China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Friday, February 27, 2009

China can build 'green economy' by 2030

By Zhao Tingting ( Updated: 2009-02-26 17:08

China has the potential to build a "green economy" over the next decades, said a report on energy and the environment by McKinsey & Company, a global management consultancy firm.

By 2030, China is expected to reduce its oil imports by up to 30 to 40 percent, its coal demand by 40 percent and greenhouse gas emission by 50 percent, through investing in technologies that are commercially available and those not widely understood or deployed today, said the report.

Transforming China into a "green economy", McKinsey estimated that from now until 2030, up to 1.5-2 trillion yuan on average would be needed in additional investment each year to effectively deploy the green technologies needed to achieve the substantial improvements.

On an annual basis, the investment required is equivalent to 1.5-2.5 percent of China's GDP, with this spending bringing China enhanced energy security.

For example, by comprehensively rolling out electric vehicles over the next two decades, China could cut its projected demand for imported oil by up to 30-40 percent in 2030.

By significantly ramping up investment in clean energy technologies such as nuclear, wind, solar and hydropower, China could cut its reliance on coal as the source of energy for its power plants from 81 percent of total electricity generation today to 34 percent by 2030.

By comprehensively implementing energy efficiency improvement technologies in the building and industrial sectors, and by actively recovering and utilizing waste and by-products in the industrial sector, China could cut its projected demand for electricity and coal in 2030 by over 10 percent.

Meanwhile, the report revealed that China has consistently improved the "carbon efficiency" of its economy over the past 15 years.

Through a combination of government policies and industry-wide initiatives, China has reduced the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that it produces for every unit of GDP by 4.9 percent each year on average over the past 15 years, compared with just 1.7 percent in the US and 2.7 percent in Germany.

The report was based on McKinsey's study of 200 technologies that China could deploy to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions and pollution in six key sectors, including power, automobiles, heavy industry and waste management, buildings, agriculture and forestry, urban design and consumer behavior. More than 100 experts from government, business, and academia were interviewed for the report.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

China's environment problems serious: minister

China's environment problems serious: minister AFP/File – View of a rubbish dump on the edge of a drought affected Poyang lake in Jiangxi province.

SHANGHAI (AFP) – China's environmental problems remain serious with local governments not putting enough pressure on businesses to control pollution, the nation's environment protection minister has said.

Efforts to toughen environment laws have not done enough to fix the widespread problems for China's air, lakes and rivers, Zhang Lijun said on Tuesday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"The general situation of environmental pollution does not allow us to be optimistic," Zhang was quoted telling a national meeting on pollution control in Shanghai.

Zhang's ministry replaced the environmental protection agency last year with greater powers, but enforcement still depends largely on local officials.

Zhang said environmental protection departments across the country needed to place greater pressure on businesses to contain pollution, according to Xinhua.

"The fundamental way to overcome this is to continue to press enterprises to reduce pollution emissions through technology and management," he said.

Local governments, however, often face a conflict of interest because they benefit economically from heavily polluting industries.

Nearly a quarter of the monitoring stations set up along major rivers, such as the Yangtze and Yellow, reported the worst water quality on China's six-level scale, the report said, citing documents distributed at the meeting.

Nearly 40 percent of the water in 28 major lakes also registered level six ratings -- meaning it was too polluted for even farm irrigation.

In urban areas 90 percent of river water and half of underground water is polluted, the report said.

Meanwhile, the average air quality in two out of five Chinese cities ranges from "polluted" to "hazardous", according to a survey conducted in November in 320 cities, according to Xinhua.

In one of the latest reported incidents, hundreds of thousands of people in the eastern Chinese city of Yancheng had their tap water cut off over the weekend after a chemical company spilled their products into a local river.

One of the most high-profile cases occurred in 2005, when a massive chemical spill into northeast China's Songhua River resulted in tap water being cut for millions of people and pollution flowing into Russia.

Who’s to Blame for China’s Pollution? Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Although China has recently surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter in 2007, new research shows that about a third of all Chinese carbon emissions are caused by the manufacturing of goods for other countries, particularly developed nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

The study, which will be published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, calls attention to “offshored emissions” as a key issue that needs to be resolved at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, where world leaders will attempt to establish a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Offshored emissions are those that are created as a result of manufacturing products for export.
Under Kyoto, the country that produces the emissions takes responsibility for it. By these rules, developed countries such as the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990. However, if we take into account these “offshored emissions,” the pollution caused by the manufacture abroad of products for export to the UK, the UK’s emissions have actually risen 20%, according to research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
China, as the world's biggest export manufacturer, is particularly resistant to the call for emission cuts, arguing that it should not have to accept responsibility for the emissions involved in producing goods for foreign markets.
There is an increasing sentiment amongst academics and environmental activists that the responsibility for these emissions should in fact lie with the consumer countries, although it is still unclear how exact national figures would be calculated. It is also alleged that China’s weak pollution controls is one of the reasons Western businesses are attracted to doing business there.
To put these UK numbers in perspective, whereas 6% of total Chinese emissions are the result of manufacturing goods for all of Europe, about 9% are from producing goods just for the US, according to Glen Peters, one of the authors of the new report at Oslo’s Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Five Secrets to Success from China’s Top Green Heroes

Why do athletes train in conditions that are harder than game conditions? Because it makes them better at what they do. Likewise, environmentalists could learn a thing or two from successful activists in countries where the going is harder. In this sense, China makes a great environmentalist training ground. Here, you’ll find both daunting challenges and inspirational environmental activists.

Protip #5: How to create win-win situations and gain popular support

pan wenshi, Chinese conservationistPan Wenshi was recently featured by the International Herald Tribune for his success working with locals in a small Chinese village to protect the white-headed langur. But it wasn’t until Pan lent a hand to help locals that he began to realize success. After Pan helped a villager to get clean drinking water, the villager freed a langur from a trap and brought the animal to Pan, who learned from the experience. Now, Pan advocates for new schools and health clinics in the area where the langurs live. In return, he gets local support. “When you help the villagers, they would like to help you back,” says Pan. “Now, when outsiders try to trap langurs the locals stop them from coming in.”

Pan’s success grew when he won an environmental award that allowed him to install biogas collectors. The villagers could now cook without the toil of chopping firewood and the langurs benefited by slowed deforestation. Serving the needs of others has allowed the langur population in Pan’s nature reserve to expand from 96 to over 500. “This [serving the human community] is the most important thing we can do,” says Pan. “If the villagers can’t feed themselves, the langurs don’t stand a chance.”

Where to start: If you’re planning an environmental or community service project, read six secrets to successful community activism, then consider what’s needed in the community before you begin. With the same tip in mind, learn how to volunteer abroad. If you want to help a particular species, learn where the species lives and then find out how to help the people who share the ecosystem. One option in many parts of the world is to make an investment through Kiva.

Protip #4: How to speak out with confidence

Dai Qing, Chinese Environmental Activist and writerDai Qing has been called “one of the most courageous, controversial figures on the Chinese cultural and intellectual scene today.” In the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown, she was jailed for speaking out against the government’s proposed Three Gorges Dam. Her publication, Yangtze! Yangtze!, which criticized the dam, drew international attention, won her the Goldman Environmental Prize and helped to delay the dam’s construction. Still a committed activist and writer, Dai says, “The highest expression of dignity can be summed up in the single word ‘No!’ - being able to say ‘No!’ when you disagree.”

Where to start: Speak out about what matters to you by contacting your local representative, or let your wallet talk for you by “voting” with the way you shop or spend money. If you’re handy with a keyboard, consider applying to become a writer at Green Options Media.

Protip #3: How to work within the system

Wang CanfaChina already has many well-intentioned environmental laws in place. But without proper enforcement, these laws might as well not exist. Local officials, who hope to mimic the economic miracles of Shenzhen and Beijing, are quicker to side with industry than the locals who suffer from factory pollution. “From a traditional perspective, China isn’t completely a nation of laws,” said Wang Canfa, director of the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims. “So when it comes to environmental protection [laws],” some local officials wonder: “What kind of law is this?”

Wang fights legal battles to enforce China’s existing environmental laws and protect locals from industrial pollution. Although he grew up poor, Wang worked his way up within the system, and today he’s using that same system to protect those who share his humble roots. Among his victories was a $730,000 ruling against a Shandong paper mill that polluted local fish farms. These victories have turned Wang into something of a legend to those seeking protection from harmful environmental practices.

Where to start: Before you can work within the system, you need to know how the system works. Learn more about environmental law, environmental politics, or environmental economics (Europe, USA), then apply your knowledge to generating the maximum positive effect.

Protip #2: How to publicize, network and get connected

Liao Xiaoyi and Wen Bo Liao Xiaoyi, one of the most influential women in Chinese environmentalism, makes sustainable development in local communities a top priority. As president of Global Village, she promotes public transportation, recycling and eco-tourism, to name a few causes. She garnered attention through film and journalism, and in 2008 became a consultant in greening the Beijing Olympics. Liao says, “This is a media era. Somebody said, if you cannot show up in the media, then it is not different from not existing. Maybe it’s to extreme, but I know how important media is.”

Another top Chinese environmentalist, Wen Bo, told CNN that the new generation of Chinese youth activists are using the media to become more empowered and more effective. Says Wen, “[Young people] use this new media to publicize, to network, to get connected with people who are not in the same region. So, they can share ideas, share information instantly over the Internet, through email, and blogs.”

Where to start: If you think others would like to read about green news, projects, or achievements in your community, tell us at Green Options Media and you may see your news in the media.

Protip #1: How to teach others why the environment matters

Wang Yongchen“Sometimes it’s very lonely [being and environmental activist],” says Wang Yongchen, a journalist with China National Radio. “People support the environment, but say there’s nothing you can do about it.” If this attitude sounds familiar, learn how Wang is confronting it in her native China.

In 1996, Wang and co-founded Green Earth Volunteers as a small tree planting and bird watching NGO. The aim of these projects was to teach young people about their place in the environment. Since then, 50,000 people have joined the group’s programs. In 2005, Wang won the Condé Nast Traveler Environmental Award.

“Environmental protection and economic planning are longtime national policies. But while economic planning was managed really well, environmental protection was just an empty slogan,” says Wang. “I felt that if we really want to have environmental protection, then people have to learn about the environment.”

Where to start: Teachers, parents and educators can get lesson plans and grant information at the EPA Teacher Center, the North American Association for Environmental Education, Environmental Teaching Resources and a wide variety of other websites. One of my most successful exercises for teaching youth about habitat loss is to take a group of 5-50 students and use sidewalk chalk to draw a large circle on the ground where everyone can comfortably stand. (For inside a classroom, put scratch paper on the floor and tell students they must be standing on a piece of paper.) Explain that if each student were a species, then everyone has the room they need to live well. Then draw a smaller circle and have kids race to get inside. Continue with smaller circles until not everyone can fit in. The students have a great time and really get a great hands on understanding of the importance of habitat preservation.

Monday, February 23, 2009

West blamed for rapid increase in China's CO2

• Consumer exports behind 15% of emissions - study • Campaigners suggest new criteria for climate deal

The full extent of the west's responsibility for Chinese emissions of greenhouse gases has been revealed by a new study. The report shows that half of the recent rise in China's carbon dioxide pollution is caused by the manufacturing of goods for other countries - particularly developed nations such as the UK.

Last year, China officially overtook the US as the world's biggest CO2 emitter. But the new research shows that about a third of all Chinese carbon emissions are the result of producing goods for export.

The research, due to be published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters, underlines "offshored emissions" as a key unresolved issue in the run up to this year's crucial Copenhagen summit, at which world leaders will attempt to thrash out a deal to replace the Kyoto protocol.

Developing countries are under pressure to commit to binding emissions cuts in Copenhagen. But China is resistant, partly because it does not accept responsibility for the emissions involved in producing goods for foreign markets.

Under Kyoto, emissions are allocated to the country where they are produced. By these rules, the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990 - more than sufficient to meet its Kyoto target.

But research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) suggests that, once imports, exports and international transport are accounted for, the real change for the UK has been a rise in emissions of more than 20%.

China, as the world's biggest export manufacturer, is key to explaining this kind of discrepancy. According to Glen Peters, one of the authors of the new report at Oslo's Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, about 9% of total Chinese emissions are the result of manufacturing goods for the US, and 6% are from producing goods for Europe.

Academics and campaigners increasingly say responsibility for these emissions lies with the consumer countries.

Dieter Helm, professor of economics at Oxford University, said "focusing on consumption rather than production of emissions is the only intellectually and ethically sound solution". "We've simply outsourced our production," he added."

By contrast, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc), argues that these "embedded emissions" in Chinese-produced goods are not the UK's."The UK calculates and reports its emissions according to the internationally agreed criteria set out by the UN," it says.

However, the Decc admitted to the Guardian that "the footprint associated with the UK's consumption has risen".

Even if world leaders did agree a deal based on consumption rather than production of CO2, it is unclear how national figures would be calculated.

Jonathon Porritt, head of the Sustainable Development Commission, said: "Ultimately, the only place to register emissions is in the country of origin - in this case, China. Otherwise, the whole global accounting system for greenhouse gases will be undermined by the complexity of double-accounting."

The difficulty of measuring exported emissions is reflected in the fact that the new research focuses on the years 2002 to 2005. Relevant trade data is not yet available for subsequent years.

However, Dieter Helm believes these challenges can be overcome with political will. "It's complicated but there are ways of taking consumption into account, such as a border tax on carbon transfer," he said.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ma Jun: China's environmental patriot

Ma Jun

HONG KONG (AFP) — In China, where dissent is often brutally suppressed, publicly shaming powerful corporations for destroying the environment is fraught with risk. Ma Jun treads carefully.

The author of "China's Water Crisis," a savage catalogue of the country's environmental collapse, Ma now takes the fight to polluters, shaming factories on a website run by his non-governmental organisation the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE).

And working out how far a small campaign group can push businesses -- and the officials who back them -- has become his specialty.

"There is a space there, but there is a line as well. The key is to understand both," said the soft-spoken 40-year-old.

"This is the Chinese condition. This is a country that has been ruled in a top-down way for thousands of years. Now you want to do things in a different way? We have to have some patience."

There is no doubting the severity of China's environmental crisis.

Centuries of slashing forests, diverting rivers and expanding agriculture were compounded by the arrival of the world's most polluting industries during the economic boom of the last 30 years.

More than 60 percent of China's rivers and lakes are now dangerously contaminated, according to official figures. The desert is spreading from the north and the World Bank says 20 of the world's 30 filthiest cities are in China.

China's senior environment official Zhou Shengxian has said there were more than 50,000 public disturbances linked to pollution in 2005, state media reported, the last year any figures were released.

Despite the groundswell of anger, Ma is adamant any environmental progress must be measured.

"We want to see change, but we also want to see that this does not sink China into total chaos," he said.

The World Bank estimates the cost of air and water pollution is about 5.8 percent of the country's GDP, prompting new central government policies.

Tougher rhetoric has been followed by stringent targets, major clean-ups and reforestation programmes.

There is also increased tolerance of critical media coverage of environmental issues and a wary acceptance of small-scale international and local NGOs.

But enforcement remains woefully lax, and Ma -- who was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world in 2006 -- hopes public scrutiny can pressure polluters to clean up, as it has in the United States.

"Public participation is the key to dealing with our environmental problems," said Ma, who studied at Yale University in 2004.

"The pre-condition for any meaningful participation should be to allow those who are affected to have access to the information."

Using government statistics the IPE has created a map highlighting 30,000 violators of air and water regulations. Firms can only be removed after a third-party audit.

While Ma uses only government-approved data, his approach has still provoked angry responses from businessmen and occasionally from local officials.

"There are some extreme cases when they created a certificate with a chop (an official stamp) saying the company is 'basically OK' within hours (of being named on the site)," said Ma. "These are awkward moments."

Ma's gentle and legalistic approach is crucial.

"When they learn that all the data come from the government I think many of them feel more at ease," he said.

Inducements have been offered -- in a "delicate" way, Ma said -- by those convinced the website is an elaborate shakedown.

"It is the traditional Chinese way of doing things," said Ma, who says he has never taken a bribe.

Ma Jun was born in Qingdao, a city on China's east coast. He grew up in Beijing, where his father, an aerospace engineer, encouraged him to learn English from one of the first foreign-language radio programmes.

He studied English and journalism at university before becoming an assistant in the South China Morning Post's Beijing bureau.

Travelling with the paper's correspondents, he witnessed the toll China's economic boom was taking, prompting the research that developed into his 1999 book.

The discord between the idealised versions of the country's natural richness that fill Chinese literature and the brutal scarring of the landscape Ma saw inspired the groundbreaking study.

"It was an astonishing book. China's equivalent of 'Silent Spring' (the 1962 book by Rachel Carson credited with helping launch the environmental movement in the United States)," said Mark O'Neill, a colleague during the 1990s, who added Ma's calm approach was crucial to the NGO's success.

"He has made the maximum use of the space, but without getting himself arrested or getting locked up. This takes great intelligence and savvy."

Most of the companies the website pinpoints are Chinese, but multinationals with operations in China have also been named.

Ma hopes the website will challenge the argument, repeated by big firms, that the complexity of modern supply chains prevents proper monitoring.

"From now on you cannot say 'I do not know'," said Ma, who runs IPE out of a small Beijing apartment.

US giant General Electric (GE) has used the site to check suppliers, and said it could even help find new customers.

"I think it could be an opportunity where we may be able to use some of our technology to help turn around a factory," said Albert Xie, head of GE's Ecomagination project in China, which develops environmentally-friendly business opportunities.

Last summer, Ma's NGO launched the Green Choice Alliance Programme where corporations commit not to take goods from suppliers who flout environmental regulations.

The aim is to give a competitive advantage when selling goods and stop firms having to obsess about low costs.

"If they only care about quality and pricing and nothing else, you push (suppliers) to cut corners," he said.

Multinationals are crucial to any genuine progress, Ma said.

Former Wal-Mart chief executive officer Lee Scott said in Beijing last year the firm would require suppliers to ensure the factories they buy from receive the highest ratings in audits of environmental and social practices by 2012.

"That is the game-changer," said Ma.

"If you are below legal discharge standards you are out of the game. Only by adopting it can you compete," Ma said.

Ma is realistic about the challenge of cleaning up China's pollution -- "We still haven't seen the turning point," he said -- but he believes there is a genuine desire for improvement.

"At the time I wrote my book, it was not just officials, many ordinary people believed we needed to get rich before we deal with our environmental problems," he said.

"Recently, things have changed," he said, adding a database like his would have been "unimaginable" only eight years ago.

Indeed, just the fact that green NGOs are allowed to organise -- impossible for democracy or labour rights campaigners -- indicates a real commitment.

Ma resists any comparison with environmental groups in eastern Europe at the end of the Soviet era, some of which acted as Trojan horses for nascent democratic movements.

"I am sure that it is a worry for the government," he said, nevertheless repeating his mantra of gradual change.

"(Foreigners) are observers, they want to see things changing faster. But to us, we are part of it. We need to make sure this thing does not sink into chaos," he said.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

How America Can Turn China Green

The U.S. ignored Beijing's request that it pay 1 percent of GDP to help China go green. It shouldn't.
Fred Guterl
From the magazine issue dated Feb 23, 2009

Gao Guangsheng has an odd sense of timing. In late October, as the global financial system was collapsing around him, he put the United States, Europe and Japan on notice that they would be getting a bill for a hundred years of pumping the climate full of carbon dioxide. The idea wasn't entirely new—the big industrial powers had been vilified before for despoiling the planet on their way to wealth and modernization, while asking China, India and other poor nations to do the right thing. But the demand took on an entirely new characater coming from Gao, Beijing's climate czar. It didn't hurt that he was able to deliver a precise figure: 1 percent of GDP, which comes to more than $350 billion a year.

Western leaders handled Gao's statement as you might have expected in the middle of an economic crisis: they ignored it. Over the next few months, however, that tactic will be difficult to sustain. As climate talks begin to build toward a climax in Copenhagen in December, when a follow-on to the Kyoto Protocol is due to be drawn up, Gao's challenge stands as a gaping rift. It's the same rift that kept China, India and other relatively poor nations out of Kyoto and gave President George W. Bush an excuse to withdraw, putting climate-change policy on hold for the past eight years. The issue looms large over Hillary Clinton's first trip this week to Beijing as newly minted secretary of state. The longer the issue remains unresolved, the greater the chance that Copenhagen will end in a similar stalemate—and this time there'll be no George Bush to blame.

Given the gravity of the issue, the notion of paying China to solve its environment problems may not be as much of a nonstarter as it sounds. China is a key pressure point of the world's climate problem. Last year it surpassed the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Even so, China's breakneck growth means that most of its mistakes, from a climate standpoint, are yet to be made. China, for instance, has whole cities on the drawing board, waiting to house hundreds of millions of people who are expected to move from the countryside in the next decade or so. But buildings—constructing, heating and lighting them—typically account for about 40 percent of a nation's energy demand. Retrofitting existing buildings in the United States to be more energy-efficient is a lot harder than building green ones in China from scratch. A similar potential holds for automobiles and power plants. China builds 100 or so coal plants every year, and each time it fails to use the most efficient technology it commits the atmosphere to absorbing that much more carbon for the next 30 or so years. From the standpoint of the planet—a ton of carbon dioxide does the same damage regardless of where it comes from—it makes sense for the United States to help fix China.

A cash payment, of course, is out of the question. (Sorry, Gao.) Hillary Clinton won't be handing over a check for climate reparations. The American public is angry enough at the billions of dollars Washington is throwing at the banks and might not take kindly to spending another $140 billion (1 percent of U.S. GDP) every year to bail out someone else's environment. The American public might acquiesce to climate aid to China if it were sold as a kind of trade stimulus or partnership, however.

When it comes to environmental troubles, the United States and China have more in common than meets the eye. Both nations are climate sinners. Both have vast indigenous reserves of coal, the dirtiest form of electricity generation. And both are under considerable pressure to go green. Common problems also lead to common solutions—what works in one country might work in the other. For this reason, some experts think that giving China a green stimulus wouldn't be all that much different from giving one to U.S. firms doing business there, or vice versa. "Even if we spend it at home, we're investing in companies that themselves have to be in China selling these technologies," says Ed Steinfeld, a political scientist and director of the China program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "If we end up investing in China, we have to frame it as something different."

Framing it as assistance to U.S. companies might not be too hard because industry is becoming intertwined. Wal-Mart's "sustainability initiative" would impose energy-efficiency targets on the factories in its supply chain—a decision that could affect thousands of plants. You don't have to go very far from Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, before you wind up in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Elizabeth Economy, a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues that governments could promote more of this sort of thing by subsidizing some of the upfront costs—arranging loans through private banks that would ultimately be paid back from savings in energy costs, or paying for audits to make sure efficiencies get carried out down the supply chain.

Partnerships in key technologies could do much to jump-start private investment. In a recent report, Brookings Institution fellows David Sandalow and Kenneth Lieberthal highlight electric cars and batteries as especially promising areas for U.S.-Chinese collaboration. Both require breakthroughs in technology and would benefit from a sharing of resources and know-how. The commitment of governments from two of the world's biggest markets would also go some way toward helping establish standards and address intellectual-property issues. Sandalow and Lieberthal advocate high-profile projects that share technology and expertise. A joint program to develop electric cars, for instance, might not require much more from Washington than paying travel expenses for some Chinese scientists and engineers from Beijing to Cambridge. "Signals that national leaders send on this issue will have an impact on the marketplace" in both China and the United States, says Sandalow. "If leaders in both places jointly say that electric vehicles are a priority, private companies will respond."

Such initiatives might also smooth over the diplomatic problems ahead of the Copenhagen meeting. It would send a signal to Chinese citizens that they are finally getting something from Washington in return for committing to emissions cutbacks and other green measures. Leaders in Beijing could crow about the concessions they won from the West.

It may be time to try a new approach. The Clean Development Mechanism, the carbon-credit trading system born from Kyoto, has provided a market-based way of transferring wealth to developing nations. But it's too small to make a big impact on global emissions and has been criticized for financing clean-energy projects that would have happened anyway. The United Nations Environmental Program, in a report coming out this week, says that Western aid that promotes green industries—wind turbines, solar power and the like—in Africa, Southeast Asia and other developing nations could act as both an economic stimulus and climate fix. Such a program would probably run into the common problem of how to distribute funds where they'll do the most good. A simpler and more effective climate fix might be to go straight at the biggest emitters—both of them.

With Craig Simons in Beijing

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Meet China's green crusader

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

It's a challenge to defend China these days. There's violation of human rights. There's Sudan. There's Tibet. And now there's "currency manipulation."

So looking at China's pollution mess, we in the West have been quick to denounce the bad guys in Beijing, blaming them for doing nothing to protect their air, water and people.

But Chinese indifference to the environment is a myth. In the last few years China has begun to take aggressive action to bring its air and water pollution under control.

Here are a few examples:

-China's fuel-efficiency standard for cars is currently pegged at 43 miles per gallon, which means that when America's 2020 standards of 35 mpg go into effect they'll be lower than China's minimum standard of today.

-Coal-fired plants must install or retrofit filtering devices in their smokestacks.

-Chief executives of companies found responsible for waste-dumping are being fined 50 percent of their previous year's salary.

-Approval of new industrial projects in cities along China's four major rivers has been suspended indefinitely.

-A "green credit policy," which instructs banks not to give loans to energy-intensive, polluting industries and to recall loans when companies are later found to be violation of environmental regulations, went into effect in July 2007.

-An ambitious renewable-energy program, in which hydroelectric, biomass, wind and solar power are to account for 10 percent of China's total energy use by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020, was made public in March 2008.

Credit for most of these measures goes mostly to one man, Pan Yue, vice minister of the newly established Ministry of Environmental Protection. Pan has made it a personal mission to raise awareness of China's ecological crisis since 2003, when he was appointed vice deputy of the ministry's less powerful predecessor, the State Environmental Protection Administration.

"In 20 years, China has achieved economic results that took a century to attain in the West," Pan says. "But we have also concentrated a century's worth of environmental issues into those 20 years."

He appears unafraid to challenge the "development" path that the Chinese Communist Party has taken for the past three decades: "There has been a flaw in our thinking: The belief that the economy decides everything. If the economy is booming, we thought, political stability will follow; if the economy is booming, we hoped, people will have enough to eat and live contented lives; if the economy is booming, we believed, there will be money everywhere and materialism will be enough to stave off the looming crises posed by our population, resources, environment, society, economy, and culture. But now it seems this will not be enough."

With remarks like this, Pan is taking on the party leaders in Beijing. His insistence that it is time for the leadership to give less emphasis to development and considerably more to responsible stewardship of the environment has been unrelenting.

In one month alone (February 2008), he announced the shutdown of 40 plants that were operating in violation of pollution standards. A month earlier, he issued a blacklist of more than 100 multinational companies with subsidiaries in China that continue to contribute to contamination of the waterways. In late February, he introduced through SEPA the "Green Securities Act," which requires companies from energy- and pollution-intensive sectors to undergo strict inspection by environmental specialists if they wish to launch an initial public offering - thereby limiting the expansion of those sectors.

He acknowledges that the battle he's fighting is uphill, saying in the China Daily: "Local resistance will reduce the effects of environmental policies. Some projects that use a lot of energy and create a lot of pollution are able to generate quick returns for local governments, which has inspired some of them to stand in the way of policies like green credit." Yet he expresses faith, not in government officials, but in the Chinese people becoming ever more proprietary about their air and water - especially if the people are given information about the environment by the government, a position he advocates strongly. He said, "By increasing the transparency of environmental information, the force of public opinion can put pressure on those who destroy the environment."

Pan's initiative, the "Measures on Open Environmental Information," was formally adopted on May 1, 2008. The public activism implied in Pan's remarks is indeed growing. In 2006 alone there were 60,000 public protests related to the environment.

Further evidence of the public's engagement with ecological issues is the growth in the number of environmental-related nongovernmental organizations in China. As recently as the mid-1990s there were but four or five, now there are a few thousand.

So, we in the West can stay on the sidelines and keep our hands clean of China's deepening environmental crisis. Or we can join hands with environmentalists in China. Pan Yue, and others like him, represents an ideal opportunity to build bridges with a growing and critically important indigenous Chinese environmental movement.

It doesn't pay for the world community to treat China's pollution as China's problem. Pollution is a global problem; curbing it will require a global effort.

Daniel K. Gardner is a professor of history at Smith College.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Emerging economies told to go green or risk losing inward investment

Sustainability is increasingly important to investors targeting Brazil, Russia, India and China, according to new report

Tom Young, BusinessGreen, 09 Feb 2009

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Clearing the air with China


A summit and partnership on global warming could allow the U.S. and Beijing to get past the blame game.
February 9, 2009 As President Obama pursues green infrastructure projects and other programs aimed at fighting climate change, he is eventually going to have to confront an unpleasant truth: None of it will matter unless the developing world, particularly China, does the same. With China having passed the U.S. as the country with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, and with its per-capita emissions rising four to six times faster than ours, any carbon reductions here will be more than canceled out by increases there. A smart way of addressing that problem was presented last week in a report by a multi- disciplinary team of experts, who proposed that Obama convene a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao to outline a plan of action against global warming and create high-level councils in both countries to develop ways to implement it. What makes this project, a joint effort of the Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, different from the usual think-tank fodder is that it was co-chaired by Steven Chu, who as the new secretary of Energy presumably has Obama's ear when it comes to climate policy. The idea of cooperating more closely with China on such matters isn't new. Former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson began a series of high-level talks on economic issues with China in 2006, and last year he convened a session on energy and the environment that established various goals and set up task forces to address them. But climate change wasn't really Paulson's priority -- the session took place in June, when high oil prices were the top economic and political issue, and it was aimed mainly at putting downward pressure on oil demand and prices. International summits and task forces seldom lead to much concrete progress (Paulson's initiative went pretty much nowhere), but there's reason to think a U.S.-China partnership on climate change could be different. Each country tends to blame the other for the problem; China points out that the U.S. is historically the world's biggest contributor to greenhouse gas concentrations and says it should be free to industrialize just as the U.S. was, and the U.S. says imposing carbon controls here would give China a competitive economic advantage. Working together, the two countries could improve economic prospects for both while disadvantaging neither. The global economic crisis, meanwhile, presents an opportunity for both countries to invest in projects that cut carbon and create jobs. In the next year, there will be much talk of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol global climate agreement, but a bilateral effort by the U.S. and China is arguably more important. Obama should see that it happens.

Monday, February 09, 2009

United on climate change: Obama's Chinese revolution

US President wants the world's two biggest polluters to form a partnership in the battle against global warming. Geoffrey Lean reports

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Metal fatigue Capital Iron and Steel on the outskirts of Beijing is one of the country's biggest polluters


Metal fatigue Capital Iron and Steel on the outskirts of Beijing is one of the country's biggest polluters

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    Friday, February 06, 2009

    Dam could have triggered Chinese earthquake, say scientists

    Weight of water may have affected disaster that killed 90,000 in Sichuan last year

    Pressure from a large dam could have helped to trigger the earthquake which killed up to 90,000 people in south-west China last year, some scientists have claimed.

    Chinese and overseas experts suggested that the weight of waters in the Zipingpu Dam in Sichuan may have affected the timing or scale of the 7.9 magnitude quake. The dam stands just 3.5 miles from the epicentre.

    Scientists agree that dams can produce tremors. But several today played down the claims that this was an issue in Sichuan, arguing that the area lies on an active fault line and that the shock was too great for the reservoir to be a major factor.

    Fan Xiao, a chief engineer at the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, said May's earthquake was the largest in the area for thousands of years and suggested that the weight of the reservoir's waters – 315m tonnes – was a key factor.

    "I'm not saying the earthquake would not have happened without the dam, but the presence of the massive Zipingpu dam may have changed the size or time of the quake, thus creating a more violent quake," he told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.

    Fan said sudden changes in the water level – like the rapid drop at Zipingpu shortly before the quake – could greatly destabilise an existing fault.

    He added that he had opposed the dam's construction in 2003 because he was worried about such a disaster and was concerned that dams are now being built on the Dadu and Jinsha rivers to the west and north-west of the quake zone.

    The Chinese government has promoted the building of large dams to reduce flooding and meet the country's energy needs without increasing pollution from coal-fired power stations.

    Christian Klose, a geophysical hazards research scientist from Columbia University in New York, has also suggested the extra water could have triggered the earthquake.

    But in a blog posting on the subject he warned: "Scientific evidence for such a statement is needed! Some questions need to be answered: How much water was impounded, where and when? Did resulting stress changes alter stresses deep in the Earth's crust? Were stress alterations significantly large enough? Where was the highest seismic energy release – close to the reservoir?"

    Dr Alex Densmore of Durham University, who was studying the Sichuan fault before the quake and has carried out further work there since, said he was "pretty sceptical".

    "The fault the earthquake happened on is active; we know there have been earthquakes there in the past and geologically that happened yesterday – just a few thousand years ago. It's impossible to say whether or not the reservoir might have advanced the time of the earthquake, but if it did so it did it by a very short period.

    "The size of the earthquake is ultimately determined by the length of the fault which breaks and how far the two sides move relative to each other. A reservoir by itself isn't going to affect those things … It won't give you a bigger earthquake than you would otherwise have had."

    Dr Roger Musson of the British Geological Survey said the Aswan Dam was a good example of how large reservoirs could produce earthquakes in previously unaffected areas.

    But he said he would be extremely doubtful that the Sichuan dam had played a role unless there was a record of smaller quakes dating back to when it was filled.

    Musson added: "That kind of [induced] earthquake can go up to magnitude 6.5, let's say. This earthquake was totally outside that level and was on a 300km-long rupture. That's a major tectonic fault.

    "To my mind it's a sterile discussion [anyway] – either the earthquake is going to happen or it's not. If you have advanced it by a year or two, is that a big deal?"

    Lei Xinglin, a geophysicist at the government's China Earthquake Administration, called for further investigation.

    "A reservoir in the region will have positive and negative effects on a potential earthquake, but it is ridiculous to say an earthquake was caused by the dam," he told AP.

    "We still need to carefully research this topic rather than jumping to conclusions."

    Experts in U.S. and China See a Chance for Cooperation Against Climate Change

    BEIJING — When Chinese officials and the Obama administration begin serious discussions over issues at the heart of relations between China and the United States, the usual suspects will no doubt emerge: trade, North Korea, human rights, Taiwan.

    But an increasing number of officials and scholars from both countries say climate change is likely to become another focal point in the dialogue. American and Chinese leaders recognize the urgency of global warming, the scholars and officials say, and believe that a new international climate treaty is impossible without agreements between their nations, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

    In a sign of this new emphasis, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to stress the importance of new steps on energy and global warming when she visits China, perhaps as soon as this month, an Obama administration official said.

    Two reports being released Thursday propose ways for President Obama and Chinese leaders to begin addressing together, as a major priority, how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases linked to rising temperatures.

    One report, “A Roadmap for U.S.-China Cooperation on Energy and Climate Change,” is a joint project of the Asia Society and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, both based in the United States. Scientists and policy advisers from both countries contributed to the report.

    The origins of the report indicate that it could carry weight in the White House. It was produced by a committee led by Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics who is now the secretary of energy, and John L. Thornton, a professor at Tsinghua University who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for United States ambassador to China. John P. Holdren, Mr. Obama’s choice for science adviser, is another contributor.

    The report recommends that China and the United States convene a presidential summit meeting to create a broad plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, followed by the appointment of senior officials and independent experts to councils and task forces to develop concrete programs. It says the two governments should lay out areas for cooperation, including low-emissions coal technologies, energy efficiency and conservation, and renewable energy.

    The other report, by two Brookings Institution fellows, David B. Sandalow and Kenneth G. Lieberthal, presents a menu of nine ways to build political support in both countries for sustained cooperation on cutting emissions.

    In China, scholars and policy advisers who support the proposals in the “Roadmap” report say talks on energy technology and climate change could foster cooperation between the Obama administration and China. A central question is whether Chinese leaders and American lawmakers will be too focused on reviving their economies to pay serious attention to curbing emissions.

    But at least in public, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other officials have said recently that the financial crisis gives China an opportunity to turn its growth model away from one that was not environmentally sustainable.

    “I believe climate change may become a very important issue which will put China-U.S. relations in a new framework in the 21st century because the stakes are high,” said Wu Jianmin, a senior adviser to the Foreign Ministry. “We all understand we don’t have much time left. We’ve got to work together.”

    This largely meshes with Mr. Obama’s hope for helping to revive the American economy by developing non-polluting energy technologies and “green jobs.”

    Todd Stern, appointed Mrs. Clinton’s special envoy for climate change, said the administration hoped to end sparring between the nations over who needs to do what first.

    “Secretary Clinton is keenly aware that the United States, as the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gases, and China, as the largest emitter going forward, need to develop a strong, constructive partnership to build the kind of clean-energy economies that will allow us to put the brakes on global climate change,” he said in an e-mail message.

    But some American officials and experts on climate and energy say that although Chinese leaders declare they are serious about the issue, it has been hard to pin them down on specifics.

    Mr. Wen, in an interview with The Financial Times published Monday, restated China’s position that it does not intend to agree to specific limits at a United Nations conference on climate change scheduled for December in Copenhagen.

    “It’s difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development,” he said. “Europe started its industrialization several hundred years ago, but for China, it has only been dozens of years.”

    Gao Guangsheng, who directs the climate change office at the National Development and Reform Commission, presented a white paper in October that said the world’s richest countries should contribute 1 percent of their gross domestic product to helping developing countries combat global warming.

    Zhang Haibin, an associate professor at Peking University who specializes in international environmental politics, said that China and the United States had historically had weak cooperation on the climate change problem, but that Chinese leaders believed that the relationship could change under Mr. Obama.

    Several American experts on energy, climate and Chinese-American relations said the “Roadmap” report built on recent calls for sustained partnerships on energy efficiency, technology for capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and other initiatives. But they said that task forces and summit meetings would be ineffective unless they led to programs and investments that continued for many years.

    “Nearly everything that these two countries have tried to do jointly on climate and energy has been episodic,” said David G. Victor, a political scientist at Stanford University who studies energy and climate. “The financial crisis has created an opportunity for a dialogue, but it also creates a host of new risks as the countries turn inward.”

    Orville Schell, a journalist who helped supervise the writing of the report as director of the Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations, said that in recent meetings Chinese officials had begun to recognize the need to take action on climate change.

    “We have watched as officials in China have become much more receptive to the need to do ‘something’ about climate change, although they are still unwilling to set caps,” Mr. Schell said in an e-mail message. “We have also watched our own country molt out of stubborn opposition to a far more open willingness to recognize the scientific basis of the problem and the need to do something about it.”