China Crisis

China has long been criticised by environmentalists for ant-environmentalist policies. For example, when building the Three Gorges Dam, the largest hydroelectric project in the world it caused supposedly environmental destruction and displacement of villagers. I has also been criticised for its water cleanliness. It is claimed that five of China’s greatest rivers are too polluted to touch or drink. Several of the country’s largest waterways, including the Yellow River, run dry before reaching the sea. The leak of toxic Benzene into the Songhua River in November 2005, and the disconnection of water supplies to the city of Harbin and its millions of inhabitants, has also increased concerns.

It was recently reported that China is now the world’s second-largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, soon to over take from the USA. It has plans to build 600 coal-fired power stations by 2030, with the expected rise in greenhouse emissions. Some environmentalists say that China is today already exposed to Acid rain.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently reported that two-thirds of China’s cities have air quality below standard. Nine of its cities are in the top ten most polluted in the world, some having the highest rates of airborne carbon monoxide in the world. It has been widely reported, by the Chinese themselves, that 400,000 people die prematurely every year from diseases linked to air pollution, partly down to increased car use. The numbers of cars in Beijing has doubled in the past five years to 2.5m; it is expected to rise to over 3m by the time the Olympic flame reaches the capital city in 2008.

On April 14th 2006 the Taipei Times reported a state report outlining that China’s rapid economic growth has prevented it from meeting nearly half of its goals for environmental protection, with the level of sulphur dioxide emissions rising by 27 percent over the past five years, the government says.

NB Although China had set a target of cutting discharges of sulphur dioxide, a health threatening gas, by 10 percent from 2000 to last year. It set the same target for reducing emissions of carbon monoxide, unfortunately it only managed a 2 percent cut.
The report, posted on the agency’s Web site, cited surging energy consumption due to the economic boom, which has kept Gross Domestic Product growth above 9 percent. ‘Some regions set more value on pursuing rapid GDP growth, sacrificing the environment and public health,’ the report said. Of 20 environmental goals, eight were not achieved, including reducing discharges of carbon dioxide and industrial solid waste and expanding the proportion of waste water treatment, it said. The targets were based on the assumption that China’s energy consumption last year would be 1.36 billion tonnes of standard coal — a common measure for energy use. The actual consumption last year was 2.0 billion tonnes!

Coal-fired power plants are China’s biggest source of sulphur-dioxide emissions. Installed capacity for such plants reached 500 megawatts last year, 25 percent above the original expected 400 megawatts of capacity.

The report also cited limited progress in projects aimed at boosting waste water treatment along the Huai River and other severely polluted bodies of water.

Of 256 projects, only 54 percent were on target. Poor maintenance and antiquated equipment at ageing factories were increasingly causing environmental accidents, it noted.

All these facts suggest that progress is being made in the areas of economic growth but there appears to be a disregard to the will to be responsible. Maybe part of the problem is that no one takes a leadership position in putting the Earth first. Instead, competitive forces push this issue into the back of people’s minds. Is there not an ethical way to develop economies? We are too reliant on unrealistic targets. The reality is that we need to urgently fund new sources of energy and also review the inefficient procedures/practices of today’s power generation standards.

Consumption drives production but product should also start by being efficient, encouraging recyclability (with incentives) and a massive reduction in wasteful packaging.

Categories: 2006

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