China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Sunday, October 28, 2007

China's Eco-Entrepreneurs

Christina L. Madden

August 15, 2007

Mist over Dongtan Marsh. Photo by laughterwym (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0).
Mist over Dongtan Marsh. China plans to build a model eco-city in the area. Photo by laughterwym (CC).

China surpassed the United States this year as the world's top producer of carbon dioxide emissions. This came as no surprise given China's size, growth, and environmental record. According to the World Bank, 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities are in China, and as many as 750,000 premature deaths occur in China each year due to water and air pollution. Although the country's civil society is similarly stifled, the Chinese environmental movement has taken great strides—and made great progress—in combating the harms of rapid development.

China's social entrepreneurs have taken up the environment as a principal concern, aided by international expertise and funding for a range of activities. The Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation has partnered with design and engineering firm Arup to build the Dongtan eco-village on a marshy island off the coast of Shanghai. Dongtan, slated to sustain 500,000 people with renewable energy and emission-free transportation, could serve as a model for green development in other cities around the world.

To promote sustainable projects in China's already inhabited areas, New Ventures, a project of the World Resources Institute, funds Chinese businesses that focus on organic agriculture, clean technology, and renewable energy. And a group called Green Choice has used a State Environmental Protection Agency document to create a blacklist of polluting companies so that consumers can avoid selected products.

Eco-entrepreneurs can also be found in China's rural areas. Cao Hai Nature Reserve receives support from the Trickle Up Program and the International Crane Foundation to implement microfinance programs designed to encourage conservation through small business. The goal is community development that provides local farmers with alternative sources of income so as to decrease their dependence on behaviors that harm the Reserve, such as fishing, hunting, and land clearing. Rather than merely setting regulations, the Reserve now cooperates with farmers and allows them to develop their own solutions to the area's environmental problems, giving them business skills to create and run their own enterprises. This model has been used to develop more than 800 small businesses across China, and local governments have begun earmarking funds to emulate the process.

Nongovernmental organizations have been similarly effective at developing innovative methods to promote environmental awareness and participation across various sectors of society. Friends of Nature (FON), the oldest environmental NGO in China, stands out in this regard. FON organizes environmental camps through its Antelope Van project, a mobile classroom designed to bring eco-friendly projects to schools in China's rural areas and raise environmental consciousness among young people. FON also trains teachers to better promote environmental values in their classrooms, and has co-sponsored, along with Shell Foundation, contests for Chinese students to propose ideas for better environmental policies.

The organization's activities go beyond raising awareness. FON began discussions with Beijing's hotels in 2000 to implement green hotel certification in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. FON will also monitor and assess the environmental implications of the Olympics, and will be guiding Olympic visitors on environmental tours of Beijing's neighborhoods through a partnership with Green Map System, a New York-based civil society collaborative.

Green Map System opened a branch in FON's Beijing office in 2004, with dozens of volunteers coming together to map out the Shichahai area so that tourists and community members can explore the area's parks and lakes and find out where to rent bicycles and receive pedicab tours. The maps also include reminders of some of the consequences of rapid environmental changes, such as road congestion and deteriorating water quality.

FON, while an exemplar, is not the only organization engaged in this work. Despite constraints such as rigid registration processes and funding shortages, more than 2,000 environmental NGOs exist in China, not including those that skirt regulations by registering as for-profit entities, and unregistered student and community groups. These other groups work to educate journalists on environmental issues, engage with industries to create energy efficiency standards, and use technology such as text-messaging and blogging to steer clear of censorship regulations and spread awareness of environmental problems.

On the policy side, public outreach is having an effect. Environmental protests against dam construction and chemical plants have become more common, drawing tens of thousands of Chinese civilians. The government has been responsive. In January 2005, the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) halted construction of 30 infrastructure projects in 13 provinces pending more in-depth environmental assessments.

China's most recent five-year development plan allotted $175 billion to environmental protection and includes language about conserving resources and moving toward a recycling economy. The government has largely recognized the role NGOs can play in developing environmental policies and garnering the social capital needed to implement them. To this end, the Chinese Communist Party recently introduced a decree that orders public disclosure of official information regarding environmental issues, a move that will allow citizens to petition the government to release such information.

Despite these trends, the environmental movement should not be confused with systemic political reform in China. Instead, these activities have been labeled "advocacy with Chinese characteristics" (a reference to the country's open door economic policy, "socialism with Chinese characteristics"). The government's receptiveness to the work of environmentalists can be seen more as a means of making the country's development sustainable.

In 2000, Jiang Zemin introduced the policy of "Three Represents," which describes China's progress as dependent on upholding the values of economic production, cultural development, and political consensus in China. This was widely interpreted as the CCP's acceptance of the ability of capitalists and private entrepreneurs to spur economic development. While the government is now adjusting its economic policies to better accommodate public opinion on the environment, it remains to be seen whether more accountability will emerge when entrepreneurs with greater access to information have other social objectives in mind.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

China’s Green Energy Gap

Nytimes October 24, 2007

Danfung Dennis for The New York Times

Cotton stalks being stored near Boxing, China. The stalks, which would normally be burned in the fields as waste, will instead be used in a biomass power plant that is being built.

BOXING, China — By next autumn, a muddy construction site here in a rural part of eastern China will give way to a small power plant that burns corn stalks and cotton stalks to generate electricity for nearby villages and steam for a neighboring industrial complex.

The plant would be ready sooner, but only four companies in China make the specialized precision boilers that the biomass plant requires. And all those companies are plagued by backed-up orders and delivery delays. Similar problems bedevil the wind turbine industry in China.

The same big utility company building the green plant in Boxing, CLP, has just opened a coal-fired plant in southernmost China. On schedule and built for half what it would cost in the West, that plant will generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity — compared with 6 megawatts from the Boxing biomass plant. CLP is so impressed that it is bidding to build coal-fired plants in India with Chinese technology.

These are the realities faced by companies seeking to make themselves more environmentally friendly in China, where coal is king. Coal-fired plants are quick and cheap to build and easy to run. While the Chinese government has set goals for increasing the use of a long list of alternative energies — including wind, biomass, hydroelectric, solar and nuclear — they all face obstacles, from bureaucracy to bottlenecks in manufacturing. CLP’s differing energy choices are a case study in how one company grapples with the need to provide electricity to hundreds of millions of impoverished Asians even as it is under a self-imposed goal of trying to limit emissions of global warming gases.

Controlled by the Kadoorie family — one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest, with a long history of supporting environmental causes — CLP’s board began considering a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions on Tuesday.

While the details are still being worked out, the company plans to commit itself to “material and dramatic reductions” in such emissions in industrialized countries like Australia, while seeking to control growth in emissions in developing countries, like China, said Andrew Brandler, CLP’s chief executive.

“We think the world has to address the issue of climate change as a matter of urgency,” Mr. Brandler said.

Yet CLP’s operations are growing so quickly in China, India and other developing countries in response to soaring electricity demand that Mr. Brandler said the company’s total emissions of global warming gases may actually increase in the short term.

The problem is particularly acute because governments across Asia, from China and India to Indonesia and the Philippines, are turning mainly to coal to meet their soaring electricity needs and prevent blackouts, even though coal produces more global warming gases than any other major source of electricity.

China’s increase has been the most substantial. The country built 114,000 megawatts of fossil-fuel-based generating capacity last year alone, almost all coal-fired, and is on course to complete 95,000 megawatts more this year.

For comparison, Britain has 75,000 megawatts in operation, built over a span of decades.

The most talked-about alternative to coal in China involves plans to quadruple the country’s share of power from nuclear energy by 2020. But the plan, which contemplates dozens of reactors, still amounts to just 31,000 megawatts of nuclear power over the next dozen years.

“That’s minuscule,” said Jonathan Sinton, a China expert at the International Energy Agency. China builds more coal-fired capacity than that every four months.

Two big questions linger over even those modest goals: can equipment be manufactured for dozens of nuclear reactors, and can China train enough workers to run them?

At CLP’s Daya Bay nuclear plant in Shenzhen, a house-sized dome of specially hardened steel sat next to an immense crane one recent morning, waiting to be swung and bolted into position as part of the site’s sixth reactor.

But at least Daya Bay’s dome is here — reactors elsewhere in China wait up to several years. Only a handful of steel mills around the world can cast the thick domes, and only now are the first two mills in China taking delivery of equipment to make them.

The plant’s 1,750 employees, meanwhile, are training 500 interns at a time, according to Stephen Lau, the first deputy general manager of the plant; the government-owned nuclear power company asked that 1,000 be trained at a time, but the joint venture running the plant could not handle that many.

By contrast, there is no shortage of workers to run coal-fired power plants. China is dotted with decrepit state-owned coal-fired plants that each employ 900 to 1,000 people to produce just 50 to 100 megawatts. The government frequently asks companies to close one of these inefficient, heavily polluting operations and provide jobs or money to the workers before allowing the construction of a new coal-fired plant.

CLP’s modern coal-burning plant in Fangchenggang in southernmost China — a pair of 260-foot gray towers looming over a tropical landscape of woods and emerald rice fields dotted by gray oxen — employs just 270 workers to generate 1,200 megawatts.

Before the Fangchenggang plant could be built, the local government had to buy the land from residents of a nearby fishing village, setting off discussions about whose land should be sacrificed, said Zhang Zhengde, a village elder.

“We would prefer to have a smaller site — if there were more land, it would disrupt our lives, and government compensation cannot solve that,” he said.

But coal’s problems are nothing compared with the challenges facing the wind-energy industry, which requires much more land and is troubled by years-long shortages of a wider range of parts, as well as contradictory regulatory policies. For instance, Beijing has mandated that power transmission companies pay at least 6.5 cents per kilowatt hour to buy wind-generated electricity from approved power producers, not much above the 4.5 cents an hour they pay for coal-generated power. But the premium is so small that only one-third of 1 percent of the nationally regulated wind power projects approved in 2004 have actually been built, and none of those approved in the last two years, said Vivek Kher, a spokesman for Suzlon Energy, an Indian manufacturer of wind turbines.

Some provincial governments have ordered payments of 8.1 cents for wind projects they regulate, he said, and these projects are being built.

Plans have slowed to expand the use of natural gas, which burns more cleanly and produces less greenhouse gas than coal or oil. It has proved costly and difficult to build pipelines from gas fields in western China, while liquefied natural gas for transport in ships is in short supply.

The future of hydroelectric power in China is clouded by severe environmental problems at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River.

One of the strangest features of China’s energy policy is the paucity of environmental controls on coal-fired plants, because rules governing them were written long ago. Renewable energy projects actually face a more stringent review of their environmental impact.

China has begun telling companies that build coal-fired plants that they should choose so-called supercritical technology. Such technology increases construction costs, but the plant then requires 10 percent less coal to run, reducing emissions and long-term costs.

CLP’s new coal-fired plant at Fangchenggang, near the Vietnamese border, uses supercritical technology. But it still produces considerably more global warming gases than burning natural gas, using nuclear power or turning to renewable energy sources like biomass.

Now CLP wants an international consensus on a broad successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which set some limits on greenhouse gas emissions through 2012. Clear limits on future emissions would force utilities to avoid projects that contribute to global warming, and, unlike Kyoto, might extend to more of Asia. Kyoto exempts developing countries like China and India from emissions limits.

One reason CLP seeks a new consensus is the bruising lesson it recently received. The company had proposed building a coal-fired plant in the Philippines employing supercritical technology and burning very low-sulfur coal, a more expensive but less polluting variety of coal.

In the end, though, the developer found an American private equity firm that was willing to bankroll a low-tech subcritical plant using a variety of coal that pollutes more, said Mr. Brandler, declining to identify the project or the participants. (Greenpeace officials said that they were also not aware of which project it might be among many in the Philippines.)

“You’ve got to get the rest of the industry to come along,” Mr. Brandler said. “That’s why we will be agitating more.”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Exports fuel China's CO2 output
Updated: Friday, 19 October 2007, 08:08 GMT

Power plant in China
China is thought to be the highest emitter of CO2
A quarter of China's greenhouse gas emissions are produced making goods exported to the West, a report from a UK government-funded body has found.

Climate research body the Tyndall Centre, using 2004 data, estimates the emissions are double those of Britain for the same period.

It wants rich nations to take the lead in cutting the pollution they cause.

In the last year, UK imports from China rose by 10%, nearing 6.5 million tonnes, according to a recent study.

'Rethink needed'

The Tyndall Centre report concludes that in 2004 - the most recent year in which comprehensive data is available - net exports from China accounted for 23% of its total CO2 emissions.

The authors said the emission levels are due to China's trade surplus, but are also due to the relatively high level of carbon intensity within the Chinese economy.

The report said: "The extent of 'exported carbon' from China should lead to some rethinking by government negotiators as they work towards a new climate change agreement.

"It suggests that a focus on emissions within national borders may miss the point. Whilst the nation state is at the heart of most international negotiations and treaties, global trade means that a country's carbon footprint is international.

"Should countries be concerned with emissions within their borders (as is currently the case), or should they also be responsible for emissions due to the production of goods and services they consume?"

China is believed to be the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tighter controls on air pollution

By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-10-18 07:05

The State Council has reportedly signed off on a comprehensive strategy to guarantee cleaner air in Beijing during the Olympic Games.

China Daily understands the measures include strict controls on car emissions, dust and dirt, energy consumption and industrial emissions, which contribute heavily to the capital's air pollution.

Up to 40 percent of the city's air pollution comes from cars alone.

Officials from both the national and municipal environmental watchdogs yesterday declined to confirm or deny whether the State Council had given the new plan the green light.

A professional panel organized by the Beijing municipal environmental bureau formulated the plan, before it got the nod from China's environmental watchdog in July.

It was then submitted to the State Council for approval.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the Beijing environmental bureau declined to comment but said an official announcement and analysis would be made soon.

According to the plan, work on all construction sites would be temporarily halted leading up to the Olympics to reduce dust and dirt particles in the air during the Games.

Production will either be reduced or suspended at steel-iron factories, chemical plants and construction materials plants, and coal-powered plants will have to totally cease operations.

The city's estimated 3.5 million vehicles will be restricted from driving on the city's roads on certain days, including official business vehicles.

Zhang Jianyu, Beijing office head of US-based Environment Defense expressed "full confidence" that the capital could achieve better air quality next year.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

In China, a lake's champion imperils himself

Saturday, October 13, 2007
In May, a bloom of toxic cyanobacteria turned China's Lake Tai fluorescent green. (Chang W. Lee/The New York Times)


ZHOUTIE, China: Lake Tai, the center of China's ancient "land of fish and rice," succumbed this year to floods of industrial and agricultural waste.

Toxic cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as pond scum, turned the big lake fluorescent green. The stench of decay choked anyone who came within a mile of its shores. At least two million people who live amid the canals, rice paddies and chemical plants around the lake had to stop drinking or cooking with their main source of water.

The outbreak confirmed the claims of a crusading peasant, Wu Lihong, who protested for more than a decade that the region's thriving chemical industry, and its powerful friends in the local government, were destroying one of China's ecological treasures.

Wu, however, bore silent witness. Shortly before the algae crisis erupted in May, the authorities here in his hometown arrested him. In mid-August, with a fetid smell still wafting off the lake, a local court sentenced him to three years on an alchemy of charges that smacked of official retribution.

Pollution has reached epidemic proportions in China, in part because the ruling Communist Party still treats environmental advocates as bigger threats than the degradation of air, water and soil that prompts them to speak out.

Senior officials have tried to address environmental woes mostly through pulling the traditional levers of China's authoritarian system: issuing command quotas on energy efficiency and emissions reduction; punishing corrupt officials who shield polluters; planting billions of trees across the country to hold back deserts and absorb carbon dioxide.

But they do not dare to unleash individuals who want to make China cleaner. Grass-roots environmentalists arguably do more to expose abuses than any edict emanating from Beijing. But they face a political climate that varies from lukewarm tolerance to icy suppression.

Fixing the environment is, in other words, a political problem. Central party officials say they need people to report polluters and hold local governments to account. They granted legal status to private citizens' groups in 1994 and have allowed environmentalism to emerge as an incipient social force.

But local officials in China get ahead mainly by generating high rates of economic growth and ensuring social order. They have wide latitude to achieve those goals, including nearly complete control over the police and the courts in their domains. They have little enthusiasm for environmentalists who appeal over their heads to higher-ups in the capital.

Wu, a jaunty, 40-year-old former factory salesman, pioneered a style of intrepid, media-savvy environmental work that made Lake Tai, and the hundreds of chemical factories on its shores, the focus of intense regulatory scrutiny.

In 2005 he was named an "Environmental Warrior" by China's National People's Congress. His address book contained cellphone numbers for officials in Beijing and the provincial capital of Nanjing who outranked the party bosses where he lived.

But Wu was far from untouchable. He lost his job. His wife lost hers. Police summoned, detained and interrogated him. The local government and factory owners also tried for years to bring him into the fold with contracts, gifts and jobs. When party officials offered him a chance to profit handsomely from a pollution cleanup contract, a friend warned him not to accept. Wu, who needed the money, said yes.

Lake of Plenty

The country's third largest freshwater body, Lake Tai, or Taihu in Chinese, has long provided the people of the lower Yangtze River Delta with both their wealth and their conception of natural beauty.

It nurtured a bounty of the "three whites," white shrimp, whitebait and whitefish, and a freshwater crustacean delicacy called the hairy crab. Natural and man-made streams irrigated rice paddies, and a network of canals ferried that produce far and wide.

Along the lake's northern reaches, near the city of Wuxi, placid waters and misty hills captured the imagination of Chinese for hundreds of years. The wealthy built gardens that featured the lake's wrinkled, water-scarred limestone rocks set in groves of bamboo and chrysanthemum.

Since the 1950s, however, Lake Tai has been under assault. The authorities constructed dams and weirs to improve irrigation and control floods, disrupting the cleansing circulation of fresh water. Phosphates and other pollution-borne nutrients made the lake eutrophic, sucking out oxygen that fish need to survive.

Even in its degraded state, Lake Tai made an ideal habitat for China's chemical industry, which expanded prolifically in the 1980s. Chemical factories consume and discharge large quantities of water, which the lake provided and absorbed. Its canals made it easy to ship goods to the big industrial port city of Shanghai, downstream.

With strong local government support, the northern arc of Lake Tai became home to 2,800 chemical plants, most of them small cinder-block factories that took over rice paddies beside canals.

Wu's hometown alone had 300 such plants. His narrow village road was reinforced with concrete to withstand the weight of cargo trucks. Factories here made food additives, solvents and adhesives.

The industry transformed the economy. By the mid-1990s, taxes on chemical industry profits accounted for four-fifths of local government revenue, according to a report from the city of Yixing, which oversees Zhoutie.

Wu benefited as well. In his early 20s, he got a salaried job as salesman for a factory that made soundproofing material. It allowed him to travel around the country, and paid nice commissions on his sales. His wife, Xu Jiehua, made dyes.

Wu took long walks after dinner. The acrid tinge in the cool night air was the smell of prosperity to some locals. But it nauseated him, Wu recalled in later interviews.

In streams where he and Xu played as children, teeming whitefish used to tickle their legs. By the early 1990s, there were no fish in the streams, which ran black and red. "Rivers of blood," Xu quoted him as saying.

Wu is small and pudgy. Xu calls him "little fatty." He also has a short temper, and pollution sparked it.

"In the beginning I didn't understand it myself," he recalled years later in an interview with Farmers' Daily. "It was my personality that decided all of this. I felt the burden getting bigger."

He began by snapping photos of factories dumping untreated effluent into canals. He mailed them, anonymously at first, to environmental protection agencies.

When that produced few results, he signed the letters and included his phone number, volunteering to help inspectors see the problem for themselves.

Local regulators ignored him. But fish kills, declining rice yields and slumping tourism to the once pristine area made Lake Tai's ecology a broader concern. Higher-ranking officials in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, got in touch.

One evening, Wu brought provincial inspectors to see concealed pipes running from a factory near his home to a stream that flowed into the lake. The factory, Feida Chemical, got slapped with a fine, and Wu got his start.

Friends and Enemies

Wu's farmhouse filled up with the evidence he amassed, a bit haphazardly, of a looming environmental disaster. He used his pantry to store plastic bottles containing muddy water samples from streams and canals. Near his queen-size bed he kept stacks of newspaper clippings and photographs, letters and petitions.

One letter from local farmers described how a nearby factory making 8-hydroxyquinoline, used as a deodorant and antiseptic, emitted noxious fumes that "make our days and nights impassable." Another writer referred to a local factory as "a new Unit 731," after the Japanese team that conducted chemical warfare experiments in World War II. Members of another group said they did not dare tend their rice paddies without wearing gloves and galoshes because irrigation water caused their skin to peel off.

Wu answered many such calls for help. Between 1998 and 2006, the environmental protection agency of Jiangsu Province recorded receiving 200 reports of pollution incidents and regulatory violations from Wu.

Many of those he helped became allies. But Wu was making as many enemies as friends.

"Our society lacks the right atmosphere for environmental protection," he told one local newspaper. "Even in areas where pollution is most severe, I still have a hard time winning people's support."

Some residents feared for their jobs, with good reason. The soundproofing factory fired Wu in 1999. His notice of dismissal, which he saved among his other papers, cited his failure to attend a meeting.

His family lived off his wife's salary at the dye factory for a time. Then one day Xu mentioned to Wu how the stream near her factory changed colors depending on which dye they made that day. Wu brought a television crew to film the rainbow-colored stream. Xu soon lost her job as well.

"He did not always have our family's happiness at heart," Xu recalled. "He probably should have investigated someone else's factory."

Such pressure, though, made him confront local authorities more directly.

In 2001, Wen Jiabao, then a vice premier, now China's prime minister, came to investigate reports of Lake Tai's deterioration. Like most Communist Party inspection tours, word of this one reached local officials in advance. When Wen asked to see a typical dye plant, one was made ready, according to several people who witnessed the preparations.

The factory got a fresh coat of paint. The canal that ran beside it was drained, dredged and refilled with fresh water. Shortly before Wen's motorcade arrived, workers dumped thousands of carp into the canal. Farmers were positioned along the banks holding fishing rods.

Wen spent 20 minutes there. A picture of him shaking hands with the factory boss hangs in its lobby.

Wu fired off an angry letter to Beijing recounting the ruse and warning the vice premier that he had been "deceived." Wu circulated copies among his friends. Local officials saw it, too. Several villagers said they were warned then that they should keep a distance from Wu.

Words From Above

One summer afternoon in 2002, Wu went out on an errand and saw a banner stretched across the main road downtown. It read: "Warmly welcome the police to arrest Wu Lihong for committing blackmail in the name of environmentalism."

Wu told friends he initially suspected the banner was hung by local factory bosses to intimidate him. But when he went to the police to complain, he found a stack of placards with the same exhortation there in the police station. The police had erected the banner themselves, and they detained him on the spot.

His family received a detention notice accusing Wu of inciting farmers to stage a public protest about pollution a few weeks earlier. The notice did not mention blackmail, as the banner had, and the police never pressed charges. He was released within two weeks.

That episode appeared to be part of an inconsistent, somewhat bumbling effort to keep Wu boxed up and harmless.

There were carrots as well as sticks. Zhang Aiguo, the chief environmental regulator in the city of Yixing, struck up a dialogue with Wu, several friends said.

Hang Yaobin, a truck driver and sundry shop owner in Zhoutie who has also pressed for better environmental controls, said Zhang told Wu that they could improve the environment together. But Wu should expose problems in other jurisdictions and should stop damaging Yixing's reputation.

"Zhang Aiguo told him, 'Don't make me stink, or I'll lose my job. Then we'll accomplish nothing,'" Hang said.

In a telephone interview, Zhang declined to discuss his dealings with Wu in detail. But he acknowledged that the two talked regularly before he was assigned to another position in the Yixing government.

In 2003, Zhang offered Wu a business opportunity. A steel plant in Zhoutie had been ordered by environmental authorities to buy new dust-control equipment. Wu could find a vendor for the equipment and earn a handsome commission, several people told about the arrangement said.

Zhang confirmed that he told Wu of the opportunity.

Wu debated whether to accept. Hang said he advised his friend against it. "If you're engaged in a confrontation with officials you can't gamble, or visit prostitutes, or have any other vice," Han said. "They are always looking for ways to get you."

But this contract involved an environmental cleanup. And with both Wu and his wife out of work, they needed money. Wu agreed to contact a vendor recommended by Zhang.

It was not a rewarding endeavor. He brokered a contract. But the dust-control company gave him only a token advance on his promised commission. The steel plant boss, who had befriended Wu, eventually withheld part of what he owed the dust-control company to compensate Wu, according to Xu, his wife.

That was one of several muddled interactions with local officials and businessmen that did not satisfy either side. Wu remained cash-strapped. He did not stop contacting Nanjing and Beijing about pollution problems.

In 2005, he heard that the local government would be the host of a big delegation of Chinese reporters as part of the China Environmental Century Tour. He got in touch with China Central Television, the country's leading national broadcaster, and promised to reveal the story behind the story.

He arranged covertly for the reporters to inspect a section of the Caoqiao River that he learned the government planned to show them on the coming tour. He revealed hidden pipes that discharged black effluent from local factories into the river, which flows into Lake Tai.

The China Central Television crew later joined the Potemkin official tour. They aired a special report on "the river that goes from black to clear overnight."

Wu was the star of that report, an environmental celebrity. Later the same year, the National People's Congress, China's party-run Parliament, named him an "Environmental Warrior."

Model City

With President Hu Jintao and Wen demanding tougher action on pollution, local officials in 2006 came under new pressure to clean up Lake Tai. Despite repeated pledges and campaigns to protect the once scenic lake, it was still rated Grade V by the State Environmental Protection Administration, the lowest level on its scale.

Yixing ordered a new crackdown on small chemical factories. It claimed to have reduced the total number by half from the peak of 2,800 in the late 1990s. The city said the industry, which once accounted for as much as 85 percent of the area's industrial output, constituted just 40 percent in 2006.

But local officials put at least as much emphasis on fighting the perception that they had a pollution problem. They lobbied heavily for the State Environmental Protection Administration to declare it a "Model City for Environmental Protection."

Around the same time, Wu Xijun, the Communist Party boss of Zhoutie, called Wu to his office. The two Wus, who are not related, had a "face-to-face talk" about the damage Wu Lihong's environmental protests were doing to the area's reputation. The party secretary then made him an offer, according to friends of Wu and an official court document that confirmed the meeting.

In March, 2006, the township party committee paid Wu to promote tourism on the condition that he stop "nonfactual reporting" of pollution problems. The payments totaled about $5,000, the court document confirmed.

Wu may have toned down his protests for a time, friends said. But early this year, he learned that Yixing had won the environmental administration's designation as a "Model City for Environmental Protection." Enraged, he began his most assertive effort to date to embarrass local officials.

He spent weeks traveling throughout the area on his motorcycle, collecting water samples and photographing rivers and canals. He gathered data he hoped could prove that factories released most of their polluted water at night in quantities that the currents could wash away by dawn.

In April, he prepared to bring the water samples and photographic evidence to Beijing. He told friends he intended to file a lawsuit there against SEPA, the environmental administration, for its decision to honor Yixing. He never made the trip.

On the night of April 13, several dozen police and state security officers raided his farmhouse. Climbing ladders, they pried open the windows to his second-floor bedroom, arresting him and seizing documents and a computer.

Prosecutors quickly indicted Wu on two charges of blackmail. The first charge claimed that after he "gained knowledge" of a contract between the steel company and the dust-control company in 2003, he threatened to use his connections to undermine it unless the dust-control company paid him to keep quiet.

The second charge claimed that Wu extorted money from the Communist Party Committee of Zhoutie by threatening to report pollution problems.

Prosecutors revised the indictment twice in the following weeks. They dropped the charge of blackmailing the Communist Party, offering no explanation. Then they added a new charge, this one for "fraud." It claimed that Wu had illegally aided the steel company boss in preparing false documentation to account for the money the steel company paid Wu in 2003.

The three indictments each claimed that Wu confessed to the various charges. The last week of May, with Wu in custody, Lake Tai cried for help. Nitrogen and phosphorous, the untreated residue of chemical processing, fertilizer, and sewage, built up to record levels, while rainfall fell short.

Lake Tai's Revenge

Lake Tai had algal blooms before. This time, according to an analysis by the State Environmental Protection Administration, cyanobacteria "exploded" at rates that had not been seen in the past. Much of the lake was covered with a deep, foul-smelling canopy that left most of the 2.3 million people in Wuxi, the biggest city on the northern part of the lake, without drinking water for many days.

Local officials initially called the outbreak a "natural disaster." But state media rushed to the scene, and some showed pictures of chemical factories dumping waste into the lake even as residents formed long lines at supermarkets to buy bottled water.

Neighboring cities shut sluice gates and canal locks to prevent contamination, creating a monumental maritime traffic jam and further reducing circulation around Lake Tai. The problem did not ease until central authorities ordered Yangtze River water diverted into the lake. Even then, the bloom lingered into late summer.

Wen convened a meeting of the State Council to discuss the matter. "The pollution of Lake Tai has sounded the alarm for us," state media quoted him as saying. "The problem has never been tackled at its root."

Five party and government officials in Yixing and Zhoutie, including three involved in environmental work, were dismissed or demoted. Li Yuanchao, the party boss of Jiangsu Province, vowed to clean up Lake Tai even if it meant taking a 15 percent cut to the province's economic output. Authorities pledged to shut down hundreds of the most egregious polluters in their most sweeping crackdown to date.

Xu, Wu's wife, said she hoped the authorities would conclude that it would be improper, or at least inconvenient, to prosecute Wu under such conditions. His trial, initially scheduled for June, was delayed, prompting speculation that someone at a higher level had intervened.

But although Wu's arrest generated attention in both the domestic and international media, there is no indication that central government officials objected to his prosecution. On a Friday afternoon in August, the road in front of Yixing's courthouse filled with Volkswagen Santanas, the standard-issue sedans of China's police and security services. In a park nearby, officials hung a banner advertising the city's new status as a "Model City for Environmental Protection."

The evidence against Wu consisted mainly of written testimony and his own confession. The judges rejected a request by Wu's lawyer to summon prosecution witnesses for cross-examination.

Wu told the judges in open court that the police had deprived him of food and forced him to stay awake for five days and five nights in succession, relenting only when he signed a written confession. He said the confession was coerced and that he was innocent. The judges ruled that since Wu could not prove that he had been tortured, his confession remained valid.

Wu lost his temper. "Since I was a child I have never broken the law. If I could right now I would like to split you in two," he shouted, according to relatives who attended. He was sentenced to serve three years.

Shortly after the trial, Hang, the sundry shop owner and colleague of Wu, handed a reporter photos, clippings and documents collected over a decade of environmental work. He said he had no use for them now. Environmental work had become too risky.

He said he had recently seen some little fish darting around in the milky green water of a canal nearby. He took it as a good sign. "Once the white shrimp come back, that would be good," he said. The white shrimp had not come back just yet.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Beijing Battles for a Blue-Sky Olympics

With athlete health and China’s image on the line, the capital city is scrambling to improve air quality before the 2008 games. So far, enormous efforts have yielded mixed results.

By staff reporter Luo Changping

For four days in August, Zhao Fengtong queued for buses and squeezed into subway trains with millions of his neighbors.

As deputy mayor of Beijing, Zhao was participating in a citywide effort to slash vehicle traffic and sweep away smog from the capital’s notorious air, exactly one year ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

Air pollution is Beijing’s biggest concern for the approaching games, and Zhao was busy running tests and monitoring traffic through August and September.

His work was part of an enormous, multi-billion dollar effort to clear Beijing’s skies for the games and perhaps, as many hope, permanently. Despite mixed results so far, the effort is expected to pick up steam – with measures ranging from factory shutdowns to traffic restrictions – as the Olympics countdown continues.

After about half the city’s vehicles were banned every day during an experiment August 17 to 20, according to an odd-even license plate system, Zhao told Caijing that the government’s environmental tests had provided good reference points for both the Olympics and urban planners working on environmental and transportation goals.

Zhao’s bus-and-train experience also had a positive outcome, as city officials proudly reported that the traffic controls resulted in four consecutive days of relatively clean, “Level B” air – the second best of five quality levels.

A much larger experiment during the third week of September was declared a success as well, with residents in 108 cities parking cars and riding public transportation during a nationwide campaign.

As China marked its first official “no auto day” September 22, Beijing optimistically reported an air quality index that topped at 99, below the “slightly polluted” mark of 100.

The next evening, Zhao and a famous actor staged a public relations show by cutting off power to a department store in Beijing’s Wang Fu Jing shopping district. The shutoff saved 1.5 million watts in 30 minutes – a gesture that Zhao said underscored the government’s determination to save energy.

Whose standard for air quality?

Yet clouds of doubt and troubling statistics have shadowed Beijing’s effort to clear the air.

Beijing officials predicted good fortune on August 8 – exactly one year before the games begin – when the city recorded an air quality index of 88. For the Chinese, eight is a lucky number.

“We all laughed when we heard the data,” said Du Shaozhong, deputy bureau chief of Beijing Environmental Protection Administration. “What a coincidence. We are all confident about accomplishing the air quality mission for the Olympics.”

But a different story was being told in the United States on August 8, when International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge told news broadcaster CNN that “if the air quality in Beijing is not sufficiently good, endurance games such as biking will probably have to be rescheduled.”

Following Rogge’s comments, the commissioner for Australia’s Olympic effort John Coates said his delegation would postpone its arrival in Beijing to delay exposure to polluted air for as long as possible. And New Zealand’s delegation chief Dave Currie said he was concerned about the transparency of information in Beijing, warning that “we do not know what pollutants are in the air.”

These statements were triggered by serious smog in Beijing in June, when air quality reached minimum safety levels for only 15 days -- the worst pollution record for one month in seven years. The city’s nitrogen dioxide density was 78 percent higher than the clean air standard considered acceptable by the World Health Organization (WHO). Moreover, concentrations of airborne particulates in Beijing were three times the level found in New York.

Pollution could lead to any of at least four, worst-case scenarios for the Beijing Olympics. For starters, important athletes could refuse to participate. In a second scenario, athletes might quit during the games or wind up in hospital emergency rooms. In addition, China’s image could be damaged if athletes in outdoor events are forced to wear face masks, since video footage and photos of the covered mouths would be shown over and again by the international media. Fourth, the world’s sports fans may protest if the games are rescheduled at the last minute.

Another concern is the widening gap between air quality standards set by the WHO and China.

Beijing relaxed its standards in 2002, raising the average density limit for ozone to 200 milligrams from 160 milligrams, and the nitrogen dioxide standard to 80 milligrams from 40 milligrams per cubic meter.

Meanwhile, the WHO has become increasingly strict. The agency released in February an updated “air quality index guide” that set the safe standard for airborne particulates at 20 milligrams, down from 70 milligrams. It also reduced the ozone standard to 100 from 120 milligrams per cubic meter, and cut the standard for nitrogen dioxide to 20 from 125 milligrams per cubic meter.

Controlling ozone and particulates

Beijing decision-makers are most concerned about airborne particulates and ozone, which are among the five, critical ingredients for determining air quality levels. The others -- carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide -- are considered well under control.

Particulates not only reduce visibility but also impair the respiratory tract and, thus, may hurt athletic performance. Ozone also irritates respiratory systems and affects performance.

Vehicle tailpipes, coal furnaces, dust and industrial smokestacks are four, key pollution sources that damage Beijing’s environment, according to Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau. Listed by category, tailpipe exhaust accounts for 40 percent of the city’s pollution, dust 30 percent, power generation 20 percent, and industries 10 percent.

Beijing’s determination to control air pollution led to a government decision to relocate state steel manufacturer Capital Steel Group -- the city’s biggest contributor of particulates.

The government will spend 50 billion yuan to relocate the plant to Tangshan, in China’s northern Hebei Province. With about 140,000 employees, Shougang’s move will affect one-sixth of the city’s manufacturing workers.

But the steel plant won’t be gone before the Olympics. Indeed, the relocation is slated for 2010. Meanwhile, particulate levels have reached up to 180 milligrams per cubic meter around the Shougang factory, accounting for up to 23 percent of Beijing’s pollution. The plant’s influence also changes as weather conditions shift.

On another front, the Beijing government soon plans to release and submit for approval from the State Council, China’s cabinet, a list of air quality “protection programs” for the Olympics. The programs, as Caijing learned from the State Environmental Protection Administration, would take aim at problems in the capital and surrounding area before, during and after the games.

In the first phase, before the games begin, coal burning would be banned from the downtown area, while coal burning citywide would be limited to less than 25 million tons before next July 24, when the Olympics Village opens. All coal furnaces would have to be equipped with sulfur, nitrogen, and dust removal equipment. Major pollution sources, such as power plants, metallurgical factories, chemical works and petroleum refineries, would either have to cut production volumes or relocate. Additionally, recycling services would be added at the city’s 1,000 gas stations.

More rigid measures would be applied in the second phase of the air quality programs, which would start 58 days before the opening ceremony. First, to reduce dust, all construction in the city would be suspended during the games. Second, in an attempt to control vehicle emissions, trucks would be prohibited downtown, the number of private motor vehicles on the road would be reduced by 30 percent, and public vehicles would be restricted to running every other day. Third, factories that produce steel, chemicals and construction materials would be fully or partially halted. The fourth measure aims to limit coal pollution by increasing the amount of power imported from outside Beijing and generating more electricity with natural gas.

Zhao, the deputy mayor, said the government’s goal is a 30 percent reduction in emissions from five, major coal burning power plants.

However, the clean-air plan is not worry-free. Some cite the potentially negative consequences of limiting the amount of electricity generated by coal, arguing that these power plants are vital to ensure the power supply in the capital city. Beijing locally supplies only 25 percent of its power, importing the rest from outside provinces. This past summer, the city reported a 200,000 kilowatt gap between local and imported power.

Opportunity for the future

Residents of the Chinese capital wonder whether the opportunity to host of the Olympic will improve Beijing’s air quality permanently. It is widely thought that controls implemented over the past nine years have cleaned the air substantially. The skies reached Level B for 241 days in 2006 – a huge improvement since 1998, when air quality reached that level for only 100 days.

The city is also getting greener. The State Forestry Administration said that, by the end of this year, tree coverage citywide will reach 43 percent. Trees and shrubs also adorn the prime real estate surrounding skyscrapers downtown and the Forbidden City.

Zhao also told Caijing that Beijing is organizing workshops on environment sustainability, and that additional economic and administrative measures will be adopted to support the clean-air effort as the need arises.

Meanwhile, Beijing is putting money where its mouth is. The city spent 10 billion yuan in 2005 and 25 billion yuan in 2006 on environmental controls, bringing the total investment over the past seven years to 120 billion yuan. This amount is included in the city’s 290 billion yuan investment for the Olympics.

Amid the traffic controls and emissions tests in August, Beijing’s top Communist Party official Liu Qi said the city should use the Olympics as an opportunity to improve air quality over the long-term. He wants promises for both the Olympics and the environment to be fulfilled. But it’s a tall order. Experts estimate that at least 20 years of efforts – and even more determination among decision-makers -- will be needed before the capital city achieves good environmental health.

1 yuan = 13 U.S. cents

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Great Leap Backward?

By Elizabeth C. Economy

From Foreign Affairs , September/October 2007

Summary: China's environmental woes are mounting, and the country is fast becoming one of the leading polluters in the world. The situation continues to deteriorate because even when Beijing sets ambitious targets to protect the environment, local officials generally ignore them, preferring to concentrate on further advancing economic growth. Really improving the environment in China will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms.

Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenges to China's Future.

China's environmental problems are mounting. Water pollution and water scarcity are burdening the economy, rising levels of air pollution are endangering the health of millions of Chinese, and much of the country's land is rapidly turning into desert. China has become a world leader in air and water pollution and land degradation and a top contributor to some of the world's most vexing global environmental problems, such as the illegal timber trade, marine pollution, and climate change. As China's pollution woes increase, so, too, do the risks to its economy, public health, social stability, and international reputation. As Pan Yue, a vice minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), warned in 2005, "The [economic] miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace."

With the 2008 Olympics around the corner, China's leaders have ratcheted up their rhetoric, setting ambitious environmental targets, announcing greater levels of environmental investment, and exhorting business leaders and local officials to clean up their backyards. The rest of the world seems to accept that Beijing has charted a new course: as China declares itself open for environmentally friendly business, officials in the United States, the European Union, and Japan are asking not whether to invest but how much.

Unfortunately, much of this enthusiasm stems from the widespread but misguided belief that what Beijing says goes. The central government sets the country's agenda, but it does not control all aspects of its implementation. In fact, local officials rarely heed Beijing's environmental mandates, preferring to concentrate their energies and resources on further advancing economic growth. The truth is that turning the environmental situation in China around will require something far more difficult than setting targets and spending money; it will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms.

For one thing, China's leaders need to make it easy for local officials and factory owners to do the right thing when it comes to the environment by giving them the right incentives. At the same time, they must loosen the political restrictions they have placed on the courts, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the media in order to enable these groups to become independent enforcers of environmental protection. The international community, for its part, must focus more on assisting reform and less on transferring cutting-edge technologies and developing demonstration projects. Doing so will mean diving into the trenches to work with local Chinese officials, factory owners, and environmental NGOs; enlisting international NGOs to help with education and enforcement policies; and persuading multinational corporations (MNCs) to use their economic leverage to ensure that their Chinese partners adopt the best environmental practices.

Without such a clear-eyed understanding not only of what China wants but also of what it needs, China will continue to have one of the world's worst environmental records, and the Chinese people and the rest of the world will pay the price.


China's rapid development, often touted as an economic miracle, has become an environmental disaster. Record growth necessarily requires the gargantuan consumption of resources, but in China energy use has been especially unclean and inefficient, with dire consequences for the country's air, land, and water.

The coal that has powered China's economic growth, for example, is also choking its people. Coal provides about 70 percent of China's energy needs: the country consumed some 2.4 billion tons in 2006 -- more than the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined. In 2000, China anticipated doubling its coal consumption by 2020; it is now expected to have done so by the end of this year. Consumption in China is huge partly because it is inefficient: as one Chinese official told Der Spiegel in early 2006, "To produce goods worth $10,000 we need seven times the resources used by Japan, almost six times the resources used by the U.S. and -- a particular source of embarrassment -- almost three times the resources used by India."

Meanwhile, this reliance on coal is devastating China's environment. The country is home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, and four of the worst off among them are in the coal-rich province of Shanxi, in northeastern China. As much as 90 percent of China's sulfur dioxide emissions and 50 percent of its particulate emissions are the result of coal use. Particulates are responsible for respiratory problems among the population, and acid rain, which is caused by sulfur dioxide emissions, falls on one-quarter of China's territory and on one-third of its agricultural land, diminishing agricultural output and eroding buildings.

Yet coal use may soon be the least of China's air-quality problems. The transportation boom poses a growing challenge to China's air quality. Chinese developers are laying more than 52,700 miles of new highways throughout the country. Some 14,000 new cars hit China's roads each day. By 2020, China is expected to have 130 million cars, and by 2050 -- or perhaps as early as 2040 -- it is expected to have even more cars than the United States. Beijing already pays a high price for this boom. In a 2006 survey, Chinese respondents rated Beijing the 15th most livable city in China, down from the 4th in 2005, with the drop due largely to increased traffic and pollution. Levels of airborne particulates are now six times higher in Beijing than in New York City.

China's grand-scale urbanization plans will aggravate matters. China's leaders plan to relocate 400 million people -- equivalent to well over the entire population of the United States -- to newly developed urban centers between 2000 and 2030. In the process, they will erect half of all the buildings expected to be constructed in the world during that period. This is a troubling prospect considering that Chinese buildings are not energy efficient -- in fact, they are roughly two and a half times less so than those in Germany. Furthermore, newly urbanized Chinese, who use air conditioners, televisions, and refrigerators, consume about three and a half times more energy than do their rural counterparts. And although China is one of the world's largest producer of solar cells, compact fluorescent lights, and energy-efficient windows, these are produced mostly for export. Unless more of these energy-saving goods stay at home, the building boom will result in skyrocketing energy consumption and pollution.

China's land has also suffered from unfettered development and environmental neglect. Centuries of deforestation, along with the overgrazing of grasslands and overcultivation of cropland, have left much of China's north and northwest seriously degraded. In the past half century, moreover, forests and farmland have had to make way for industry and sprawling cities, resulting in diminishing crop yields, a loss in biodiversity, and local climatic change. The Gobi Desert, which now engulfs much of western and northern China, is spreading by about 1,900 square miles annually; some reports say that despite Beijing's aggressive reforestation efforts, one-quarter of the entire country is now desert. China's State Forestry Administration estimates that desertification has hurt some 400 million Chinese, turning tens of millions of them into environmental refugees, in search of new homes and jobs. Meanwhile, much of China's arable soil is contaminated, raising concerns about food safety. As much as ten percent of China's farmland is believed to be polluted, and every year 12 million tons of grain are contaminated with heavy metals absorbed from the soil.


And then there is the problem of access to clean water. Although China holds the fourth-largest freshwater resources in the world (after Brazil, Russia, and Canada), skyrocketing demand, overuse, inefficiencies, pollution, and unequal distribution have produced a situation in which two-thirds of China's approximately 660 cities have less water than they need and 110 of them suffer severe shortages. According to Ma Jun, a leading Chinese water expert, several cities near Beijing and Tianjin, in the northeastern region of the country, could run out of water in five to seven years.

Growing demand is part of the problem, of course, but so is enormous waste. The agricultural sector lays claim to 66 percent of the water China consumes, mostly for irrigation, and manages to waste more than half of that. Chinese industries are highly inefficient: they generally use 10-20 percent more water than do their counterparts in developed countries. Urban China is an especially huge squanderer: it loses up to 20 percent of the water it consumes through leaky pipes -- a problem that China's Ministry of Construction has pledged to address in the next two to three years. As urbanization proceeds and incomes rise, the Chinese, much like people in Europe and the United States, have become larger consumers of water: they take lengthy showers, use washing machines and dishwashers, and purchase second homes with lawns that need to be watered. Water consumption in Chinese cities jumped by 6.6 percent during 2004-5. China's plundering of its ground-water reserves, which has created massive underground tunnels, is causing a corollary problem: some of China's wealthiest cities are sinking -- in the case of Shanghai and Tianjin, by more than six feet during the past decade and a half. In Beijing, subsidence has destroyed factories, buildings, and underground pipelines and is threatening the city's main international airport.

Pollution is also endangering China's water supplies. China's ground water, which provides 70 percent of the country's total drinking water, is under threat from a variety of sources, such as polluted surface water, hazardous waste sites, and pesticides and fertilizers. According to one report by the government-run Xinhua News Agency, the aquifers in 90 percent of Chinese cities are polluted. More than 75 percent of the river water flowing through China's urban areas is considered unsuitable for drinking or fishing, and the Chinese government deems about 30 percent of the river water throughout the country to be unfit for use in agriculture or industry. As a result, nearly 700 million people drink water contaminated with animal and human waste. The World Bank has found that the failure to provide fully two-thirds of the rural population with piped water is a leading cause of death among children under the age of five and is responsible for as much as 11 percent of the cases of gastrointestinal cancer in China.

One of the problems is that although China has plenty of laws and regulations designed to ensure clean water, factory owners and local officials do not enforce them. A 2005 survey of 509 cities revealed that only 23 percent of factories properly treated sewage before disposing of it. According to another report, today one-third of all industrial wastewater in China and two-thirds of household sewage are released untreated. Recent Chinese studies of two of the country's most important sources of water -- the Yangtze and Yellow rivers -- illustrate the growing challenge. The Yangtze River, which stretches all the way from the Tibetan Plateau to Shanghai, receives 40 percent of the country's sewage, 80 percent of it untreated. In 2007, the Chinese government announced that it was delaying, in part because of pollution, the development of a $60 billion plan to divert the river in order to supply the water-starved cities of Beijing and Tianjin. The Yellow River supplies water to more than 150 million people and 15 percent of China's agricultural land, but two-thirds of its water is considered unsafe to drink and 10 percent of its water is classified as sewage. In early 2007, Chinese officials announced that over one-third of the fish species native to the Yellow River had become extinct due to damming or pollution.

China's leaders are also increasingly concerned about how climate change may exacerbate their domestic environmental situation. In the spring of 2007, Beijing released its first national assessment report on climate change, predicting a 30 percent drop in precipitation in three of China's seven major river regions -- around the Huai, Liao, and Hai rivers -- and a 37 percent decline in the country's wheat, rice, and corn yields in the second half of the century. It also predicted that the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, which derive much of their water from glaciers in Tibet, would overflow as the glaciers melted and then dry up. And both Chinese and international scientists now warn that due to rising sea levels, Shanghai could be submerged by 2050.


China's environmental problems are already affecting the rest of the world. Japan and South Korea have long suffered from the acid rain produced by China's coal-fired power plants and from the eastbound dust storms that sweep across the Gobi Desert in the spring and dump toxic yellow dust on their land. Researchers in the United States are tracking dust, sulfur, soot, and trace metals as these travel across the Pacific from China. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that on some days, 25 percent of the particulates in the atmosphere in Los Angeles originated in China. {See Footnote 1} Scientists have also traced rising levels of mercury deposits on U.S. soil back to coal-fired power plants and cement factories in China. (When ingested in significant quantities, mercury can cause birth defects and developmental problems.) Reportedly, 25-40 percent of all mercury emissions in the world come from China.

What China dumps into its waters is also polluting the rest of the world. According to the international NGO the World Wildlife Fund, China is now the largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean. As Liu Quangfeng, an adviser to the National People's Congress, put it, "Almost no river that flows into the Bo Hai [a sea along China's northern coast] is clean." China releases about 2.8 billion tons of contaminated water into the Bo Hai annually, and the content of heavy metal in the mud at the bottom of it is now 2,000 times as high as China's own official safety standard. The prawn catch has dropped by 90 percent over the past 15 years. In 2006, in the heavily industrialized southeastern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, almost 8.3 billion tons of sewage were discharged into the ocean without treatment, a 60 percent increase from 2001. More than 80 percent of the East China Sea, one of the world's largest fisheries, is now rated unsuitable for fishing, up from 53 percent in 2000.

Furthermore, China is already attracting international attention for its rapidly growing contribution to climate change. According to a 2007 report from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, it has already surpassed the United States as the world's largest contributor of carbon dioxide, a leading greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere. Unless China rethinks its use of various sources of energy and adopts cutting-edge environmentally friendly technologies, warned Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency, last April, in 25 years China will emit twice as much carbon dioxide as all the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development combined.

China's close economic partners in the developing world face additional environmental burdens from China's economic activities. Chinese multinationals, which are exploiting natural resources in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia in order to fuel China's continued economic rise, are devastating these regions' habitats in the process. China's hunger for timber has exploded over the past decade and a half, and particularly since 1998, when devastating floods led Beijing to crack down on domestic logging. China's timber imports more than tripled between 1993 and 2005. According to the World Wildlife Fund, China's demand for timber, paper, and pulp will likely increase by 33 percent between 2005 and 2010.

China is already the largest importer of illegally logged timber in the world: an estimated 50 percent of its timber imports are reportedly illegal. Illegal logging is especially damaging to the environment because it often targets rare old-growth forests, endangers biodiversity, and ignores sustainable forestry practices. In 2006, the government of Cambodia, for example, ignored its own laws and awarded China's Wuzhishan LS Group a 99-year concession that was 20 times as large as the size permitted by Cambodian law. The company's practices, including the spraying of large amounts of herbicides, have prompted repeated protests by local Cambodians. According to the international NGO Global Witness, Chinese companies have destroyed large parts of the forests along the Chinese-Myanmar border and are now moving deeper into Myanmar's forests in their search for timber. In many instances, illicit logging activity takes place with the active support of corrupt local officials. Central government officials in Myanmar and Indonesia, countries where China's loggers are active, have protested such arrangements to Beijing, but relief has been limited. These activities, along with those of Chinese mining and energy companies, raise serious environmental concerns for many local populations in the developing world.


In the view of China's leaders, however, damage to the environment itself is a secondary problem. Of greater concern to them are its indirect effects: the threat it poses to the continuation of the Chinese economic miracle and to public health, social stability, and the country's international reputation. Taken together, these challenges could undermine the authority of the Communist Party.

China's leaders are worried about the environment's impact on the economy. Several studies conducted both inside and outside China estimate that environmental degradation and pollution cost the Chinese economy between 8 percent and 12 percent of GDP annually. The Chinese media frequently publish the results of studies on the impact of pollution on agriculture, industrial output, or public health: water pollution costs of $35.8 billion one year, air pollution costs of $27.5 billion another, and on and on with weather disasters ($26.5 billion), acid rain ($13.3 billion), desertification ($6 billion), or crop damage from soil pollution ($2.5 billion). The city of Chongqing, which sits on the banks of the Yangtze River, estimates that dealing with the effects of water pollution on its agriculture and public health costs as much as 4.3 percent of the city's annual gross product. Shanxi Province has watched its coal resources fuel the rest of the country while it pays the price in withered trees, contaminated air and water, and land subsidence. Local authorities there estimate the costs of environmental degradation and pollution at 10.9 percent of the province's annual gross product and have called on Beijing to compensate the province for its "contribution and sacrifice."

China's Ministry of Public Health is also sounding the alarm with increasing urgency. In a survey of 30 cities and 78 counties released in the spring, the ministry blamed worsening air and water pollution for dramatic increases in the incidence of cancer throughout the country: a 19 percent rise in urban areas and a 23 percent rise in rural areas since 2005. One research institute affiliated with SEPA has put the total number of premature deaths in China caused by respiratory diseases related to air pollution at 400,000 a year. But this may be a conservative estimate: according to a joint research project by the World Bank and the Chinese government released this year, the total number of such deaths is 750,000 a year. (Beijing is said not to have wanted to release the latter figure for fear of inciting social unrest.) Less well documented but potentially even more devastating is the health impact of China's polluted water. Today, fully 190 million Chinese are sick from drinking contaminated water. All along China's major rivers, villages report skyrocketing rates of diarrheal diseases, cancer, tumors, leukemia, and stunted growth.

Social unrest over these issues is rising. In the spring of 2006, China's top environmental official, Zhou Shengxian, announced that there had been 51,000 pollution-related protests in 2005, which amounts to almost 1,000 protests each week. Citizen complaints about the environment, expressed on official hotlines and in letters to local officials, are increasing at a rate of 30 percent a year; they will likely top 450,000 in 2007. But few of them are resolved satisfactorily, and so people throughout the country are increasingly taking to the streets. For several months in 2006, for example, the residents of six neighboring villages in Gansu Province held repeated protests against zinc and iron smelters that they believed were poisoning them. Fully half of the 4,000-5,000 villagers exhibited lead-related illnesses, ranging from vitamin D deficiency to neurological problems.

Many pollution-related marches are relatively small and peaceful. But when such demonstrations fail, the protesters sometimes resort to violence. After trying for two years to get redress by petitioning local, provincial, and even central government officials for spoiled crops and poisoned air, in the spring of 2005, 30,000-40,000 villagers from Zhejiang Province swarmed 13 chemical plants, broke windows and overturned buses, attacked government officials, and torched police cars. The government sent in 10,000 members of the People's Armed Police in response. The plants were ordered to close down, and several environmental activists who attempted to monitor the plants' compliance with these orders were later arrested. China's leaders have generally managed to prevent -- if sometimes violently -- discontent over environmental issues from spreading across provincial boundaries or morphing into calls for broader political reform.

In the face of such problems, China's leaders have recently injected a new urgency into their rhetoric concerning the need to protect the country's environment. On paper, this has translated into an aggressive strategy to increase investment in environmental protection, set ambitious targets for the reduction of pollution and energy intensity (the amount of energy used to produce a unit of GDP), and introduce new environmentally friendly technologies. In 2005, Beijing set out a number of impressive targets for its next five-year plan: by 2010, it wants 10 percent of the nation's power to come from renewable energy sources, energy intensity to have been reduced by 20 percent and key pollutants such as sulfur dioxide by 10 percent, water consumption to have decreased by 30 percent, and investment in environmental protection to have increased from 1.3 percent to 1.6 percent of GDP. Premier Wen Jiabao has issued a stern warning to local officials to shut down some of the plants in the most energy-intensive industries -- power generation and aluminum, copper, steel, coke and coal, and cement production -- and to slow the growth of other industries by denying them tax breaks and other production incentives.

These goals are laudable -- even breathtaking in some respects -- but history suggests that only limited optimism is warranted; achieving such targets has proved elusive in the past. In 2001, the Chinese government pledged to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 10 percent between 2002 and 2005. Instead, emissions rose by 27 percent. Beijing is already encountering difficulties reaching its latest goals: for instance, it has failed to meet its first target for reducing energy intensity and pollution. Despite warnings from Premier Wen, the six industries that were slated to slow down posted a 20.6 percent increase in output during the first quarter of 2007 -- a 6.6 percent jump from the same period last year. According to one senior executive with the Indian wind-power firm Suzlon Energy, only 37 percent of the wind-power projects the Chinese government approved in 2004 have been built. Perhaps worried that yet another target would fall by the wayside, in early 2007, Beijing revised its announced goal of reducing the country's water consumption by 30 percent by 2010 to just 20 percent.

Even the Olympics are proving to be a challenge. Since Beijing promised in 2001 to hold a "green Olympics" in 2008, the International Olympic Committee has pulled out all the stops. Beijing is now ringed with rows of newly planted trees, hybrid taxis and buses are roaming its streets (some of which are soon to be lined with solar-powered lamps), the most heavily polluting factories have been pushed outside the city limits, and the Olympic dormitories are models of energy efficiency. Yet in key respects, Beijing has failed to deliver. City officials are backtracking from their pledge to provide safe tap water to all of Beijing for the Olympics; they now say that they will provide it only for residents of the Olympic Village. They have announced drastic stopgap measures for the duration of the games, such as banning one million of the city's three million cars from the city's streets and halting production at factories in and around Beijing (some of them are resisting). Whatever progress city authorities have managed over the past six years -- such as increasing the number of days per year that the city's air is deemed to be clean -- is not enough to ensure that the air will be clean for the Olympic Games. Preparing for the Olympics has come to symbolize the intractability of China's environmental challenges and the limits of Beijing's approach to addressing them.


Clearly, something has got to give. The costs of inaction to China's economy, public health, and international reputation are growing. And perhaps more important, social discontent is rising. The Chinese people have clearly run out of patience with the government's inability or unwillingness to turn the environmental situation around. And the government is well aware of the increasing potential for environmental protest to ignite broader social unrest.

One event this spring particularly alarmed China's leaders. For several days in May in the coastal city of Xiamen, after months of mounting opposition to the planned construction of a $1.4 billion petrochemical plant nearby, students and professors at Xiamen University, among others, are said to have sent out a million mobile-phone text messages calling on their fellow citizens to take to the streets on June 1. That day, and the following, protesters reportedly numbering between 7,000 and 20,000 marched peacefully through the city, some defying threats of expulsion from school or from the Communist Party. The protest was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube. One video featured a haunting voice-over that linked the Xiamen demonstration to an ongoing environmental crisis near Tai Hu, a lake some 400 miles away (a large bloom of blue-green algae caused by industrial wastewater and sewage dumped in the lake had contaminated the water supply of the city of Wuxi). It also referred to the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989. The Xiamen march, the narrator said, was perhaps "the first genuine parade since Tiananmen."

In response, city authorities did stay the construction of the plant, but they also launched an all-out campaign to discredit the protesters and their videos. Still, more comments about the protest and calls not to forget Tiananmen appeared on various Web sites. Such messages, posted openly and accessible to all Chinese, represent the Chinese leadership's greatest fear, namely, that its failure to protect the environment may someday serve as the catalyst for broad-based demands for political change.

Such public demonstrations are also evidence that China's environmental challenges cannot be met with only impressive targets and more investment. They must be tackled with a fundamental reform of how the country does business and protects the environment. So far, Beijing has structured its environmental protection efforts in much the same way that it has pursued economic growth: by granting local authorities and factory owners wide decision-making power and by actively courting the international community and Chinese NGOs for their expertise while carefully monitoring their activities.

Consider, for example, China's most important environmental authority, SEPA, in Beijing. SEPA has become a wellspring of China's most innovative environmental policies: it has promoted an environmental impact assessment law; a law requiring local officials to release information about environmental disasters, pollution statistics, and the names of known polluters to the public; an experiment to calculate the costs of environmental degradation and pollution to the country's GDP; and an all-out effort to halt over 100 large-scale infrastructure projects that had proceeded without proper environmental impact assessments. But SEPA operates with barely 300 full-time professional staff in the capital and only a few hundred employees spread throughout the country. (The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a staff of almost 9,000 in Washington, D.C., alone.) And authority for enforcing SEPA's mandates rests overwhelmingly with local officials and the local environmental protection officials they oversee. In some cases, this has allowed for exciting experimentation. In the eastern province of Jiangsu, for instance, the World Bank and the Natural Resources Defense Council have launched the Greenwatch program, which grades 12,000 factories according to their compliance with standards for industrial wastewater treatment and discloses both the ratings and the reasons for them. More often, however, China's highly decentralized system has meant limited progress: only seven to ten percent of China's more than 660 cities meet the standards required to receive the designation of National Model Environmental City from SEPA. According to Wang Canfa, one of China's top environmental lawyers, barely ten percent of China's environmental laws and regulations are actually enforced.

One of the problems is that local officials have few incentives to place a priority on environmental protection. Even as Beijing touts the need to protect the environment, Premier Wen has called for quadrupling the Chinese economy by 2020. The price of water is rising in some cities, such as Beijing, but in many others it remains as low as 20 percent of the replacement cost. That ensures that factories and municipalities have little reason to invest in wastewater treatment or other water-conservation efforts. Fines for polluting are so low that factory managers often prefer to pay them rather than adopt costlier pollution-control technologies. One manager of a coal-fired power plant explained to a Chinese reporter in 2005 that he was ignoring a recent edict mandating that all new power plants use desulfurization equipment because the technology cost as much as would 15 years' worth of fines.

Local governments also turn a blind eye to serious pollution problems out of self-interest. Officials sometimes have a direct financial stake in factories or personal relationships with their owners. And the local environmental protection bureaus tasked with guarding against such corruption must report to the local governments, making them easy targets for political pressure. In recent years, the Chinese media have uncovered cases in which local officials have put pressure on the courts, the press, or even hospitals to prevent the wrongdoings of factories from coming to light. (Just this year, in the province of Zhejiang, officials reportedly promised factories with an output of $1.2 million or more that they would not be subjected to government inspections without the factories' prior approval.)

Moreover, local officials frequently divert environmental protection funds and spend them on unrelated or ancillary endeavors. The Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, which reports to SEPA, disclosed this year that only half of the 1.3 percent of the country's annual GDP dedicated to environmental protection between 2001 and 2005 had found its way to legitimate projects. According to the study, about 60 percent of the environmental protection funds spent in urban areas during that period went into the creation of, among other things, parks, factory production lines, gas stations, and sewage-treatment plants rather than into waste- or wastewater-treatment facilities.

Many local officials also thwart efforts to hold them accountable for their failure to protect the environment. In 2005, SEPA launched the "Green GDP" campaign, a project designed to calculate the costs of environmental degradation and pollution to local economies and provide a basis for evaluating the performance of local officials both according to their economic stewardship and according to how well they protect the environment. Several provinces balked, however, worried that the numbers would reveal the extent of the damage suffered by the environment. SEPA's partner in the campaign, the National Bureau of Statistics of China, also undermined the effort by announcing that it did not possess the tools to do Green GDP accounting accurately and that in any case it did not believe officials should be evaluated on such a basis. After releasing a partial report in September 2006, the NBS has refused to release this year's findings to the public.

Another problem is that many Chinese companies see little direct value in ratcheting up their environmental protection efforts. The computer manufacturer Lenovo and the appliance manufacturer Haier have received high marks for taking creative environmental measures, and the solar energy company Suntech has become a leading exporter of solar cells. But a recent poll found that only 18 percent of Chinese companies believed that they could thrive economically while doing the right thing environmentally. Another poll of business executives found that an overwhelming proportion of them do not understand the benefits of responsible corporate behavior, such as environmental protection, or consider the requirements too burdensome.


The limitations of the formal authorities tasked with environmental protection in China have led the country's leaders to seek assistance from others outside the bureaucracy. Over the past 15 years or so, China's NGOs, the Chinese media, and the international community have become central actors in the country's bid to rescue its environment. But the Chinese government remains wary of them.

China's homegrown environmental activists and their allies in the media have become the most potent -- and potentially explosive -- force for environmental change in China. From four or five NGOs devoted primarily to environmental education and biodiversity protection in the mid-1990s, the Chinese environmental movement has grown to include thousands of NGOs, run primarily by dynamic Chinese in their 30s and 40s. These groups now routinely expose polluting factories to the central government, sue for the rights of villagers poisoned by contaminated water or air, give seed money to small newer NGOs throughout the country, and go undercover to expose multinationals that ignore international environmental standards. They often protest via letters to the government, campaigns on the Internet, and editorials in Chinese newspapers. The media are an important ally in this fight: they shame polluters, uncover environmental abuse, and highlight environmental protection successes.

Beijing has come to tolerate NGOs and media outlets that play environmental watchdog at the local level, but it remains vigilant in making sure that certain limits are not crossed, and especially that the central government is not directly criticized. The penalties for misjudging these boundaries can be severe. Wu Lihong worked for 16 years to address the pollution in Tai Hu (which recently spawned blue-green algae), gathering evidence that has forced almost 200 factories to close. Although in 2005 Beijing honored Wu as one of the country's top environmentalists, he was beaten by local thugs several times during the course of his investigations, and in 2006 the government of the town of Yixing arrested him on dubious charges of blackmail. And Yu Xiaogang, the 2006 winner of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, honoring grass-roots environmentalists, was forbidden to travel abroad in retaliation for educating villagers about the potential downsides of a proposed dam relocation in Yunnan Province.

The Chinese government's openness to environmental cooperation with the international community is also fraught. Beijing has welcomed bilateral agreements for technology development or financial assistance for demonstration projects, but it is concerned about other endeavors. On the one hand, it lauds international environmental NGOs for their contributions to China's environmental protection efforts. On the other hand, it fears that some of them will become advocates for democratization.

The government also subjects MNCs to an uncertain operating environment. Many corporations have responded to the government's calls that they assume a leading role in the country's environmental protection efforts by deploying top-of-the-line environmental technologies, financing environmental education in Chinese schools, undertaking community-based efforts, and raising operating standards in their industries. Coca-Cola, for example, recently pledged to become a net-zero consumer of water, and Wal-Mart is set to launch a nationwide education and sales initiative to promote the use of energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs. Sometimes, MNCs have been rewarded with awards or significant publicity. But in the past two years, Chinese officials (as well as local NGOs) have adopted a much tougher stance toward them, arguing at times that MNCs have turned China into the pollution capital of the world. On issues such as electronic waste, the detractors have a point. But China's attacks, with Internet postings accusing MNCs of practicing "eco-colonialism," have become unjustifiably broad. Such antiforeign sentiment spiked in late 2006, after the release of a pollution map listing more than 3,000 factories that were violating water pollution standards. The 33 among them that supplied MNCs were immediately targeted in the media, while the other few thousand Chinese factories cited somehow escaped the frenzy. A few Chinese officials and activists privately acknowledge that domestic Chinese companies pollute far more than foreign companies, but it seems unlikely that the spotlight will move off MNCs in the near future. For now, it is simply more expedient to let international corporations bear the bulk of the blame.


Why is China unable to get its environmental house in order? Its top officials want what the United States, Europe, and Japan have: thriving economies with manageable environmental problems. But they are unwilling to pay the political and economic price to get there. Beijing's message to local officials continues to be that economic growth cannot be sacrificed to environmental protection -- that the two objectives must go hand in hand.

This, however, only works sometimes. Greater energy efficiency can bring economic benefits, and investments to reduce pollution, such as in building wastewater-treatment plants, are expenses that can be balanced against the costs of losing crops to contaminated soil and having a sickly work force. Yet much of the time, charting a new environmental course comes with serious economic costs up front. Growth slows down in some industries or some regions. Some businesses are forced to close down. Developing pollution-treatment and pollution-prevention technologies requires serious investment. In fact, it is because they recognize these costs that local officials in China pursue their short-term economic interests first and for the most part ignore Beijing's directives to change their ways.

This is not an unusual problem. All countries suffer internal tugs of war over how to balance the short-term costs of improving environmental protection with the long-term costs of failing to do so. But China faces an additional burden. Its environmental problems stem as much from China's corrupt and undemocratic political system as from Beijing's continued focus on economic growth. Local officials and business leaders routinely -- and with impunity -- ignore environmental laws and regulations, abscond with environmental protection funds, and silence those who challenge them. Thus, improving the environment in China is not simply a matter of mandating pollution-control technologies; it is also a matter of reforming the country's political culture. Effective environmental protection requires transparent information, official accountability, and an independent legal system. But these features are the building blocks of a political system fundamentally different from that of China today, and so far there is little indication that China's leaders will risk the authority of the Communist Party on charting a new environmental course. Until the party is willing to open the door to such reform, it will not have the wherewithal to meet its ambitious environmental targets and lead a growing economy with manageable environmental problems.

Given this reality, the United States -- and the rest of the world -- will have to get much smarter about how to cooperate with China in order to assist its environmental protection efforts. Above all, the United States must devise a limited and coherent set of priorities. China's needs are vast, but its capacity is poor; therefore, launching one or two significant initiatives over the next five to ten years would do more good than a vast array of uncoordinated projects. These endeavors could focus on discrete issues, such as climate change or the illegal timber trade; institutional changes, such as strengthening the legal system in regard to China's environmental protection efforts; or broad reforms, such as promoting energy efficiency throughout the Chinese economy. Another key to an effective U.S.-Chinese partnership is U.S. leadership. Although U.S. NGOs and U.S.-based MNCs are often at the forefront of environmental policy and technological innovation, the U.S. government itself is not a world leader on key environmental concerns. Unless the United States improves its own policies and practices on, for example, climate change, the illegal timber trade, and energy efficiency, it will have little credibility or leverage to push China.

China, for its part, will undoubtedly continue to place a priority on gaining easy access to financial and technological assistance. Granting this, however, would be the wrong way to go. Joint efforts between the United States and China, such as the recently announced project to capture methane from 15 Chinese coal mines, are important, of course. But the systemic changes needed to set China on a new environmental trajectory necessitate a bottom-up overhaul. One way to start would be to promote energy efficiency in Chinese factories and buildings. Simply bringing these up to world standards would bring vast gains. International and Chinese NGOs, Chinese environmental protection bureaus, and MNCs could audit and rate Chinese factories based on how well their manufacturing processes and building standards met a set of energy-efficiency targets. Their scores (and the factors that determined them) could then be disclosed to the public via the Internet and the print media, and factories with subpar performances could be given the means to improve their practices.

A pilot program in Guangdong Province, which is run under the auspices of the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong, provides just such a mechanism. Factories that apply for energy audits can take out loans from participating banks to pay for efficiency upgrades, with the expectation that they will pay the loans back over time out of the savings they will realize from using fewer materials or conserving energy. Such programs should be encouraged and could be reinforced by requiring, for example, that the U.S.-based MNCs that worked with the participating factories rewarded those that met or exceeded the standards and penalized those that did not (the MNCs could either expand or reduce their orders, for example). NGOs and the media in China could also publicize the names of the factories that refused to cooperate. These initiatives would have the advantages of operating within the realities of China's environmental protection system, providing both incentives and disincentives to encourage factories to comply; strengthening the role of key actors such as NGOs, the media, and local environmental protection bureaus; and engaging new actors such as Chinese banks. It is likely that as with the Greenwatch program, factory owners and local officials not used to transparency would oppose such efforts, but if they were persuaded that full participation would bring more sales to MNCs and grow local economies, many of them would be more open to public disclosure.

Of course, much of the burden and the opportunity for China to revolutionize the way it reconciles environmental protection and economic development rests with the Chinese government itself. No amount of international assistance can transform China's domestic environment or its contribution to global environmental challenges. Real change will arise only from strong central leadership and the development of a system of incentives that make it easier for local officials and the Chinese people to embrace environmental protection. This will sometimes mean making tough economic choices.

Improvements to energy efficiency, of the type promoted by the program in Guangdong, are reforms of the low-hanging-fruit variety: they promise both economic gains and benefits to the environment. It will be more difficult to implement reforms that are economically costly (such as reforms that raise the costs of manufacturing in order to encourage conservation and recycling and those that impose higher fines against polluters), are likely to be unpopular (such as reforms that hike the price of water), or could undermine the Communist Party's authority (such as reforms that open up the media or give freer rein to civil society). But such measures are also necessary. And their high up-front costs must be weighed against the long-term costs to economic growth, public health, and social stability in which the Chinese government's continued inaction would result. The government must ensure greater accountability among local officials by promoting greater grass-roots oversight, greater transparency via the media or other outlets, and greater independence in the legal system.

China's leaders have shown themselves capable of bold reform in the past. Two and half decades ago, Deng Xiaoping and his supporters launched a set of ambitious reforms despite stiff political resistance and set the current economic miracle in motion. In order to continue on its extraordinary trajectory, China needs leaders with the vision to introduce a new set of economic and political initiatives that will transform the way the country does business. Without such measures, China will not return to global preeminence in the twenty-first century. Instead, it will suffer stagnation or regression -- and all because leaders who recognized the challenge before them were unwilling to do what was necessary to surmount it.

{Footnote 1} The original Associated Press story that was the source for the statement was mistaken and has been corrected. In fact, the EPA, citing a model saying that Asia contributes about 30 percent of the background sulfate particulate matter in the western United States, estimates that Asia contributes about one percent of all particulate matter in Los Angeles.