China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Cabbies with garlic breath targeted in Beijing’s Olympic cleanup

7:37pm Saturday 28th April 2007

Sunday Herald

CONTAMINATED air and chronic traffic congestion remain serious worries 16 months ahead of Beijing 2008, an international inspection team has concluded.

Olympic organisers have kept all their promises but a booming national economy threatens to pollute the air quicker than a local solution can be found, said International Olympic Committee (IOC) co-ordination commission chair- man Heinz Verbruggen, "Beijing's Olympic committee wins praise from IOC" ran the official China Daily headline, as local media ignored the pollution warning and focused instead on a much more traditional concern: face.

In a country where most bus and train commuters routinely behave like it's last orders at a happy-hour bar, city authorities have designated the 11th day of each month as "Queue-up Day".

A "smile" campaign has also been launched for shopkeepers and other service industry workers welcoming foreigners. This week, a 12-item evaluation chart was published for taxi drivers: Male drivers must cut their hair short and female drivers should avoid dangly earrings or "odd" bright red or blonde hair. And there's to be no more spitting, littering or overcharging.

"Taxi drivers are a window through which the foreigners will see Beijing, and we need to further regulate their services," announced Liu Xiaoming, vice-director of the Beijing Transport Commission. Sporting a neatly cropped bowl haircut, crisp white shirt and ill-fitting dark suit, Liu sweated slightly under the media spotlight.

Body odour and a post-meal "garlic smell" inside cabs were persistent issues in written complaints from foreign officials and executives said his colleague, Liu Tongliang.

"On top of that, many drivers love to smoke," said Liu Tongliang. "Some sensitive female passengers smell it, then refuse to get in the car."

So sensitive are the Lius about making the right impression upon the estimated 550,000 overseas Olympic visitors next year that the bureau is dispatching "undercover passengers" to sniff out the city's 277 cab firms. Rankings will be published, with the biggest stinker of all shut down.

To tackle pollution, around 680 mines and 200 steel, cement, chemical, paper and other factories have been shut down since the Beijing bid triumphed on July 13, 2001. Heavy polluter Capital Iron and Steel Group and 190 smaller factories have also been dismantled and moved out of the capital. More than 30,000 old taxis and 3900 old diesel-powered buses have been phased out. Officials plan to take around one million of Beijing's 3.3 million cars temporarily off the roads, and are close to completing two new subway lines.

In total, the city has spent about 100 billion yuan (£6.5bn) on curbing polluting industries and planting trees, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration of China. The result is that Beijing last year enjoyed 241 so-called "blue-sky" days, compared with 100 a decade ago.

Verbruggen praised organisers for this "considerable progress" and "magnificent" venues such as the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium and the neighbouring National Aquatics Centre, known as the "Water Cube".

"It's almost an emotional feeling that you have when you imagine that in some 470 days, athletes will be able to perform in this magnificent environment," he said.

Just as long as they can breathe, that is. Two runners died and 11 ended up in hospital during the 2004 Beijing marathon, where amateurs complained that no drinking water was made available after the 16-mile mark.

China's booming economy was causing an "enormous amount of construction sites, and a dust problem," said Verbruggen. "This is of the utmost importance to the athletes, who are the most important part of the Games."

He called for a contingency plan. A landmark study published this month by a joint team of Chinese and US scientists concluded that even the best control measures in the world would not be enough coming from Beijing alone.

Much of the smog originates out of town, drifting from heavier industrial urban neighbours like Tianjin, Shijiazhuang, Qingdao, Jinan and Taiyuan, according to researchers.

Beijing Mayor Wang Qishen has reportedly cited this study in pressing central government to implement more stringent regional control programmes to ensure Beijing meets its air quality goals for 2008. There are 474 days left. Perhaps don't hold your breath.

"The air is not good enough yet," said IOC vice president Gunilla Lindberg during her visit to the Chinese capital last week. "And the traffic at the moment is terrible."

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Friday, April 27, 2007

China must end its dependency on coal: Greenpeace

25 April 2007, 17:00 CET

(COPENHAGEN) - Industrialised countries must support China's efforts to end its dependency on coal, which is highly pollutant, environmental group Greenpeace told an Asia Europe meeting (ASEM) in Copenhagen on Wednesday.

"Denmark and the European countries must call on the Asian Development Bank to phase out fossil fuels and shift all its energy funding to sustainable renewable energies and demand energy efficiency measures," Tarjei Haaland, head of Greenpeace's climate campaign, told AFP.

"The bank, which is mainly supported by the rich countries, must stop financing projects focused on coal," Greenpeace said, denouncing the "hypocrisy" of European countries which talk about fighting climate change while allowing the bank to continue funding polluting projects.

In a report on China's energy future published Wednesday, Greenpeace estimated that "China can achieve rapid economic growth without jeopardising the climate, through the use of renewable energy, combined with energy efficiency."

"The average Chinese consumes one third of the energy of an average European and one seventh of an American, but that number is set to increase. Our report shows that China can maintain economic growth and at the same time stabilise its CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions at the current level by 2050," energy expert Liu Shuang said.

China is the world's second-largest polluter after the United States and the world's biggest producer and consumer of coal. The Chinese government has set a target to supply 16 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The third ASEM meeting, taking place through Thursday in Copenhagen, brought together 38 European Union and Asian environment ministers and their delegations to discuss themes such as climate warming, sustainable energy, threats to biodiversity and deforestation.

Text and Picture Copyright 2007 AFP.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Tackling climate change

China may become the world's single biggest polluter sooner than you think


THE latest news on climate change is neither welcome nor terribly surprising: within a couple of years, at most, says the International Energy Agency, China will surpass America as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, the ones that contribute to climate change. China’s race to the number-one spot is not because America has cleaned up its act, sadly, but a sign that the booming Asian economy is pumping out pollution faster than had been expected. The news also highlights an awkward fact: in the debate on what to do about climate change, America finds itself acting more like China and less like its rich-world friends in Europe and elsewhere.

On Monday April 30th leaders from America and Europe will gather in Washington, DC, for a summit, with a particular focus on energy security and the global climate. But there is no agreement yet on a draft declaration, reflecting sharply different views on what to do about the changing climate. Europe has gone beyond pledges in the Kyoto protocol, recently agreeing to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20% by 2020 (though allowing some flexibility for the poorer and less green countries of eastern Europe). Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, suggests Europe is now a “world pioneer” in tackling emissions.

It seems unlikely that next week’s summit will see America hitching up close to the pioneer, however. The American ambassador to the European Union (EU), Boyden Gray, suggests that America cannot agree to any hard caps on emissions unless China does so too. (America also mentions India in this context from time to time, but for political reasons China is more tempting to bash.)

The Bush administration knows, as an official Chinese government report confirms, that no such caps are forthcoming. China’s rulers recognise that they face serious consequences from local pollution and from changes to the global climate. On April 25th the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, repeated a “solemn promise” that some industrial emissions and the rate of energy consumption would fall. Between 2006 and 2010, according to official targets, emissions of big industrial pollutants are supposed to drop by 10%, and energy efficiency is supposed to rise sharply in the same period. But as the report made clear, there will be no caps on greenhouse emissions if that means slowing economic growth. China argues that other countries polluted their way to development; capping emissions now would unfairly punish those who come late to the game.

Every country, of course, has an excuse ready. China can rightly note that, per person, its billion plus population is much less polluting than America's or Europe's. American officials say their country invests more in trying to find green technologies than anyone else, as a way of avoiding painful, inflexible caps. And as for the holier-than-thou Europeans, their targets and declarations of principles sound good, say sceptics, but are non-binding. Without a mechanism for punishing laggards at least some will slip behind, as many EU countries (including traditionally green ones like Austria and Denmark), and Canada, are set to do with their Kyoto targets.

The Bush administration has begun talking more about climate change, just as China is putting the best public face on its efforts. But the difference between these two countries (and other holdouts like Australia) and the Europeans is still wide. To a large extent, it is one of urgency. Europe included the greenhouse-gas cut promise in the Berlin declaration celebrating 50 years of integration, putting it at the core of Europe’s purpose for the next half century. America and others recognise that climate change is one of the world’s hottest topics, but still squirm when talking about doing something painful to tackle it.

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China to Force Rain Ahead of Olympics

Wednesday April 25, 10:12 PM Yahoo

Chance of showers during the 2008 Beijing Olympics: 50 percent. But Chinese meteorologists have a plan to bring sunshine.

The meteorologists say they can force rain in the days before the Olympics, through a process known as cloud-seeding, to clean the air and ensure clear skies. China has been tinkering with artificial rainmaking for decades, but whether it works is a matter of debate among scientists.

Weather patterns for the past 30 years indicate there is a 50 percent chance of rain for both the opening ceremony on Aug. 8, 2008 and the closing ceremony two weeks later, said Wang Yubin, an engineer with the Beijing Meteorological Bureau.

The forced rain could also help clean Beijing's polluted air, said Wang Jianjie, another meteorologist with the bureau.

"When conditions permit, we will artificially increase rainfall," she said. "Rainfall is a way to naturally clean the air."

In 2003, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences questioned the science behind cloud-seeding as "too weak." But China frequently uses artificial rainmaking in the drought-plagued north.

Last May, Beijing boasted having generated rainfall to clear the air and streets following the worst dust storm in a decade.

Technicians with the Beijing Weather Modification Office said they fired seven rocket shells containing 163 cigarette-size sticks of silver iodide over the city's skies. They claimed it provoked a chemical reaction in clouds that forced four-tenths of an inch of rain.

Beijing's air pollution is among Asia's worst. Officials have shuttered several chemical and steel plants on the city's edge, and many polluters will shut down _ or cut back _ during the Olympics. But the city also has 2.9 million registered vehicles, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by the Olympics, a 13 percent increase.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Beijing's Public Transport to Go Greener

China Daily April 24, 2007 via Beijing Review

"Compared with the traditional oil-fuelled bus, the battery electric bus only accounts for one-third of the energy cost, with no pollution," said Shuai Hongyuan

Green vehicles make for blue skies.

At least that's the philosophy behind a decision by Beijing transport authorities to replace more than 2,500 aging air-choking buses with new-generation clean people movers before next year's Olympic Games.

Feng Xingfu, deputy general manager of Beijing Public Transport Holdings Ltd, said 2,810 environmentally friendly vehicles would be purchased, and at least 80 percent of the buses would come fitted with diesel engines that meet the European IV standard for emissions.

Beijing transport authorities will also add another 160 electric-powered trolleybuses to the new green fleet.

Another 300 buses that run on compressed natural gas will be rolled out, bringing their total number to 4,000, Feng said.

"Compared with the European III standard, European IV has cut particle emissions by a further 80 percent," Feng said.

"European IV buses will have more engine power and improved fuel efficiency."

Meanwhile, battery electric vehicles, which have been serving parts of Shanghai for nearly a year, will get their Beijing debut during the Games.

"Compared with the traditional oil-fuelled bus, the battery electric bus only accounts for one-third of the energy cost, with no pollution," Shuai Hongyuan, head of Ruihua Group, which developed such green autos with the State Grid Corporation, said.

"And a full battery recharge can keep a vehicle running for about 300 kilometers."

Wang Yundan, deputy director of Science and Technology Department from the State Grid Corporation, a 2008 Beijing Olympic Games partner, said China had taken the lead in developing such technology in battery electric vehicles.

He said China would further promote electric-powered vehicles by building more recharge stations.

In addition to battery-powered vehicles, experts have called for more biofuel-run vehicles on Beijing's roads.

At the third Global Botanic Gardens Congress held last week in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei Province, Hu Hongjun, a botanic researcher from Chinese Academy of Sciences told Xinhua News Agency that Beijing could become China's first city to use biofuel technology on a large scale.

By 2010, China plans to plant 13 million hectares of Jatropha trees, from which 6 million tons of biodiesel can be extracted every year as a source of clean energy, according to the State Forestry Administration (SFA).

Statistics show that the number of newly registered automobiles in Beijing is growing at a rate of 1,060 a day.

There are currently 2.97 million automobiles in the capital. That number is expected to exceed 3.3 million by the start of the Olympic Games in 2008.

Authorities will discourage automobile use during the Games to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Chinese environmental activist arrested, wife says

Monday, April 23, 2007

BEIJING: The Chinese police have detained an environmental activist who was once praised for his efforts to save the country's third-largest freshwater lake, his wife said on Monday.

Wu Lihong was detained on April 13 by the police in Yixing, in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu, and accused of extortion and blackmail, his wife, Xu Jiehua, said.

Wu, 39, a salesman-turned-activist, had reported worsening pollution at Tai Lake from chemical factories to local environmental departments and the media. His efforts upset some local authorities who benefited from the high profits and taxes paid by the offending factories, Xu said.

"More than 10 plainclothes police officers broke through our door at night and took him away," Xu said by telephone. "Not until 1 the next morning did these people tell me that they were police and told me that my husband had been detained," she said. "The accusations are totally groundless. All my husband did was try to save the environment and make more people aware of the situation at the lake."

Tai Lake, with an area of 2,420 square kilometers, or 934 square miles, straddles the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. In 2005, Wu was a candidate in a national campaign to name 10 people who had "moved China" through their services to society.

The local police were not immediately available for comment.

Detention and harassment of activists is not uncommon in China. Last year, a court in Zhejiang sentenced an environmental activist to a year and a half in prison for illegally obtaining state secrets.

Also on Monday, Gao Yaojie, a 79-year-old AIDS activist, accused the local government in the central province of Henan of putting her under secret surveillance after her return from the United States, where she received a human rights award.

"I would rather die so I can save the government the money they are spending on spying on me," Gao said. Comment from the local government was not immediately available.

Gao received the Vital Voices Global Women's Leadership Award for Human Rights in March for helping bring to light official complicity in the spread of AIDS in Henan, where thousands of poor farmers were infected in blood-selling schemes in the 1990s.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

China says global warming threatens development

April 22, 2007 BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- Global warming could devastate China's development, the nation's first official survey of climate change warns, while insisting economic growth must come before greenhouse gas cuts.

Hotter average global temperatures fueled by greenhouse gases mean that different regions of China are likely to suffer spreading deserts, worsening droughts and floods, shrinking glaciers and rising seas, the National Climate Change Assessment states.

This environmental upheaval could derail the ruling Communist Party's plans for sustainable development, a copy of the report obtained by Reuters says.

"Climatic warming may have serious consequences for our environment of survival as China's economic sectors, such as agriculture and coastal regions, suffer grave negative effects," the report states.

Fast-industrializing China could overtake the United States as the world's top emitter of human-generated greenhouse gases as early as this year, and Beijing faces rising international calls to accept mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions from factories, fields and vehicles.

But underscoring China's commitment to achieving prosperity even as it braces for climate change, the report rejects emissions limits as unfair and economically dangerous, citing what it says are uncertainties about global warming.

"If we prematurely assume responsibilities for mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions, the direct consequence will be to constrain China's current energy and manufacturing industries and weaken the competitiveness of Chinese products in international and even domestic markets," it says.

The 400-page report was written over several years by experts and officials from dozens of ministries and agencies, representing China's first official response to global warming.

With its mixture of dire warnings and caveats, it bears the markings of bureaucratic bargaining.

China was one of a few countries that challenged claims about global warming presented in a draft report at a U.N. climate change meeting in Brussels earlier this month. That report was approved after some claims were softened and passages removed.

China's own national report says "uncertainties over climate change issues" justify rejecting international limits on greenhouse gas emissions.


But other parts of the report assert that the country's brittle environment will be severely tested by climate change.

By the end of the century, glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet highlands that feed the Yangtze river could shrink by two thirds. Further downstream, increasingly intense rainfall could "spark mud and landslides and other geological disasters" around the massive Three Gorges Dam.

Coastal cities will need to build or strengthen barriers to ward off rising sea levels.

Unless steps are taken, water scarcity and increasingly extreme weather could reduce nationwide crop production by up to 10 percent by 2030. Wheat, rice and corn growing capacity could fall by up to 37 percent in the second half of the century.

"If we do not take any actions, climate change will seriously damage China's long-term grain security," the report states.

China has repeatedly ruled out accepting mandatory international emissions limits, saying that rich countries are responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases and should not look to poorer countries for a way out.

"For a considerable time to come, developing the economy and improving people's lives remains the country's primary task," the report says.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Digging deeper for cleaner water

By Guo Qiang (

Updated: 2007-04-20 10:43

China's water pollution scares have led to well-digging businesses very busy as thousands of villagers resorted to digging120-metre-deep wells to reach cleaning drinking water, news reports said on Thursday.

And residents in Hebei province in northern China have to dig as deep as 200 metres, as shallower wells are too polluted for human consumption.

"Ten years ago, villagers dug some 20, or 30-metre-deep wells for drinking water and it cost several hundred yuan each. But water from 50-metre-deep wells are not drinkable due to pollution," an unnamed village head told the Yanzhao Metropolitan News.

"We have to drill at least 120-metre-deep wells and it costs each family 2,000 yuan (US$260) on average, which almost wipes out their annual incomes," the village head said.

Farmers' annual incomes in Hebei province, 50 miles north of Beijing was on average 3,800 yuan (US$494) in 2006.

The report added villages of Wurenqiao, Cuizhang and Nanloudi in Anguo county are the most hit by the lack of drinking water. Locals sell their grain and buy grain from other parts of China they don't believe is as polluted as theirs.

Pictures from the Yanzhao Metropolitan News show green water pumped from wells used to irrigate farmland in the county.

A villager said the priority is to look after their own health, not others. "Water pollution forces us to do that."

China is paying the price for its annual double-digit growth with severe environmental problems, including water pollution. Last week, Xinhua news agency said the country's Yangtze River, a lifeline for millions of people is now seriously and irreversibly polluted.

And the numbers are frightening. Reports said some 90 per cent of China's cities and 75 per cent of its lakes suffer from varying degrees of water pollution. This is because millions of households and industries discharge waste and sewage into its major waterways and rivers.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has admitted his country does not have a solution to the water pollution problem.

"Environmental pollution has definitely become a severe problem of China's development and this problem has not been solved very well", Wen said during a press conference last year.

The government is adding an environmentally adjusted gross domestic product (GDP) to demonstrate the waste created and environmental damage done due to economic growth.

In a move to deal with the water scares, the government is pledging to pour 30 million yuan into water treatment projects last year. And every family in China is required to pay sewage treatment fees. The amounts vary in China but each family pays on average 80 fen for every cubic metre of sewage.

Qiu Baoxing, the vice Minister of Construction said the reason behind the policy is to raise the awareness of water protection and to fund water treatment projects.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Chinese carmakers veer to green

International Herald Tribune
Friday, April 20, 2007

SHANGHAI: Worried by severe air pollution and rising dependence on imports of Middle Eastern oil, the government of China is putting enormous pressure on domestic and foreign automakers alike to help the country catch up in the use of gasoline-electric hybrid engines and other advanced technology.

Chinese automakers at the Shanghai auto show on Friday unveiled a broad array of prototypes for fuel cell cars, gasoline-electric hybrid cars and electric battery cars. The variety and sophistication showed a dramatic improvement, not just since the previous Shanghai auto show two years ago when the Chinese demonstrated scant technological innovation, but even since the Beijing auto show in November.

Multinational carmakers like General Motors and Volkswagen have begun cooperating closely with Chinese partners on the development of hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles. Larry Burns, the GM vice president for research and development, said that the company also was in talks with a Chinese joint venture partner on the sharing of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Universities and technical institutes across China have started advanced vehicle propulsion research programs, combining strong government financial backing with rapidly growing ranks of skilled engineers in China.

China has already imposed more stringent fuel economy standards than the United States - although not quite as stringent as the semi-voluntary standards that automakers have accepted in the European Union.

China has raised its consumption tax to as much as 20 percent on gas guzzlers, while cutting it to 1 percent for cars with small, fuel-sipping engines. And Chinese tax authorities are studying whether to introduce tax incentives for buyers of hybrids.

Xu Liu Ping, the chief executive of Changan Automobile in Chongqing, said that the Chinese auto industry was working with the government to improve the country's energy security through more energy-efficient designs.

Changan itself showed a hybrid gasoline-electric minivan in Shanghai; Xu said that he had lined up local governments that promised to use it, making it possible for Changan to start manufacturing the vehicle next year.

"The speed will be accelerated because available energy supplies are dwindling and because of the environmental protection aspect," Xu said in during an interview. "The central government has given broad support to energy conservation."

Rick Wagoner, the GM chairman and chief executive, and Nick Reilly, the president of GM's Asian and Pacific regional operations, met with senior Chinese officials in Beijing on Thursday to discuss the automaker's energy-efficiency plans, Reilly said. The Chinese government has not chosen among options like electric battery cars, fuel cells, hybrids, ethanol combustion and the like, but wants the industry to move quickly.

"It's absolutely at the top of the agenda" of the Chinese leadership, Reilly said.

China was a net exporter of oil as recently as 1994, but it now imports more than half of its oil.

Western environmentalists have long speculated whether China might actually leapfrog the West in personal transportation by embracing new automotive technologies before the country's oil and carmaking industries can become too wedded to internal combustion engines.

That now seems less likely as nobody has yet surmounted the technological obstacles that still prevent a broad switch from gasoline technology to hydrogen fuel cells, said Feng An, the executive director of the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation, which is based in Beijing.

Japanese companies, particularly Toyota Motor and Honda Motor, already are far ahead in the hybrid designs to which Chinese companies are now turning, said Kelly Sims Gallagher, the director of Harvard University's Energy Technology Innovation Project.

Multinationals face repeated demands from Chinese joint venture partners to share the most advanced technology available. Katsumi Nakamura, president and chief executive of Dongfeng Motor, a joint venture in Hubei province between Nissan Motor and the Dongfeng Group of China, said that the Dongfeng side had tried to negotiate an agreement that would require the sharing of the latest technology.

But at Nissan's insistence, the final pact only calls for the sharing of "appropriate" technology. There may not be enough demand in China for advanced technologies like hybrid engines to justify the cost of setting up production in China that duplicate those in Japan, Nakamura warned.

Auto executives are reluctant to mention the illegal copying of technology in China, a problem that discouraged Chrysler from even trying to build minivans in China in the 1990s.

Burns said that GM's lawyers had said that the automaker could share fuel cell technology with a joint venture partner, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, even though the automaker had collaborated with the federal government in the United States on the project. American export control laws are mainly aimed at preventing the transfer of military technology, not civilian technology, to foreign powers.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Pollution, traffic concern IOC

Posted: Thursday April 19, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Thursday April 19, 2007 12:48PM

BEIJING (AP) -- Sooty air and chronic traffic congestion in the Chinese capital is still troubling the International Olympic Committee with the Beijing Games just 16 months away.

An inspection team -- known as the IOC Coordination Commission -- wrapped up three days of talks Thursday with Beijing organizers. Hein Verbruggen, chairman of the commission, said the concerns marred largely problem-free preparations for the most widely anticipated Summer Olympics.

Verbruggen said the IOC was unsure that plans by Beijing organizers would work to clean the dirty air and unsnarl traffic during the 17-day Olympics.

The torch relay also hit a snag, with Taiwan balking at a compromise to bring the torch to the self-governing island, which claims independence from China. The torch relay is supposed to embody Olympic ideals, but it's also highlighting a charged political issue in China.

Verbruggen generally praised the Beijing organizers, saying "the attention for the Games is mounting; there is vibration all over."

"I must say that it's almost an emotional feeling you have when you imagine that in some 470 days athletes will be able to perform in this magnificent environment."

In focusing on the problems, Verbruggen said Beijing organizers had kept their promises, but China's booming economy was dirtying the air quicker than solutions could be found to cleanse it.

"We've asked for the contingency plans," Verbruggen said. "The effects of those plans will be calculated so we know if it is enough to guarantee that the quality of the air will allow the athletic performances that we expect to happen here."

He said the booming economy, with between US$40-160 billion being spent to modernize China's capital, had led to "the enormous amount of construction sites in this country; the dust problem and so on."

"This is of utmost importance to the athletes, who are the most important part of the Games."

Despite plans announced Wednesday to open at least two new subway lines before the Olympics, and proposals to reduce car usage by 20-30 percent during the Games, Verburggen said Beijing's clogged roads were worrying.

"It's totally clear with the current congestion you see in Beijing on a day to day basis, that this is something which we will obviously have to avoid during the Olympic Games," he said.

Beijing has about 3 million cars, and will have about 3.3 million by the Olympics. To ease gridlock, officials figure they will need to take about 1 million off the road for the Games. A 6-mile (10-kilometer) trip during rush hour takes an hour despite 10-lane highways that cut through the city.

"We will have a very detailed, comprehensive transportation plan to ensure things go smoothly during the Games," said Jiang Xiaoyu, executive vice president of the Beijing Organizing Committee.

This is the eighth visit by the inspectors to Beijing, with the next return set for October.

One other area was slightly worrying -- the torch relay.

Taiwan officials have rejected a proposal under which the torch would enter Taiwan from Japan, South Korea or another Asian nation -- but would depart to Hong Kong, which is part of China. Taiwan now wants the torch to enter and leave through two Asian nations -- neither of them China.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island that split for the mainland in 1949. China still claims it is part of Chinese territory. Taiwan claims independence and wants to be part of the international route rather than China's domestic torch route.

IOC officials declined to name the route on Thursday, put plans call for it to be confirmed on April 26, the final day of IOC executive board meetings in Beijing.

"Whether the torch will come to Taipei (Taiwan), we will have to wait. But by the end of the month you will have the information," Jiang said.

"I believe guided by the principles of the IOC and efforts from various parties we can find a solution to satisfy everyone," Jiang added.

Added Verbruggen, who referred to Taiwan as a "country," which is a political error in China.

"I have problems believing that a country does not want the torch relay," he said.

Verbruggen also dismissed a slight delay in completing the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest. It's slated for completion in March 2008, three month behind schedule. He said the delay was due to "works outside" the stadium.

"We have no worry whatsoever, and I wouldn't call it a delay as such," Verbruggen said. "For us there is nothing to be worried about."

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China urgently needs to protect wetlands


Updated: 2007-04-20 08:58
CHANGSHA -- China will spend 16.5 billion yuan to protect and restore its wetlands during the 11th five-year-plan period (2006-2010).

Addressing a recent forum on the Yangtze River held in Changsha, the capital of Central China's Hunan Province, Zhu Lieke, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration, said China has made an inventory of 173 wetlands, most of which are in northeast China and the Yangtze River Valley.

Thirty of the country's wetlands are listed in the international wetland catalogue, and one third of them are situated along the Yangtze.

"Phenomena such as the rapid drop in the number of lakes and fast shrinkage in lake area got worse as China's economy tears through resources," said Zhu, who warned that wetlands in the Yangtze River Valley face unprecedented ecological threats.

"The problems that plague wetlands in the Yangtze River Valley include pollution, ecological degradation and dwindling water resources," said Zhu. "The protection of our wetlands is urgent."

The 6,300-km-long Yangtze, the country's longest, originates in the Tanggula Range on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and passes through Qinghai, Tibet, Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shanghai before emptying into the East China Sea.

Wetlands in the Yangtze River Valley include salty plateau lakes and plateau marshlands, the galaxy of lakes on the middle reaches of the Yangtze, and the coastal wetland near Chongming Island at the estuary of the river.

Dongting Lake, which flows into the Yangtze River and also serves as an important wetland, for instance, is shockingly polluted. Marine life has been decimated and people are catching a disease called schistosomiasis -- caught by swimming or wading in water where there are parasitic worms.

The water area of Dongting Lake has shrunk from 4,350 sq km in 1949 to present 2,625 sq km as a result of silting and land reclamation for farming.

According to Zhu, the country has already launched three programs to protect the wetlands in the Yangtze River Valley, including the national program for conservation of wildlife, plants and nature reserves, and the program to protect the Sanjiangyuan wetland in Qinghai Province. But much remains to be done.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

China suicide bombing over land dispute

Ap News Via Yahoo

Tuesday April 17, 12:14 PM

A disgruntled farmer in southwest China has killed a village leader in a suicide bombing and injured many other local officials following a land dispute, state press reported Tuesday.

Yue Xiaobao detonated explosives strapped to his body as he approached officials from Lishan village of Yunnan province on Sunday afternoon, the Beijing Times reported.

The attack came after village leaders had destroyed Yue's crop and forced him to plant tobacco, a leading cash crop in the province, the report said.

Yue carried out the attack while officials were on an inspection tour of local farmlands, it said.

Yue and Lishan village leader Ren Xuecai were killed immediately. As of late Monday, nine others wounded were in stable condition but many were expected to lose their eyesight, it said. Most of the wounded were local officials.

Yue reportedly threatened to kill Ren after village officials destroyed his crop of sweet potatoes and forced him to grow tobacco, but Ren dismissed the threat, saying: "I'm not afraid of you."

Land rights have become one of China's most serious social issues in recent years as local officials often use their powers to implement land-use policies unpopular with local residents.

As China's real estate market has boomed over the last decade, many residents have also accused government officials of colluding with developers to cash in on the hot property market.

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Go Green, China!

Jean Yang, Quebec, Canada, April 17, 2007

The sun sets over a hazy and polluted Beijing, China. The country failed to meet targets to improve energy use and cut pollution in 2006, underscoring the difficulty of protecting the environment amid its frantic economic boom. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown / AFP-Getty Images)

In a recent environmental sustainability conference featuring presentations by former Vice-president Al Gore and Dr. David Suzuki, held in Montreal, Canada, the two environmentalists emphasized the importance of a greener planet. As China rapidly expands economically through its manufacturing sector, the issue of global warming as it relates to that country was one of the key points focused upon.

In 2006, China established its financial position as the fourth strongest nation, with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) economic output of $2.68 trillion. With constant production demands from the Western world and the influx of people rushing into the Chinese market, the nation seems triumphant in its success. However, its booming economy simultaneously brings certain environmental consequences.

Currently, 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in China, and it is the second largest emitter of energy-related carbon dioxide after the United States. China relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs, and discharges a large amount of pollutants into its rivers. The increase of the economy's energy demands is also the cause of higher greenhouse gas levels, as many Chinese companies build coal-fired plants and operate them without the government's consent.

According to a World Bank report issued in May 2006, China's greenhouse gas emissions increased by 33 percent between 1992 and 2002. However, Cheng Siwei, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress quickly defended the nation's record by stating: "China's per capita emissions still remain below the world average. If you look at the history of emissions from the 1950's to 2002, we have contributed 10 percent. How can anyone say we are responsible?"

Global warming, led by increased greenhouse gas emissions, is causing the meltdown of China's Qinghai-Tibet glaciers. Based on research conducted by the country's Aero Geophysical Survey and Remote Sensing Center for Land and Resources, the glaciers have been melting at 131.4km a year over the last 30 years and will likely be reduced to a third of their current size by 2050, if global warming persists.

The water level in the Yangtze River is another sign of China's progress leading to environmental damage. Chinese hydrologists state that the river's water level is at its lowest in 140 years due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. This is causing a change of volume of water flows in some of China's lush valleys, in turn producing a severe shortage of water for millions of people in the central and western parts of the country. The situation is even more critical in northern areas, where the rivers are now running dry. The Yellow River, also known as the China Sorrow, has lost its ability to inflict destructive floods, and has run dry for 226 days. According to environmentalist Wang Yongchen, the water crisis is due to logging and draining of lakes, and by the over-exploitation of water resources.

Besides the water shortage in China, the waterways are also polluted. It is estimated that 70 percent of China's rivers and lakes are contaminated, with approximately 200 million tons of sewage and industrial waste pouring into them.

The water calamity is not the only critical factor that could lead to environmental catastrophe. The deforestation of China is also an alarming issue that geographers and environmentalists have been keeping a close eye on. It is estimated that the deforestation, caused by low rate fertilizers and farm chemicals, has created groundwater pollution, reduced land fertility, and caused geographical desertification by soil erosion in agricultural areas.

It is estimated that the desertification will lead to a loss of 5,800 square miles of grassland every year, which is approximately the size of Connecticut. The Minister of Forestry in China believes that, if no effective measures are adopted, desertification will expand by as much as 1,430 square miles annually over the next 10 years. The erosion of the soil has led to an increase of sandstorms in Beijing, and causes roughly a third of China's air pollution. The environmental degradation is not only negatively impacting China, but has also affected the air in Korea and Japan.

According to a new report released by the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in January 2007, the world has 10 years to reverse carbon emissions, or climate change could lead to many parts of the planet becoming inhabitable. Nevertheless, under the conditions of the United Nations' Kyoto protocol, China as a developing country is under no obligation to cut emissions during the pact's first phase until 2012. The situation was worrisome to politicians gathered at the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland. According to participants at the Davos forum, major emerging economies like China and India need to pay more attention to their greenhouse gas emissions.

As China represents one-sixth of the world's population and with an economy growing at 10 percent a year, its pollution has become a growing concern for those who see a possible forthcoming environmental disaster. If the country continues to discharge as much pollution as the Western countries did during their industrialization, the impact of global warming will become irreversible, and potentially lethal to the future of human civilization.

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Attempt to save polluted Chinese lake leads to arrest

By Andreas Landwehr From Monsters and

Apr 17, 2007, 18:54 GMT

Beijing - The arrest of a prominent Chinese environmental activist who has campaigned for years against the pollution of Taihu Lake along the Yangtze River has once again drawn attention to the issue of how China deals with dissent.

Wu Lihong was hauled away from his home by police on Friday night as friends and neighbours tried in vain to prevent his arrest. 'He is a thorn in the side of local authorities,' a friend explained.

Wu has been documenting the dramatic increase in the pollution of the third-largest freshwater lake in China for several years. He has also accused civil servants and companies of nepotism.

He grew up beside Taihu Lake, the third-largest lake in China, which is located in the Yangtze Delta plain on the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

The lake is a natural holding pool of the Yangtze River and covers an area of 2,300 square kilometres. It has been known as the Pearl of the Yangtze Delta.

However, the lake has turned into a green-brown brew, its fish are dying and a conspicuous number of people living nearby have died of cancer.

After all, 40 million people living in the districts of Jiangsu and Shanghai get their drinking water from Lake Taihu. A dangerous accumulation of fertilisers and industrial wastewater has been detected in 70 per cent of its water.

The lack of oxygen, caused by pollution, could damage and ultimately destroy the ecology of Lake Taihu.

Officers of the town of Yixing, which is located within eastern China's economical Boomtown Jiangsu, have desired to silence the 39- year-old for a long time. When the last attempt to hush him failed, they sent a large number of police.

Officials in Yixing are believed to have identified Wu as a real threat. 'About 50 to 60 police officers surrounded our house,' his wife, Xu Jiehau said on Tuesday. 'They knocked in our door and stormed into the house.' Wu was marched off.

'They searched every bit, every book, even the attic.' Wu's computer, his camera and his credit cards were confiscated by police.

'They packed everything in,' said his wife. When police were asked, what crime Wu had committed, they said, he had 'messed about with foreigners.'

Wu has granted interviews to German and other foreign media interviews about his campaign.

His case is reminiscent of that of farmer Fu Xiancai, who claimed compensation after having been resettled from the Three Gorges Dam area in central China.

He also gave interviews to foreign media. Police warned him that such interviews would have 'no good consequences.' On his return from the police station he was struck from behind by unknown attackers. The farmer has been a paraplegic since. He is undergoing treatment at a rehabilitation clinic in Beijing.

Wu was also beaten. But this time it is even more serious: He put pressure on local authorities by sending photographs, samples of the polluted water and petitions to parliament and China's Ministry of Environment in Beijing. Now they plan to accuse him of 'blackmail,' Wu's wife alleges.

'The propagandists and security people tried repeatedly to persuade Wu not to petition any more as local officials had to go to Beijing to account for his actions,' his friend said.

According to his friend, the activist did not want to cooperate with them. Quite the contrary: He had planned to reveal new evidence of their failure before a Beijing court on the occasion of Earth Day on Sunday.

'Shortly before, Wu Lihong is arrested. Is that a coincidence?'

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140 hospitalized after chemical discharge in SW China


Updated: 2007-04-17 22:38

GUIYANG - About 140 children and their teachers are in hospital after sulfur dioxide discharge by a plant in southwest China's Guizhou Province, a local official said on Tuesday.

A chemical plant, which produces triple superphosphate (TSP), a chemical fertilizer, at the Xiaozhaiba Township of Xifeng County, discharged a huge amount of sulfur dioxide into sky on Monday morning, said Huang Yonghui, executive deputy head of the county.

The sulfur dioxide, a colorless and extremely irritating gas or liquid which can affect the lungs and lead to breathing difficulties, could not disperse quickly because of the heavy fog at the time, said Huang.

As a result, five teachers and about 135 students from two primary schools and a middle school reported respiratory problems and were sent to a local hospital, Huang said.

An unspecified number of children and teachers were still receiving treatment at the hospital, including six children in "a serious, but not critical condition", he said.

He declined to give the exact number of the people still in hospital, saying many were quickly discharged.

Local authorities are carrying out further investigations into the incident, he said.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

China’s Signals on Warming

The New York Times

April 16, 2007

Two factors are crucial to the success of any global system to reduce greenhouse gases. One is American leadership; the other is China’s full participation. Despite President Bush’s diffidence, there has been mounting pressure for the United States to assume a more aggressive role from mayors, governors, some in Congress and, lately, even the Supreme Court. And now there are some modestly encouraging signs from China.

During a visit to Tokyo last week, China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, announced that his country was prepared to take part in negotiations on a new agreement limiting global warming emissions, to replace Kyoto Protocol provisions that expire in 2012. China is not subject to the accord’s binding emissions targets, but its commitment to talk raises real hope that it may be open to the idea.

Japan and China also agreed to work together to reduce emissions. Both sides have strong economic motives for doing so. Japan, already one of the world’s most energy-efficient countries, is having a hard time further reducing its emissions as required under the Kyoto agreement. It can earn credits to help meet its obligations by investing in clean-energy projects in developing countries like China, which in turn would help China’s economy and give it access to new technologies.

China may be beginning to grasp that climate change poses a danger to itself as well as everyone else. But experts agree that China — which should soon surpass the United States as the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide — will never come to grips with the problem until it imposes mandatory limits on greenhouse gases as called for by Kyoto and accepted by most industrialized nations, with the United States a glaring exception.

Such caps would be costly medicine, which China is unlikely to swallow as long as the United States doesn’t do so as well — thus using America as a cover for inaction just as Mr. Bush is using China to excuse his own. The Democrats in Congress could help break that stalemate, and further encourage China to engage the issue, by establishing strong and credible emissions limits for this country.

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Sandstorm from northern China to hit Taiwan today

Dust particles blown across the Taiwan Strait from a sandstorm that arose in China's Inner Mongolia region on Saturday will begin to undermine Taiwan's air quality today, environmental officials said yesterday.

It will be the third sandstorm to hit Taiwan so far this year, and the effect will be more evident than before, officials with the Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) said.

When the floating dust hits northern Taiwan today, EPA officials said, the micro particle pollution density may range between 150 and 250 microgram/cu m, surpassing the normal level by 100 to 200 microgram/cu m.

The floating dust is not expected to dissipate until Tuesday afternoon, the officials said, adding that the air quality in central and southern Taiwan will also be affected as dust particles move southward along with a rainy front that hit Taiwan late Saturday.

Worse still, the officials said, North Pacific high pressure systems have been gaining strength in recent days, and may bring more dust particles. As most parts of the island will become sunny again on Monday due mainly to the rainy front going away, there should be no rain to "purify" the sandstorm.

With unusually high levels of dust pollution looming, EPA officials advised people with asthma and other respiratory diseases, as well as the elderly and children, to be on guard and to refrain from going outdoors or engaging in heavy outdoor exercise on Monday and Tuesday, particularly those residing in northern, northeastern, and central mountain regions. Such people were also advised to wear mouth masks if they have to go outdoors.

Local people can access the EPA Web site at to learn more about the air quality, according to EPA officials.

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China tells provinces to up guzzlers' power tariffs

BEIJING, April 16 (Reuters) - China's top economic planning agency has ordered provincial governments to fall in line with its policy of charging energy-guzzling industries more for electricity, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday. The National Development and Reform Commission told local governments they had until the end of the month to implement a directive it introduced in September, which raised power prices for energy-intensive industries including cement, aluminium, steel and ferro-alloy, Xinhua said. Not only had many local governments failed to implement the measures properly, but 14 of them continued to offer preferential power tariffs for such industries, Xinhua said. Xinhua did not name the provinces, but said that inspection teams would visit them in May to check on their progress in implementing the measures. Those that failed to comply could see applications for new power plants rejected, it said. Grid companies that flouted the measures would also be punished, with individual managers held individually responsible, it said. China aims to cut the amount of energy it uses per dollar of national income by 20 percent by 2010 as part of a drive to curb growing pollution and dependence on foreign oil, but failed to meet its target last year. It has recently stepped up efforts to improve efficiency in the power sector, saying earlier this year that it would require firms that want to build new coal-fired power plants to shut down smaller, older generating units at the same time. In a sign of its growing clout, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) announced in January that it had suspended new environmental permits for many companies, including power firms Huaneng Group and China Guodian Corp. It later lifted the ban on the two firms after they shut down or cleaned up polluting plants.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Regional Pollution Could Overwhelm Beijing's Clean Air Efforts

BEIJING, China, April 13, 2007 (ENS) - Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Beijing Municipality says it will employ new measures to raise the number of days of good air quality to 67 percent and cut down the emission of sulfur dioxide by 10 percent this year. But control of Beijing's air quality is not entirely in the city's hands. New research shows pollution blows in from other cities in the region.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said today that to bring the coal-burning pollutants under control, the city will use new energy sources to replace coal for the 1,105 remaining coal-fired boilers under 20 tons in the downtown area.

Coal will be replaced by other sources of power for the 20,000 families living in one-story houses in the Dongcheng and Xicheng districts, and for residents living within the Fifth-Ring Road, an area where urban and rural areas overlap.


Beijing can have blue sky... (Photo courtesy Galen Frysinger)
To control vehicle pollutants, authorities are going to enforce the IV national emission standard for new vehicles in 2008.

In addition, a total of 2,580 old buses and 5,000 taxis and other highly polluting vehicles will be taken off the roads, the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau said. In 2006, 15,000 polluting taxis and over 3,000 buses were eliminated while 4,000 natural gas driven buses were put into operation.

New measures are being put in place to control industrial pollution within the Beijing Municipality.

The Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau says the city's five coal-burning power plants will complete their dust removal, desulfuration and denitration plans.

The Capital Steel Plant must cut down production by four million tons, while the No II Chemical Plant and the Organic Chemical Plant will stop production altogether.

Since 1988 Beijing has gone through 12 phases of air quality control. During the 13th phase in 2007, the city will also strive to control dust pollution, protect its ecological environment and promote the Green Olympics concept, according to the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau.


or not... (Photo courtesy The Red Collection)
The objectives for the Olympic Games period set in 2004 by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games, BOCOG, are that concentrations of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone should meet World Health Organization guidelines, and that particle concentrations should be comparable to levels in major cities in the developed countries.

But a study of Beijing's air quality just completed by a joint team of Chinese and U.S. scientists concludes that emission sources far from Beijing exert a significant influence on Beijing's air quality.

To ensure a healthy atmosphere for athletes and spectators at the 2008 Summer Olympics, scientists at Tsinghua University, Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have been working with the U.S. Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of Tennessee.

The team has researched and modeled the local and regional contributors to Beijing's air quality, leading to a greater understanding of regional air quality management and development of new emission control strategies.

One model by Chinese scientists found that emissions in China's third largest city, Tianjin, contributed 10 to 33 percent of the smog in Beijing.

The same study found that emissions in Hebei Province contributed six to 13 percent to Beijing smog pollution.

Tianjin Municipality borders Hebei province to the north, south, and west - the municipality of Beijing is to the northwest.

"Typical industrial, coal-burning cities within several hundred kilometers of Beijing add to the local pollution," said David Streets, a senior scientist in Argonne's Decision and Information Sciences Division. "In these areas, emission controls on stationary sources and vehicles are not as stringent as in Beijing, and emissions are high.

"Air quality in Beijing in the summertime is dictated by meteorology and topography," Street explained. Each province's contribution varies greatly from day to day, depending on wind direction and other meteorological factors.

"Typically, temperatures are high, humidity is high, wind speeds are low, and the surrounding hills restrict venting of pollution. Thus, regional pollutants and ozone build up over several days until dispersed by wind or removed by rain," he said.


A Beijing smoker takes a break next to an advertisement for the 2008 Summer Olympics. (Photo courtesy Natalie Behring)
Steve Page, director of EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, said, "Over the past several years, Beijing has implemented a number of measures to improve air quality, and China is now looking at regional approaches to meeting air quality standards similar to successful approaches used in the U.S. The air quality improvements from their actions will benefit everyone."

The report, "Air quality during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games," concludes that, even in the event that Beijing generates no manmade emissions, levels of ?ne particulate matter, PM, and ozone could still be high and could exceed healthful levels under unfavorable meteorological conditions.

"Because the limit of zero emissions cannot be achieved in practice, and because China is presently undergoing tremendous economic growth, the threat of higher regional emissions and higher concentrations of ?ne PM and ozone by 2008 is very real," the report states.

This report has been widely cited by Chinese policy makers, including the Beijing mayor, in requesting that the central government implement unprecedented regional control programs to ensure that the air quality goals for 2008 will be met in Beijing.

Click here to read the report, "Air quality during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games." Technorati Tags: , , ,

Friday, April 13, 2007

All Steamed Up

Xianyang, China, was once a great place to live--during the Qin dynasty, anyway, more than 2,000 years ago. Since then, it has gone pretty much downhill. Today Xianyang is one of the most polluted cities in a very polluted country, partly as a result of the air-fouling coal that's burned to generate much of its power. The air in Reykjavík, by contrast, is crystal clear, because nothing is burned there. Iceland's capital gets 100% of its heat and 40% of its electricity from geothermal power. (The rest comes from hydropower.) The same forces that have scattered no fewer than 130 volcanoes across the tiny country bring molten rock relatively close to the surface everywhere. When this encounters underground water, it generates steam, which is tapped to produce clean, renewable electricity.

All of which explains why a group of engineers from the Icelandic power company Enex have left the pure air of Reykjavík behind to work in smoggy Xianyang. The ancient Chinese city might just have the geothermal resources to become the Reykjavík of the East. In December engineers from both countries completed the first stage of a joint venture that could eventually provide geothermal-powered heating to millions of people in Xianyang. If the project is successful, the city will eventually have the biggest such system in the world.

That would be good for everyone. Last year alone, China added 102 gigawatts to its electrical grid--roughly twice the total capacity of California's--and about 90% of that came from carbon-belching coal plants. Geothermal energy can at least make a start on cleaning up this mess. The China Energy Research Society expects 110 gigawatt hours (GWh) to be produced through geothermal power nationally by 2010, out of 2.7 million GWh in total. That's a tiny slice, but energy experts believe China has the potential to do much more. "There are geothermal resources in almost every province in China," says Ingvar Fridleifsson, director of the United Nations University Geothermal Training Program in Reykjavík. Geothermal pumps will even be used to heat and cool some of the venues at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

It's the Chinese government that has committed the country to tapping its geothermal potential. But as is often the case, it's newly entrepreneurial citizens who are making things happen. One Chinese student who studied geothermal technology in Reykjavík went home to transform what had been a peasant village into a model geothermal development, with housing, pools and a recreation park all heated geothermally. "People can say a lot of things about the Chinese government," says Hans Bragi Bernhardsson, head of China operations for Enex. "But if they decide to do something, they achieve it." In this case, let's hope so.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

China to conduct survey on polluters

(Xinhua) via Updated: 2007-04-12 08:40 BEIJING -- In a bid to capture an overall picture of how much pollution is emitted, China's State Council, or the cabinet, has decided to launch the first-ever nationwide survey of all polluters.

The decision was made at a conference chaired by Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan.

"In recent years, China's rapid economic growth has given rise to more pollution discharge, while the existing data has been insufficient for environmental surveillance," Zeng said.

The survey, scheduled to begin in 2008, is mainly aimed at finding the number, sector and geographical distribution of the polluters in the country, including those in industrial, agricultural and residential areas, according to Zeng.

Statistics show that there are more than 1.45 million industrial enterprises in China, but only 80,000 of them have been included in the government's key surveillance data.

Early this month, China's environment watchdog for the first time made public a list of more than 6,000 industrial polluters, which analysts say will be under mounting pressure to clean up their act.

China targets oil and gas thieves

(Reuters) via Updated: 2007-04-12 09:06 BEIJING - China will launch a new police campaign to snare gangs that illegally drill for oil or steal from oil and gas pipelines, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

Police would investigate theft of oil and gas in provinces through which China's West-East pipeline runs, from Xinjiang in the far west to Shandong in the east, Xinhua on Wednesday reported Liu Jinguo, vice minister of Public Security, as saying.

The eight-month campaign will follow investigations that helped bust 650 gangs last year, resulting in theft charges being laid against some 7,500 people, it said.

China arrested more than 4,500 people for theft of oil, illegally drilling for oil and gas or damaging pipelines in 2006, Xinhua reported in January.

Last year's crackdown netted 9,000 tonnes of oil, or 65,700 barrels, a haul worth several million dollars but a drop in the ocean of China's demand of nearly 7 million barrels per day.

Most of the thieves were farmers and villagers tapping into crude and gas pipelines that pass near their houses, and diverting the fuel into crude plastic bags or balloons.

The oil is often sold to small illegal refineries that are shut down by authorities due to heavy pollution.

Monday, April 09, 2007

U.N. report raises pressure on China to cut pollution

Economic growth has brought environmental disaster, but fixing it is complicated by politics, poverty and tradition.
By Mark Magnier Times Staff Writer April 8, 2007 BEIJING — As China's economy roars ahead, leaving Technicolor rivers and polluted skies in its wake, the world's most populous nation has struggled to craft environmental policies that will appease growing numbers of critics at home and abroad. Traditionally, many of the issues outlined in Friday's ominous United Nations report on climate change have been framed here, as elsewhere, as a trade-off between clean air and jobs. Yet it's also becoming increasingly evident that the division is not so clear-cut. Some studies estimate that pollution exacts a 7% to 10% cost on China's economy. Complicating what passes for an environmental debate in China are political sensitivities, a controlled media, widespread rural poverty and a long tradition of top-down government wary of too much "meddling" by citizens. For two decades, China has made economic growth a priority. The results have been impressive as the country becomes a bigger player on the global stage and hundreds of millions of its people are lifted out of extreme poverty. But the cost has been high. China is home to 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities, the World Bank concluded in a report last week. Officials here have acknowledged that 410,000 deaths a year are caused by pollution. And China is projected to surpass the United States and become the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases by 2009. The U.N. report released Friday, which warned of the catastrophic results of global warming, served as a pointed indictment of the world's biggest producers of pollution. Lagging behind Many of China's neighbors, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, were able to pollute their way to prosperity and pay for the cleanup afterward. China, which comes to the development game late, is under growing international pressure to tackle its environmental problems at the same time, given its huge planetary footprint. By some accounts, China remains two decades behind the United States in its environmental standards and as much as three decades behind Europe. In response, Chinese leaders have set targets designed to promote alternate fuels, recycling and "green economic growth." These include vows by Beijing to get 16% of the nation's energy from renewable sources by 2020, double today's rate, and to become 20% more energy efficient by 2010. Unlike the United States, China has signed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, although it is not required to reduce its carbon emissions under the agreement. And in two weeks, Beijing is set to release a national climate change plan that, though unlikely to break new ground, will consolidate and bring more focus to existing rules. The effort, however, faces a host of problems. Many of the laws and regulations passed by the central government are routinely ignored or otherwise undermined by local officials because of corruption, mismanagement, greed and a system that hands out promotions based on economic growth. "This is a big problem," said Yang Ailun, campaign manager for energy and climate change with Greenpeace China. "An important task for the central government is to design a framework for local implementation, rather than just issuing orders from above." Mixed awareness Although environmental awareness among the general public is growing, the picture is still mixed, reflecting divisions within Chinese society. Increasingly prosperous middle-class urban residents of Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing are voicing concerns. But many impoverished rural residents remain more focused on filling their rice bowls than rattling for quality-of-life improvements. Still, the nation is seeing growing outrage and more violent protests as crops wither and children are born with birth defects caused by chemicals leaking from factories. Heart disease and respiratory problems linked to air pollution are among the leading causes of death in China, experts say, with acid rain now falling on 30% of the country. Much of this information is successfully covered up by local officials holding an iron grip on the press and police. And victims have been prevented from organizing by a legal system that discourages class-action lawsuits. China also has kept nongovernmental organizations on a relatively short leash, wary of any movement that might one day challenge the Communist Party's monopoly on political power. Registration and funding rules have been tightened, some activist environmental groups have been shut down, and other restrictions have been enacted to ensure organizations remain small. The structure of the Chinese government creates other problems. Although the State Environmental Protection Administration, or SEPA, was elevated to the ministry level a few years ago, it is still far outgunned in terms of personnel and budget by ministries that oversee resource extraction, construction, industry and land use. Even within SEPA, officials' hands are tied. In a quirk of the Chinese governmental hierarchy, local SEPA inspectors are paid by and otherwise dependent on the mayors and local Communist Party secretaries they are supposed to oversee, creating potential conflicts of interest. Carbon trading Beijing has not denied the scope of climate change or its potential consequences for China. But its basic position remains that developed countries must take the lead. It also argues that globalization has dealt it a disproportionate share of the problem, given the relocation of many energy-intensive, polluting industries to China, including steel, aluminum, cement, paper, chemicals and petrochemicals. One early bright spot has been China's growing interest in carbon trading, under which pollution rights are traded globally in an effort to bring down overall carbon dioxide output. Beijing has expressed interest in the idea. Not only would it allow the central government to show critics that it's trying to be a responsible global citizen, the system promises to bring investment to local governments, create jobs and improve environments. "It's a fabulous opportunity for China to do the right thing, and lots of projects will be developed that wouldn't be otherwise," said Scott Lamont, chief executive of Beijing-based Clean Energy Services, a carbon trading firm. "The main concern, though, is that there be ongoing monitoring. You have to make sure what the money is allocated for actually gets built, as with any industry in China."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The climate divide: Rich nations find it easier to adapt

International Herald Tribune

Monday, April 2, 2007

Over the last few decades, as scientists have intensified their studies of the human effects on climate and of the effects of climate change on humans, a common theme has emerged: in both respects, the world is a very unequal place.

In almost every instance, the people most at risk from climate change live in countries that have contributed least to the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to the recent warming of the planet.

Those most vulnerable countries also tend to be the poorest. And the countries that face the least harm - and are best equipped to deal with the harm they do face - tend to be the richest.

To advocates of unified action to curb greenhouse gases, this growing realization is not welcome news.

"The original idea was that we were all in this together, and that was an easier idea to sell," said Robert Mendelsohn, an economist at Yale University.

"But the research is not supporting that. We're not in it together."

The large industrialized countries are more resilient partly because of geography; they are mostly in mid-latitude regions with Goldilocks climates - neither too hot nor too cold.

Many enjoy gifts like the thick rich soil and generous growing season of the American corn belt or the forgiving weather of France and New Zealand.

But a bigger factor is their wealth - wealth built at least partly on a century or more of burning coal, oil and the other fossil fuels that underlie their mobile, industrial, climate-controlled way of life.

The United States, where just 4 percent of the economy is in agriculture, can endure a climatic setback far more easily than a country like Malawi, where 90 percent of the population is rural and where about 40 percent of the economy is driven by rain-fed agriculture.

As big developing countries like China and India climb out of poverty, they emit their own volumes of greenhouse gases; China is about to surpass the United States in annual emissions of carbon dioxide.

But they remain a small fraction of the total human contribution to the atmosphere's natural heat-holding greenhouse effect, which is cumulative because of the long-lived nature of carbon dioxide and some other heat-trapping gases.

China may be a powerhouse now, but it has contributed less than 8 percent of the total emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use since 1850, while the United States is responsible for 29 percent and Western Europe 27 percent.

Disparities like these have prompted a growing array of officials in developing countries and experts on climate, environmental law and diplomacy to insist that the first world owes the third world a climate debt.

"We have an obligation to help countries prepare for the climate changes that we are largely responsible for," said Peter Gleick, a co-founder of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Berkeley, California.

Around the world, there are abundant examples of how wealth is already enabling some countries to gird against climatic and coastal risks while poverty, geography and history are placing some of the world's most crowded, vulnerable regions directly in harm's way.

Here are four views of the climate divide:

Twice a day, 25-year-old Harold Nkhoma checks a series of gauges at the government's weather station here in Malawi's second-biggest city.

He skips the barometer because its light doesn't work and he can't read the figures. He has waited six months for new batteries.

He ignores the evaporation pan designed to show how quickly water is absorbed into the soil. Peeled-off paint and missing wire mesh have left it useless. And he bypasses the glass sphere that measures the duration of sunshine by burning marks on paper strips.

It has been out of paper for four years.

His supervisor, Werani Chilenga, is disgusted. Broken equipment, outmoded technology, slipshod data and a sparse scattering of weather stations are all his national agency can manage on a $160,000 budget.

"We cannot even know the duration of sunshine in our country for four years, so how can we measure climate change?" asked Chilenga, a meteorological engineer. "Oh, oh, it is pathetic!"

Lack of meteorological data is just one challenge as Malawi struggles to cope with global warming. Add to that lack of irrigation; overdependence on a single crop, maize; shrinking fish stocks; vanishing forests; and land degradation.

Last March, Malawi, one of the world's poorest countries with 14 million people, identified $23 million worth of urgent measures it should take in the next three years. It delivered them to the United Nations program to help poor nations deal with climate change.

A year later, the government is still negotiating with donors. "It is sad that up until now we have not gotten the monies that have been talked about," said Henry Chimunthu Banda, the minister of energy, mines and natural resources.

That is not to say Malawi is standing still. The government is moving toward bigger grain reserves, changes in agricultural practices and construction of a new dam. Nine out of 10 Malawians are subsistence farmers.

Austin Kampen, 39, is an early adapter. A nonprofit group last year gave him hoses and a large bucket, a rudimentary but effective crop sprinkler system.

He plants a variety of maize more likely to survive shorter growing seasons and backs it up with cotton, cassava, potatoes and other vegetables.

He still lost his entire harvest in January when a river overflowed

after a week of nonstop rain, submerging his seven-acre field and leaving 75 of his neighbors homeless. Still, he said, he will manage to plant anew this season.

Looking out over a sparkling blue bay on Australia's west coast, Gary Crisp, an alchemist for the new century, saw an ocean of drinking water.

Behind him was an industrial park filled with tanks, pipes, screens, filters and chemicals for converting seawater into drinking water, providing 17 percent of the water supply for this city of 1.5 million people.

As the world warms and clean water becomes a prized commodity, the Perth Seawater Desalination Plant is using the renewable resources of wind and ocean to produce it, along with a finite resource that is less available in many other countries: money.

The 435 million New Zealand dollar, or $313 million, plant, among the largest in world, opened in November and is already running at capacity, producing up to 144 million liters, or 38 million gallons, of water a day at a cost of $3.50 per $3,800 liters.

The seawater is sucked into the plant through a pipeline whose mouth is 200 yards offshore. Once inside, it is filtered through fine membranes in a complex process called reverse osmosis. About half the water is purified and sent into the city water system, to mingle with water from other sources. The salt is flushed back out to the ocean.

The plant is one of the newest in a rapid spread of desalination plants in countries that can afford them, particularly in the Middle East, where oil pays for water. Southern California is home to many smaller plants.

What sets the Perth plant apart is not only its size but its engine - wind power. The plant is driven by power from 48 turbines in the Emu Downs Wind Farm, about 160 kilometers, or 100 miles to the north, that can produce 80 megawatts of electricity a day, more than three times the needs of the plant. That avoids the trade-off at most desalination plants, which are powered by fossil fuels that produce greenhouse gases.

"We call it alchemy - converting wind to water," said Crisp, the Perth plant's principal desalination engineer.

The treated water offers people here in the world's most arid continent "security through diversity," in the local phrase, complementing dams, aquifers and recycling. Water conservation could be a powerful tool, but few politicians dare to suggest any measures more aggressive than limiting the use of lawn sprinklers - a privation Perth's plant is helping to avoid.

Australia is suffering some of the worst droughts in its recorded history. Stream flows into dams in Perth have shrunk by two-thirds in the last 30 years, even as its population swells by more than 20,000 people a year.

Perth is talking about building one and perhaps two more plants in the coming years, and similar plants are in early stages of development in Sydney and the town of Tugun in Queensland.

Having proved itself, the plant will have its official opening next month.

Year after year, the Bagmati River swells with the rains and, rushing down from the Himalayas, submerges this back-of-beyond village into utter ruin.

Year after year, it sweeps away cattle and goats. It sends mud houses collapsing back into the earth. It kills dozens of people in and around Dhanaur, and that's during a mild monsoon, like last year, when Pavan Devi's 19-year-old son, Vikas Kumar, went to a communal toilet in the fields, and was swept away by a fast-moving stream.

In 2004, the last major flood, the death toll stood at 351 in Bihar State, which is home to this village and many others sitting on some of the most vulnerable flood plains in India.

Their vulnerability is likely to grow. Since 1950, in concert with global warming, rains over India have come in heavy downpours rather than gentle showers, Indian scientists reported last year. That pattern is raising the risk of sudden floods.

The picture in this destitute, crowded corner shows how ill-equipped India remains in dealing with that looming danger, despite its newfound prosperity. Nationwide, about 8 million hectares, or 20 million acres, of land are affected by floods each year, according to the government; they affect 4.2 million Indians each year on average, according to Columbia University.

Here in Dhanaur, for nearly three months of the monsoon season, everyone lives at the water's mercy. The well-off save their firewood and food grains for the annual disaster. The poor beg and borrow to eat, and they camp out on higher ground in tents made of cement bags.

They bathe and defecate in the floodwater. They drink from it, too. Who can afford to boil it before drinking, a father of six named Hira Majhi asked. Last year, after his 4-year-old son contracted black fever, a deadly disease endemic here, Majhi rowed for an hour, in a homemade canoe made of water hyacinth leaves. No government ambulances ply here.

The measures taken by the government to adapt to the annual floods are rudimentary at best. Construction on embankments upstream was suspended 30 years ago, and is scheduled to resume later this year. Enterprising villagers have built bamboo bridges.

Last year, for the first time, the government put an early warning system into effect. Local officials went around with a bullhorn, on cycle-pulled rickshaws, warning of imminent flooding. But there were no shelters to go to, except the local village school, where there were no drinking water or latrines.

In mid-March, the Bagmati rose up during an unexpectedly early spring flood. In less than a day, it wreaked havoc.

Sunil Kumar, one of the more well-to-do farmers here, lost three acres of wheat, a third of his annual income. He walked across his own soggy field and then across his neighbors', examining patches of barley and mustard and peas all waterlogged and ruined.

"It is our misfortune living here," he said. "There is no system of water control."

Anne van der Molen lives on the edge of the Maas River, by definition an insecure spot in a country constantly trying to keep water at bay. But she is ready for the next flood.

Excited, even. "We haven't floated," she said of her house, "but we're looking forward to floating."

Her two-bedroom, two-story house, which cost about $420,000, is not a houseboat, and not a floating house of the sort common across the world. It is amphibious: resting on land but built to rise as the water level rises.

It sits on a hollow concrete foundation and is attached to six iron mooring posts sunk into the lake bottom. Should the river swell, as it often does in the rain, the house will float up with it - by as much as 18 feet - and then float back down, held in place by the poles, as the water subsides.

It is part of a new experiment in living. The 46 houses here are meant to address two issues at the heart of the housing debate in this low-lying, densely populated country, said Steven de Boer, a concept developer at Dura Vermeer, the company that developed the project.

Van der Molen loves the feeling of being almost part of the river.

"Dutch people have always had to fight against the water," she said.

"This is another way of thinking about it. This is a way to enjoy the water, to work with it instead of against it."

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