing polluter, is moving.

At the city's border, Mr. He and others are working to figure out how much of neighboring China needs to be shut down and for how long. "Controlling only local sources in Beijing will not be sufficient to attain the air-quality goal set for the Beijing Olympics," said David Streets of the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, in a recent report. According to the study, the surrounding regions account for up to 70% of some types of pollution over Beijing, depending on the season and weather patterns.

Mr. Streets, in an interview, said China must focus beyond Beijing. "They've really cleaned up already quite a bit," he says. "There's a need to cast the net further afield and take measures in other provinces."

Getting that cooperation won't be easy. Hebei the province surrounding the capital, can't afford to cripple its economy by shuttering large swaths of its industry for an event it won't likely get much benefit from. Already, the two areas have scuffled over water sources, as when Beijing dammed a river for factory use four years ago.

Despite all of the challenges, some say there is still room for optimism. "China is capable of improving its air quality rather rapidly," says Jill Geer, director of communications for the sports governing body USA Track and Field. "They did it for the 2001 World University Games, where the air quality was bad right up until the games. It cleared up a day or two before the event began."

One other thing has Beijing's planners twisted in knots of anxiety. For the opening ceremony, they have chosen the date 8/8/08 at 8 p.m., considered especially auspicious because the number eight is believed to bring fortune and luck in traditional Chinese culture.

But what if it rains?

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China to construct first inland reactor

China's Business Newspaper

Friday, February 16, 2007

Several Chinese companies have formed a joint venture to build the country's first inland nuclear power plant as the nation's energy demand rises, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The plant will have a total capacity of four gigawatts, the report said Thursday, less than an earlier planned six gigawatts that Xinhua reported last October. Half the capacity will be installed in the project's first phase.

The plant will be built in Lishanhe Town, Taojiang County, in southern Hunan province, the report said.

"We hope this will be our first nuclear plant to be built in the country's landlocked regions," said Chen Hua, director of the nuclear department.

Shareholders of Hunan Taohua River Nuclear Power include China National Nuclear Corp, China Three Gorges Project Corp, China Resources and Hunan Xiangtou Holdings Group, Xinhua said.

The report gave no estimate for the size of the investment, nor did it say when building will start or finish.

China has six nuclear power plants with 11 reactors, all of which are located in coastal regions, the report added.

China wants to increase the use of alternative fuels including nuclear to reduce pollution and a dependence on oil and coal. The country needs to add two reactors a year to meet a target of generating 4 percent of its power from nuclear plants by 2020, from about 2.3 percent now.

In another development, sources in Beijing said France's nuclear reactor manufacturer Areva is in discussions with China on a possible new power plant, but reports that the French company had signed a deal were premature.

"What the media said about this project is not true, we have not announced anything," a Guangdong Nuclear Power Group spokesman said. "At the moment, we can't comment on this issue."

Press reports said that Areva had signed a deal with Guangdong Nuclear for two prototype EPR nuclear reactors at a price of up to US$5 billion (HK$39 billion).

Areva refused to comment when contacted about the possible deal.

But other sources with close knowledge of the talks for the two nuclear reactors said the two companies were in "advanced discussions."

The source said there has been "some confusion" in reports China would backtrack on a deal with Westinghouse in December for four nuclear reactors and instead only give two to the US-based company and the other two to Areva. Any deal with Areva will be separate from the Westinghouse deal and will probably take up to four more months to complete, the source said.

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US, China 'must act to avert disaster'

Justin Bergman

February 18, 2007

THE world faces a global warming disaster if the US and China do not take decisive action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, leading economists said at the United Nations yesterday.

Jeffrey Sachs, speaking with British economist Sir Nicholas Stern, said the commitment of the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to make more serious efforts to cut carbon dioxide emission was fundamental to forging a comprehensive agreement on global warming. "It's a mistake to let either China or the US think they are doing a lot," said Professor Sachs, head of the UN Millennium Project.

"We have to look at the numbers all the time, not just the direction, not the sentiment, not the announcements. We have to look at the numbers because that's all that counts in the end."

Sir Nicholas said, however, that both the US and China were doing more to cut carbon dioxide emissions than the other believed.

He said many US states and cities had set target reductions for themselves, and China had imposed heavy taxes on things like sport utility vehicles and energy-intensive industries.

Sir Nicholas wrote a 700-page report last year that said unabated climate change would eventually cost the equivalent of between 5 and 20 per cent of global gross domestic product each year. The report challenges the US Government's wait-and-see policies.

The US is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed by scientists for global warming, but President George Bush has kept the US out of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, saying it would harm the US economy.

Under the Kyoto pact, 35 other industrial nations have agreed to cut their global-warming gas emissions by 5 per cent on average below 1990 levels by 2012.

The Bush Administration has said it is committed, instead, to advancing and investing in new technologies to combat global warming.

China announced this month it would spend more to research global warming, but said it lacked the money and technology to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Last Monday, the country's environmental watchdog said it had failed to reach any of its pollution control goals for 2006.

Professor Sachs said the two countries needed to take more forceful action quickly, especially in light of a key meeting of environmental ministers scheduled for December in Bali to begin talks on what action the world must take after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

He said he expected global warming would be a key issue in the 2008 US presidential election.

"I see it as impossible in our current political environment for a candidate not to have a clear and strong position on limiting greenhouse gases in the US," he said.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

China to launch Clean Development Mechanism Fund

Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- China will launch a Clean Development Mechanism Fund (CDMF) in March to help finance climate change projects, according to sources with the Ministry of Finance.

Kuilin, a senior official with the Ministry of Finance, said the fund has been approved by the State Council, or China's cabinet.

group formed by seven authorities including the National Development and Reform Commission and ministries of finance, and science and technology will be responsible for managing the fund.

fund will collect some carbon credit transaction income, donations from international financial organizations and individuals as well as other sources approved by the State Council.

to Ju, the fund has got a 6.4-million-U.S.-dollar loan from the World Bank, and Europe will pour in loans worth a further 500 million euros.

Chinese government had approved nearly 300 CDM projects by the end of January this year, including wind power, hydropower and landfill gas power generation. With all these projects kicking off, the fund will absorb around two billion U.S. dollars.

the Kyoto Protocol that came into effect in 2005, 38 industrialized countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below the 1990 levels, during the period 2008 to 2012.

CDM is a market-based mechanism that allows these countries to fulfill their emission reduction obligations at much lower cost, by investing in clean energy projects in developing countries such as China.

and the United Nations plan to set up a carbon trading exchange in Beijing, making the city an important center for multi-billion-dollar trade in global carbon credits.

now accounts for one third of the global carbon credits market, behind India. The UN predicts that China will become the largest carbon credits provider by 2012, covering 41 percent of the global market.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

China's Filthiest Export

Jennifer L. Turner and Juli S. Kim | February 7, 2007

Editor: John Feffer, IRC

The economic boom Deng Xiaoping sparked in 1980 brought millions out of poverty and turned China into the world's factory. However, by following in the footsteps of many western countries that opted to “pollute first and clean up later,” China built its economic success on a foundation of ecological destruction. This environmental destruction is threatening the economy, human health, and social stability, as well as potentially causing irreparable damage to the water, soil, and forest ecosystems.

The main drivers of China's environmental problems are its dependence on coal for energy and a weak environmental governance system. The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) is poorly funded and understaffed, local governments protect polluting industries, and public and civil society groups have limited (albeit improving) power to watchdog the government and business sectors.

China's weak enforcement of environmental laws is also leading to natural resource destruction well beyond its borders through far-reaching air pollution, degradation of transboundary waters, and depletion of forestry resources. U.S. demand for cheap Chinese imports has also hastened the environmental despoliation, not only in China but in the United States as well. An unhealthy proportion of California's fine particulate pollution, for instance, comes from China.

At the level of both government and civil society, the United States and China are acting to repair the damage. With China about to pass the United States as the leading greenhouse gas producer, however, much more needs to be done.

Can't See Clearly Now

Largely because of air pollution connected to its cars and coal, 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China. Coal, most of it dirty, fuels 70% of China's energy and is the main source of the country's domestic and transboundary air pollution. Despite major efforts to promote energy efficiency and renewables, China will remain dependent upon coal for the foreseeable future.

China already consumes more energy and emits more greenhouse gases (GHG) than any country except the United States. It is expected to surpass the United States in GHG emissions by 2009. The expansion of China's power plants alone—562 new coal-fired power stations by 2012— could nullify the cuts required under the Kyoto Protocol from industrialized countries. The lack of widespread coal-washing infrastructure and scrubbers at Chinese industrial facilities and power plants exacerbates the problem. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from cars in China are also growing rapidly, replacing coal as the major source of air pollution in major Chinese cities.

Regionally, sulfur dioxide (SO2) and mercury emissions from coal burning are some of the main pollutants spreading from China. Acid rain resulting from coal and fossil fuel combustion has damaged nearly one-third of China's limited cropland. China's export of acid rain is also severely damaging forests and watersheds on the Korean Peninsula and in Japan, where each spring Siberian winds and dust storms spread mercury and other airborne contaminants (such as dioxin and furan from China's ubiquitous cement kilns).

Information on Chinese emissions is sketchy since the government has not publicly disclosed CO2 or mercury emissions data since 2001. The most commonly cited numbers attribute 25-40% of global mercury emissions (from coal burning) to China. Within China's borders, air pollution from coal, cars, and dust storms is responsible for 3-400,000 premature deaths and 75 million asthma attacks annually. Data on health impacts internationally are difficult to estimate, but China's SO2 is responsible for nearly half the acid rain in Korea and Japan, and particulates and dust from China are worsening air quality as far as the U.S. west coast.

Some U.S. researchers believe at least one-third of California's fine particulate pollution—known as aerosol—originates from Asia. These pollutants could potentially nullify California's progress in meeting stricter Clean Air Act requirements. In May 2006, University of California-Davis researchers claimed that almost all the particulate matter over Lake Tahoe was from China.

Researchers have also found that mercury becomes more hazardous the further it travels. At the smokestack in Asia it is insoluble, but by the time it reaches the U.S. west coast, mercury transforms into a reactive gaseous material that dissolves easily in the wet climates of the Pacific Northwest. For example, researchers have discovered that at least one-fifth of the mercury entering the Willamette River in Oregon comes from abroad, most likely from China. This mercury is even beginning to build up to toxic levels in the local wildlife.

Other studies are pointing to the growing global problem of black carbon (BC) soot from China. As the active ingredient in the haze produced by burning crop residues, household stoves, and vehicles, BC is potentially the second most important global warming gas after CO2 . Responsible for 17% of these emissions, China is the largest BC-emitting country in the world (with Russia and India not far behind). The BC particles are less than one micron in diameter and cause hundreds of thousands of premature deaths from respiratory illnesses each year in China. Moreover, BC blocks sunlight and may be lowering crop yields by 30% for both wheat and rice in China. Regionally, BC emissions may be heating the atmosphere and destabilizing weather throughout the Pacific Rim.

Desertification in northern China is advancing at an annual rate of 1,300 square miles, creating dust storms, destroying farmland, and driving more rural migrants into cities. The expanding deserts are also increasing the severity of the spring sandstorms: 100 are expected between 2000 and 2009, a marked increase over the previous decade's 23. This dust, which can carry other pollutants, has already begun to reach the western coast of the United States.

Can't Drink the Water

While growing transboundary air issues are the most obvious sign of China's poor enforcement of pollution control, China's largest domestic environmental challenge is the destruction of water resources. Water pollution has turned many of China's rivers black. Half the rivers are so polluted that their water cannot be used by industry or agriculture. This pollution threatens economic growth, human health, and watershed ecosystems, as well as creating regional environmental problems.

With its 19 international lake and river systems, China's management of transboundary waters has only become a sensitive issue in a handful of these basins—most notably the Mekong and Amur. However, the potential for conflict increases in other basins as the Chinese government pushes economic growth into western China. China's damming, pollution, and channelization of the upper reaches of the Mekong River is perhaps the most sensitive transboundary water situation. Of particular concern to downstream countries is the current boom of dam building for hydropower. There are 200-plus dams in planning or under construction in southwest China, most of which are pushed by local governments and companies that rarely (or inadequately) complete the required environmental impact assessments.

As an observer rather than a full member of the Mekong River Commission (MRC), China is not obligated to clear its hydropower plans with downstream countries. The first dam (Manwan) was completed on the Lancang in 1996 and caused unusually low water levels in northern Thailand. In December 2001, China completed the Dachaoshan dam on the Lancang, which may have disastrous effects on fisheries and farms in Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The Xiaowan, the third in the cascade of eight dams, began construction in 2001. The International Rivers Network reports that this dam will markedly lengthen dry season flows and block 35% of the silt that nourishes the floodplains downstream.

The regional impact of China's water pollution was illustrated quite poignantly on November 13, 2005 when an explosion at a PetroChina chemical plant in Jilin province released over a hundred tons of benzene into the Songhua River. The Songhua flows into the Heilong River in Heilongjiang Province where it supplies drinking water for the provincial capital of Harbin. Another 600 kilometers downstream it is the main water supply for the Russian city of Khabarovsk. For several days, provincial and local officials in Jilin hesitated to inform downstream governments or SEPA about the spill.

Once informed, Harbin officials initially tried to cover up the crisis by telling its city residents ten days after the spill that the water supply would be cut off for “routine maintenance.” However, in the face of growing rumors of a major chemical spill, municipal officials quickly revised their announcement stating that the water system would be shut down for four days to prevent citizen exposure to benzene.

In the wake of this spill, the SEPA Minister resigned and China prosecuted a number of local officials. In Russia, governors and mayors downstream of the spill became more vocal about their anger with what has been long-standing Chinese water pollution contaminating the Amur and endangering public health. Russians also are frustrated with agricultural withdrawals and diversion schemes for dam projects on the tributaries that feed the Amur/Heilong River. These projects have altered the volume and timing of flow, disrupting agriculture and fisheries throughout Russia and Mongolia.

Besides water pollution flowing into rivers in neighboring countries, another growing concern has been the increase in marine water pollution from China. Because of the low rate of wastewater treatment and growing industrial emissions in Chinese rivers, estuaries and coastal areas near estuaries are plagued with heavy pollution problems, particularly Bohai Bay and the mouth of the Yangtze. Exacerbating China's coastal and marine pollution is the fact that many coastal cities pump at least half of their wastewater directly into the ocean, thereby seriously increasing the scope of red tides and coastal fish die-offs. This coastal pollution is also beginning to worry its closest neighbors, Korea and Japan.

However, a more urgent marine environmental issue is China's growing consumption of fishery products, which is strongly linked to the country's growing freshwater pollution. S ince 2002, China has become the biggest exporter of fishery produce in the world. To meet growing domestic and international demand for fish and since few of China's rivers and coastal waters are clean enough to support robust aquaculture production, Chinese fishers and fishery companies have expanded their operations in the coastal zones of other countries or in the high seas.

The Chinese government has encouraged deep-sea fishing through preferential policies. Currently, over 1,800 ocean-going fishing vessels under Chinese registry are fishing the waters near 40 countries in three oceans. Competition for the shared fish stocks of the China seas has intensified considerably over the past 20 years as fish catch rates have declined due to pollution and over-fishing. Many species in the China seas have declined so precipitously they now face total extinction. Despite a network of bilateral fishery management agreements, Chinese fishers have sparked many clashes at sea and at the negotiating table with other countries, especially Vietnam. While none of these countries would ever go to war over such incidents, they do represent yet another irritant in their bilateral relations with China.

Can't See the Forest (Because There are No Trees)

From deforestation in Russia and Indonesia to coal mining in Mongolia and oil extraction in Africa, China's growing hunger for raw materials and energy has damaged the ecosystems of other countries. Ironically, the massive increase in forestry product imports stems from an ambitious and fairly effective campaign to protect forests within China. The massive flood of the Yangtze River in 1998, which policymakers and researchers attributed to deforestation, led the Chinese government to institute a timber-cutting ban and a major campaign to convert slope lands from agriculture to forestry.

The timber ban, combined with China's already very limited per-capita forest resources, has fueled the rapid rise in China's imports of forest products. This wood has also found its way into products exported to the United States and Europe. A study by the NGO Forest Trends notes that over the past eight years China has captured almost a third of the global trade in furniture, ranking it second among all countries in terms of the total value of its forest products .

Chinese timber importers acquire 75% of this wood for furniture and plywood export from the Asia Pacific, mainly from Russia, Burma, and Indonesia. Approximately half of these imports are illegal. Such illegal trade is difficult to regulate, especially between Russia and China where the forestry bureaus in both countries are highly decentralized and under-funded. Loss of these remaining major forests creates serious domestic problems of soil erosion and flooding, while globally the concerns are the loss of biodiversity and increasing climate change.

Addressing China's Pollution Exports

Although caused by weak environmental governance at home, China's regional and global pollution is fueled in great part by the burgeoning demand internationally for cheap Chinese goods. For example, 7% of China's CO2 emissions are estimated to result from the production of U.S. imports.

Since 1985, the Chinese government has welcomed considerable international assistance to help the country address its severe environmental and energy problems. The international community—multilateral organizations, bilateral aid, and nongovernmental organizations—has been very active in China working on a broad range of environmental issues. China's impact on climate change has fueled many international projects related to clean coal, urban transport, and renewables. In terms of forest resources, the Forestry Stewardship Council and other NGOs such as Forest Trends and World Wildlife Fund have worked to promote a global forest certification program, which could be an important means for creating a consumer-driven demand for better timber management.

Transboundary water issues will be challenging to address, since China as the upstream country has little incentive to cooperate with downstream basin protection initiatives. For example, China's lack of formal participation in the Mekong River Basin Commission is a major obstacle in protecting the Mekong. However, some researchers have pointed out that China is being pulled into engagement around the basin through other regional economic development mechanisms, such as the Greater Mekong Subregion framework that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) launched to promote socioeconomic development in the Mekong's six riparian countries. Another initiative is the Quadripartite Economic Cooperation initiative launched in 1993 by China and Thailand to promote economic cooperation among the upstream riparian countries.

U.S.-China Collaboration

Long-term congressional restrictions on aid and assistance to China, combined with a lack of leadership from the administration on promoting clean energy and environmental cooperation with China, have hampered sustained and truly effective U.S. government programs. These U.S. environmental and energy projects in China are often uncoordinated, inconsistent, and not nearly as effective as similar work conducted in other countries.

In stark contrast to the U.S. government presence, nearly 60 U.S.-based NGOs, professional societies, and universities have been active in helping Chinese government agencies and NGOs work on a broad range of energy and conservation issues. The San Francisco-based Energy Foundation, for example, helps Chinese and U.S. NGOs and research centers to promote energy efficiency in China with grants that are significantly greater than the total Department of Energy budget in China.

The growing regional impacts of China's pollution and energy hunger could create more incentives for the Bush administration and Congress to pursue collaboration with China. Or, as the controversy over China's bid to purchase the Unocal oil company in 2006 illustrated, China's energy hunger and pollution could be used as another reason to vilify the country. There is an unprecedented opportunity to develop a coherent approach to energy and environmental relations with China.

On the American side, the war against terrorism will continue to require the U.S. government to engage China so that it does not undercut U.S. efforts in central Asia, the Middle East, or the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, cooperating with China on energy and environmental issues would help strengthen U.S.-China ties, which are continually strained by friction over Taiwan, trade imbalances, and a wide range of other issues. Thus a concerted effort by the world's two largest energy consumers to work together to solve their mutual energy problems and to develop a partnership to help China with its pollution problems could build some degree of confidence that would help the relationship weather tough times.

China to Shut Down Smaller Power Plants; Effects Remain to Be Seen

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The State Council, China’s parliament, recently endorsed a plan to accelerate closure of the nation’s smaller coal-fired power plants. The plan, developed by the nation’s top two energy policymaking bodies—the Office of the National Energy Leading Group and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)—sets forth concrete targets for decommissioning older and smaller plants. It strongly supports a 2006 NDRC notice that called for a comprehensive check on facility closures over the past seven years and also made public a list of all plants slated to close through 2010.

The intensified efforts are an outgrowth of the avowed determination by China’s top leaders to “prioritize” sustainable development. In its 2006–10 national development plan, the government labeled energy consumption and pollution as two major constraints on economic growth. China has also set ambitious targets for 2010 of cutting the amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP by 20 percent and reducing pollution by 10 percent below 2005 levels. Achieving these goals will require a clear government role.

Coal-fired generation accounts for 82 percent of China’s total power supply and has been chronically wasteful and dirty. Smaller and older generators, which are also the most inefficient and polluting, comprise a large share of the total installations. Currently, nearly 30 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power installations are generators of less than 100,000 kilowatts.

According to Li Junhong, a power expert in Nanjing, generators under 50,000 kilowatts consume 200 grams more energy per kilowatt of electricity generated than those above 300,000 kilowatts. China’s larger “ultra-supercritical” thermal power generators, with over 1 million kilowatts of generating capacity, consume roughly 290 grams of coal per kilowatt, while some smaller generators use around 1,000 grams per kilowatt. The coal used to produce only 1 kilowatt of electricity in small plants will generate as many as 2–3 kilowatts in larger ones.

Statistics also reveal that small plants emit 20 times more particulate matter and smog-forming pollutants than larger ones, and three times the sulfur dioxide. In 2006, coal burning was responsible for 90 percent of China’s sulfur dioxide discharges and 70 percent of its emissions of particulate matter and other smog-forming pollutants, according to World Watch magazine.

In light of the rising impacts of coal burning on China’s energy supply and the environment, the government has sought to tackle the closure of smaller coal-fired power plants for several years. It began issuing notices and set a series of targets for this endeavor as early as 1999, but only now—eight years later—is it beginning to take real action. The latest NDRC list of small power generators scheduled to close by 2010 involves nearly 700 plants with a combined installed capacity of 16 million kilowatts, or 3.2 percent of the national total. Based on earlier mandates, more than 600 of these plants should have been closed before 2002, and more than 11 million kilowatts in installations should have been decommissioned by 2005.

Worsening power shortages nationwide are largely to blame for this policy inefficacy. From 2002 on, China’s fast economic growth has constantly outstripped the nation’s ability to power this growth. Statistics show that electricity shortages amounted to 20 million kilowatts in 2003 and more than 40 million kilowatts in 2004. During the peak demand period in 2004, more than 20 provinces and municipalities nationwide experienced blackouts, and factories along China’s prosperous east coast were forced to shut down production lines several days a week or to operate only at night.

This situation encouraged the construction of a massive new round of small coal-fired power plants, which required low investments but yielded instant returns. In 2004, China installed 51 million kilowatts of new generation capacity, the highest level worldwide; in 2005, this grew to 66 million kilowatts. Local governments invested in the majority of these smaller plants, receiving considerable tax revenues and environmental protection fees in return, according to Nanfang Daily. During periodic crackdowns by the central government, local governments in some regions responded by simultaneously shutting down old small coal-fired plants and starting up new ones.  

This latest government crackdown, however, appears to be more serious than previous ones. An official with the NDRC recently stated that all small coal-fired power plants on the list, regardless of their classification, must be shut down according to schedule. The official also told Nanfang Daily that if the plants continue operating beyond their closure dates, they will lose power grid access, fuel supply, financial assistance, and land and water resources.

It is not uncommon for China’s central government and local governments to play cat-and-mouse games on issues where their interests conflict. Whether this most recent “iron blow” by the central government will in fact result in concrete changes remains to be seen. The demands on China’s power supply have relaxed slightly over the past two years, galvanizing the blow, but a sound economy still needs a guaranteed power supply to carry it through the periodic ups and downs. What this relaxation does provide is an opportunity for a reshuffling in the electricity generation sector. If the government hopes to live up to its promise of sustainable growth, a greener, more efficient structure is sorely needed, with stronger emphasis on clean and renewable energy sources and better technologies.

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Greenpeace says electronics makers polluting water in China, other developing countries

Factories that make components for major electronics manufacturers are polluting water supplies in China and other developing countries, the environmental group Greenpeace said Thursday.

The group called on mobile phones and consumer electronics makers to clean up manufacturing processes and for China and other governments to tighten standards on handling toxic chemicals.

Greenpeace said it tested waste water and soil around factories in southern China, as well as Thailand, the Philippines and Mexico, that make or assemble printed wiring boards, semiconductors or televisions.

Researchers found unsafe levels of solvents, heavy metals and other materials in many samples, Greenpeace said in a report.

Electronics makers and their component suppliers "are contaminating rivers and underground water with a wide range of toxic chemicals," the group said in a statement issued with the report.

Two factories cited in the report both were in China's southern province of Guangdong. Greenpeace said one was operated by Taiwan's Compeq Manufacturing Co., a major electronics parts supplier, and the other by a company identified only as Fortune.

Employees who answered the phone at the Compeq factory in the city of Huizhou and at Compeq's Taipei headquarters after normal business hours on Thursday said no one was available to comment on the report.

It was not clear what companies use the components made by Compeq, but Greenpeace said Apple Inc., Motorola Inc. and Nokia Corp. were possible customers.

Industrial pollution is a volatile issue in China, sparking sometimes violent protests by farmers who say their water supplies and crops are damaged by factory emissions. Environmental officials say China's rivers and lakes are so badly polluted that millions of people have no access to water deemed clean enough to drink.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Activists also decry damage done by a computer recycling industry in China's southeast that relies on villagers to salvage materials by hand, often leaving toxic material in the soil or water.

Greenpeace appealed to Beijing for "more stringent regulations regarding discharges from electronics production facilities."

The test results show that the current regulations on water discharge are "too lax to mitigate the environmental impact of electronics industry," the group said.

Another facility cited by the Greenpeace report was a Sony Corp. factory in Tijuana, in northern Mexico, that assembles televisions and liquid crystal display panels.

In a written response to questions, Sony's Tokyo headquarters said the Tijuana facility has "no process of generating industrial wastewater discharge" and produces only kitchen and restroom waste, which is sent to a municipal treatment facility.

"Given this situation, we believe that substance which Greenpeace found has no relation to" the factory, the Sony statement said.

Greenpeace also cited five factories in Thailand that make printed wiring boards. Phone calls to those companies after business hours on Thursday were not answered.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beijing to issue pollution warnings

BEIJING, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- Beijing plans to issue pollution alerts that will warn residents to avoid certain areas of the city on days when the air is heavily polluted, said the environment protection bureau.

city also intends to close factories and construction sites when the air becomes heavily polluted, said an official with the municipal environment protection bureau on Wednesday.

Hanmin, director of the municipal environment protection bureau, said that more needs to be done to improve the air quality of Beijing, which is still below national standards, short of commitments made in its Olympic bid and not up to the expectations of residents.

municipality had 241 'blue sky days' in 2006, exceeding the government's target by three days.

year the target is 245 blue sky days. "We are faced with a very hazardous environmental situation," said Shi.

dioxide emissions dropped 7.9 percent in Beijing last year, while the municipal GDP grew by 12 percent in 2006.

launched the "Defending the Blue Sky" program in 1998, when the city had only about 100 days of 'blue sky' days. Since then, air quality has improved for eight straight years, due to measures taken by the environment watchdog and the "mercy of nature".

has taken the lead in China and imposed Euro-III car emission standards, but exhaust fumes emitted by its 2.8 million motor vehicles, including two million private cars, remains one of the primary sources of pollution in the capital.

told Xinhua that 300,000 high-emission vehicles will be taken off the roads in 2007. Beijing to issue pollution warnings

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Beijing points finger at developed nations over climate

International Herald Tribune

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

China said Tuesday that wealthier, developed countries must take the lead in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and declined to say whether it would agree to any mandatory emissions limits that might hamper its booming economy.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said Beijing was willing to contribute to an international effort to combat global warming but placed the primary responsibility on richer nations that have been polluting for much longer.

"It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long- term historic emissions of developed countries and their high per-capita emissions," she said, adding that developed countries have responsibilities for global warming "that cannot be shirked."

Jiang's comments, combined with another briefing Tuesday by China's leading climate expert, were Beijing's first official response to the report issued last week by a United Nations panel of scientists that declared global warming was "unequivocal" and warned that immediate action must be taken.

China is the second-largest emitter of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, trailing only the United States. Experts have predicted that the country will eventually rise to the top spot. Its rapidly expanding economy gets nearly 70 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants, many of them equipped with substandard pollution controls.

But Beijing has long noted that per capita emissions rates remain well below the averages in wealthier countries, including the United States. And officials also argue that China remains a developing country without the financial resources or technological prowess to make a rapid shift to cleaner, more expensive energy technology.

Beijing has not disputed the scientific rationale behind global warming or denied the harm it could cause. The government issued a report last month warning that climate change posed a serious threat to China's agricultural output and economy.

"The Chinese government is taking climate change extremely seriously," Qin Dahe, chief of the China Meteorological Administration, said at a news conference Tuesday. "President Hu Jintao has said that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a development issue, ultimately a development issue."

But even if Chinese leaders acknowledge the problem, they are resistant to any sweeping measures that could threaten the country's economic development.

Narrower measures are already meeting with uneven results. Qin, who served as a co-chairman of the UN panel that issued the global warming report Friday, noted that China has set a five- year goal of improving energy efficiency by 20 percent. But last year, the country failed to meet the first target in that schedule.

China's standing as both a huge developing country and as one of the world's fastest-growing economies has given it a unique status in the global warming debate. Along with India, China is exempt from the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement that calls on industrial nations to reduce emissions by 2012. (The United States did not sign the agreement.) Asked if Beijing would agree to mandatory, specific targets in reducing emissions, Qin did not answer directly.

"As a developing country that's growing rapidly and has a big population, to thoroughly transform the energy structure and use clean energy would need a lot of money," Qin said, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, China has been experiencing record warm temperatures this winter that scientists attribute at least partly to global warming. Ice skating has been banned on Beijing's melting lakes.

Elsewhere, much of northern China has been gripped by a brutal drought. State media reported that roughly 300,000 people in Shaanxi Province were facing shortages of drinking water. The province has received only 10 percent of its average rainfall, according to Xinhua, the state-run press agency.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

China preparing plan to combat warming

Monday, February 5, 2007

China is preparing its first plan to battle climate change, a senior policy adviser said, stressing rising alarm about global warming in a country where economic growth has gone unchecked.

Zou Ji, a climate policy expert at the People's University of China in Beijing, said the national program would probably set broad goals for emissions and coping with changing weather patterns.

It is likely to be released this year after at least two years of preparation and bureaucratic bargaining, he said.

"All this shows that the Chinese government is paying more and more attention to this issue," he said. "When it's approved and issued it will be China's first official, comprehensive document on climate change."

Last week a UN panel of scientists warned that human activity is almost certainly behind global warming.

The expert group gave a "best estimate" that temperatures would rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 Celsius (3.2 and 7.8 Fahrenheit) in the 21st century, bringing more droughts, heat waves and a rise in sea levels that could continue for over 1,000 years even if greenhouse gas emissions are capped.

China could become the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases by 2009, overtaking the United States, according to the International Energy Agency.

Beijing's public reaction to the panel's finding has been muted, but behind the scenes the government is paying attention to the raft of warnings, said Zou, who has been a member of Chinese delegations to international climate talks since 2000.

Pan Yue, a vice minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration, said wealthy countries bore most responsibility for cutting emissions but added that China would contribute, China Business News reported Monday.

"As a responsible great power, China won't evade its duty," Pan told the paper. "There's tremendous pressure to reduce emissions, but this won't be solved overnight."

Zou said the program was awaiting approval from the State Council after being vetted by over a dozen ministries and agencies, but preparations for a major Communist Party congress later this year may slow its release.

The dilemma facing President Hu Jintao is how to translate concern into policies that deliver growth and jobs while cutting fossil fuel use and greenhouse gases, said Alan Dupont, an expert on climate change and security at the University of Sydney.

"The whole stability of the regime and, as Hu would see it, the future of his country, depends on the continuation of economic growth of 8 percent and 9 percent," Dupont said.

"But the realization is dawning on them that China will not get to where it wants to go unless it deals with climate change."

Few major policy shifts are advertised beforehand in China. But there have been growing signs that Beijing is worried about how global warming could frustrate ambitions for prosperity, stability and influence.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Who and how to protect China's environment?

(China Daily)

Updated: 2007-02-02 07:11

All is change, especially here in dynamic China. Sometime ago, a question dominating Chinese policy discussions involved feeding China's large population. There was fierce debate at the time, but the controversy mostly has died down.

Today, the really big question facing the nation is "Who will protect China's environment?"

2006 was a tough year for the environment in China so this question rises to special prominence at the beginning of a new year. A little over a year ago, the nation suffered the shock of chemical pollution of the Songhua River. This dramatized the problem of toxic chemical use near major waterways and population centers.

Now, a year into the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-10), the plan's environmental goals had to be radically adjusted in the face of the failure to achieve those set for the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-05).

The seriousness of these failures was reflected in the rising number of mass incidents of protest over environmental insults as people struggled to protect their rights.

So, who will protect China's environment?

Environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have multiplied in number as Chinese citizens themselves rise to address environmental challenges. Premier Wen Jiabao in his report on the work of the government to the National People's Congress last year recognized that government cannot solve all of society's problems and that the wider society needs to be engaged in adding their resources and energies to finding solutions.

However, this is a new idea in China and the environmental NGO sector is young and has meager resources. China does not yet have a tradition of philanthropy that could harness the great wealth being accumulated for the greater public good.

What about business? Business, in fact, is responsible for the vast bulk of the decisions that affect environmental quality. Whether to invest in emissions control, how much, and how soon are questions that each business has to address. Should I use a cleaner production process? Will my customers care whether I use environmentally-friendly production practices or inputs? More to the point, will they cover any extra cost? How much of my time should I spend thinking about the environment rather than growing my business?

The reality is that business finds itself locked in a highly competitive globalized market. There may be some environmental innovators out there but can we hear their voices? Do we know their stories? Are they leading Chinese business figures? Unfortunately, I am afraid that we cannot look to business, which is too busy looking to itself.

This leaves us with government. But government is seriously challenged to establish an effective environmental management system. We have the record of the 10th Five-Year Plan as testimony to the difficulties faced. In short, the general problems of environmental governance in China are: weak government capacity, reactive and inconsistent policies, and a failure to tap resources outside government.

There are a variety of legal and structural institutional issues which hamper effective government management of environmental problems.

At the national level, these include the problem of coordinating actions with environmental implications across ministries and the lack of an environmental mandate or focus center in each ministry.

Problems from the national to provincial and local levels are much more commonly understood and reported. Local officials are revealed regularly to protect local polluting industry by failing to enforce environmental laws and regulations.

However, local officials aren't completely to blame. There are legal problems as well. For example, the maximum penalty that can be levied for noncompliance under China's Law of Protection of the Atmosphere is 200,000 yuan (US$25,727). This is a trivial financial sum for most industrial plants. Air pollution control is much more expensive. So, the company does the economically rational thing. It pays the penalty and keeps on emitting. Why then should we be surprised when emissions continue to rise?

Arguably, the ability to shut down the violating company resides with the local government. Clearly, this is a noncompliance consequence much more likely to have real financial traction with companies.

However, it puts the local authorities in a difficult position. If they shut down the local polluting plant, they are also shutting down the local employer and the local cash cow. The government has either the fly swatter of low fines or the neutron bomb of the shutdown.

One immediate remedy would be to raise the legal cap on the maximum penalty to remove any financial benefit from noncompliance. This issue was raised directly with Premier Wen on November 10 last year in a meeting with the China Council on International Cooperation on Environment and Development.

His response was to say that "we need a strict system of penalties and rewards not only legal ones, but economic as well. When polluters are assessed fines, they should not be too low."

So perhaps the answer to "Who will protect China's environment?" lies with the government.

China stands at a major crossroads in its development. Will sulphur dioxide emissions, up 7 percent at the end of August last year, rise to 35 million tons per year? Or will the 10 percent reduction to 23 million tons in the 11th Five Year Plan period be met? Will China meet the goal of reducing energy consumption? Or will the future be a China ravaged by climatic changes from rampant greenhouse gas growth?

What should be done? There is a pretty straightforward answer given the above. Raise the legal cap on penalties for noncompliance. And then enforce the law. This simple, but highly effective, remedy is readily within the government's reach to cure the nation's environmental ills.

Perhaps the government will protect China's environment. Only time will tell.

Daniel J. Dudek is chief economist of the Environmental Defense Fund, with headquarters in New York City

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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Dolphin extinction shows river degradation

By Zhan Yan 2007-2-1 Shanghai Daily SAND-dredging and river pollution are threatening the very existence of white fin in the Yangtze River. Chinese experts are increasingly concerned about the possible extinction of white fin since an international expedition declared that the Yangtze River dolphin, or baiji, or white fin, is "functionally extinct." And while the baiji has received great attention, another Yangzte cetacean, the Yangtze finless porpoise or jiangzhu, literally river pig, is also on the way to extinction. The reason: Reckless industrial pollution, dumping of human waste and marathon sand dredging. Over six-weeks between November and December, scientists with high-performance optical instruments and underwater microphones covered over 3,500 kilometers of the Yangtze River. "The moment that experts disembarked from the ships, was the moment that humankind bid farewell to the 20-million-year-old baiji,' said Wang Kexiong, an expert at the Institute of Hydrobiology in Wuhan. Called the "Goddess of the Yangtze," the baiji was revered by the ancient peoples along the Yangtze, who believed that the white 'fish,' the same size as a human being, could help safeguard sailing. In the early 1980s, the Yangtze reportedly had around 400 baiji swimming its waters. A 1997 survey yielded 13 confirmed sightings. The last confirmed sighting of a baiji was in September 2004. As the most recent expedition returned to land, having failed to sight a single baiji, August Pfluger, head of the Foundation and co-organizer of the expedition, pronounced the species "functionally extinct." Wang Kexiong expressed his concerns for the future of the Yangtze's entire ecological system, saying: "Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) live at the top of the food chain - if they are threatened by extinction, it means that their food sources are also dwindling and biodiversity in the Yangtze River is degenerating." The water quality in the Yangtze has changed remarkably along with China's economic growth, the increase in shipping, coupled with the dumping of waste in the river has polluted the waters. Sand dredging According to experts, however, the most obvious threat to the existence of dolphins is the rampant sand-dredging along the river. The Yangtze, its tributaries and lakes are filled with sand-dredging barges. There are about 12 sand-loaded ships for every kilometer of the Yangtze. However, a survey by the expedition estimated that the number of ships per kilometer in the lower reaches of the river could be 30 to 60. The Yangtze is being dredged to deepen its channel to accommodate heavier shipping. "The noise pollution is already a torture for humankind, let alone for sound-sensitive cetaceans underwater. It makes the baiji prone to collisions with ship propellers and prevents them from finding a mate, hunting and communicating with others," said Wang Kexiong. Removing riverbed sand also destroys the habitats of other animal and plant that are sources of food for baiji. The Chinese government has been tightening measures to forbid sand dredging in the main channel of the Yangtze, however, local governments are continuing to issue permits for dredging in the river's tributaries and surrounding lakes. "A ship-full of sand yields a profit of at least 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) - more than enough to drive thousands of people into the business," Wang said. The Yangtze River basin is home to 400 million people, roughly a third of China's total population - all of whose waste ends up being dumped into the river. According to the State Environmental Protection Administration, the amount of wastewater discharged into the Yangtze has shot up by almost two thirds - from 11.39 billion tons in 1998 to 18.42 billion tons in 2005. Weng Lida, an expert with the Yangtze Valley Water Resources Protection Bureau, commented how the pollution endangers some 500 city drinking-water sources along the river. "Many cities and towns fail to treat sewage properly - merely 15 percent of domestic sewage is treated properly before being discharged into the river," Weng said. There are about 1,133 lakes in the middle and lower reaches of the river, said Wang Ding, deputy director of the hydrobiology institute. "All of these, except Dongting Lake, are equipped with dams, sluice gates, bridges or reinforced banks." Wang then went on to explain how these dams and sluice gates have robbed the baiji of their normal habitat and cut off the migration routes of fish on which they feed. The expedition team collected water and sediment samples along the route of the river. "The results might be gloomy," said Wang, "the Yangtze pollution is serious. Discharge from a thermal industrial plant could produce a steaming river section for several kilometers, while discharge from paper mills or chemical plants could cover some sections with a thick, multi-colored layer of scum." Surveys show that in the mid-1980s, the Yangtze was home to some 126 animal species, however, by 2002 that number had fallen to just 52. Since 2003, a closed fishing season has been brought into effect to recover fish resources. Despite this, the situation has not improved. Cao Dongsheng, a fisherman from Yueyang County in Hunan Province, said: "Twenty years ago, by using traditional fishing methods, we could harvest 100kg of fish every day. "Today, there are little fish left in the river, as people are using poisons, electric fishing, and illegal fishing nets." (The author is a senior writer at China Features of Xinhua news agency.) Technorati Tags: , , ,