Special Reports
Chinese Government Censors World Bank Pollution Report

By Monica Liau on
Worldwatch Institute
July 11, 2007

Under pressure from Beijing government ministries, the World Bank has cut
by roughly one third a new report chronicling the widespread cost of
pollution in China, according to the Financial Times. The 151-page report,
based on an epidemiological model used by the World Health Organization
(WHO), had concluded that some 750,000 people die prematurely each year in
China due to extremely poor air and water quality. It also observed that
the areas with the highest per capita exposure to dirty air and water were
almost all in China’s northern provinces. In addition, the report had
asserted that China’s rural poor were “at a substantially higher risk from
surface water pollution than the non-poor.”

An adviser to the study said Chinese officials told the Bank it could not
publish the selected information because it was deemed too sensitive and
could cause “social unrest.” In recent years, China has experienced a
rising number of protests provoked by local environmental degradation as
well as increasing emissions from factories that have polluted nearby
farmland or water supplies. The World Bank released a statement on July 3
that the cuts to the China pollution report had not yet been finalized
By some measures, the pollution loads of Chinese cities have improved in
recent years. The Bank attributes this to a combination of modernizing
industrial structures and the implementation of pollution control
policies. The introduction of more energy-efficient technologies has
served to gradually decrease ambient concentrations of particulate matter
(PM) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) over the last 25 years. Measures that
combine command-and-control rules with economic and voluntary measures
have contributed substantially to leveling off or even reducing pollution
loads, particularly in certain targeted industrial sectors.

Even so, Chinese cities are considered among the most polluted in the
world. According to government reports, more than 70 percent of China’s
waterways and 90 percent of its groundwater are contaminated by pollution.
But the biggest killer is air pollution. Only 1 percent of China’s urban
residents live in cities with PM concentrations below 40 micrograms per
cubic meter of air, double the WHO’s recommended level.

Despite purging information from the World Bank report, the Chinese
government continues to publicize efforts to curb the country’s massive
pollution problem. On July 3, Beijing declared that one million cars would
be removed from the city’s polluted and congested streets this summer in
an effort to diffuse heavy smog that persists despite the upcoming Olympic
Games. And on July 5, the Chinese government announced renewed plans to
“bar bank loans to companies that violate environmental laws.” The move
aims to reverse the practice many businesses currently follow of paying
pollution fines and bribing local officials rather than updating equipment
with more environmentally sound models.

China Watch is a joint initiative of the Worldwatch Institute and
Beijing-based Global Environmental Institute (GEI) and is supported by the
blue moon fund.


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