Environment of China

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Beijing air on a day after rain (left) and a sunny but smoky day (right)

This article documents the environment of mainland People's Republic of China.

One of the serious negative consequences of the People's Republic of China's rapid industrial development has been increased pollution and degradation of natural resources. Much solid waste is not properly disposed of. Water pollution is a source of health problems across the country, and air pollution causes up to 1,750,000 premature deaths each year. China's polluted environment is largely a result of the country's rapid development and consequently a large increase in primary energy consumption, which is primarily provided by coal power plants. China has pursued a development model which prioritizes exports-led growth (similar to many other East Asian countries). Forbes Magazine reports that all 10 of the 10 most polluted cities in the world are in China.[1]

As part of US$498 billion economic stimulus package of November 2008 (the largest in China's history), the government plans to enhance sewage and rubbish treatment facilities and prevent water pollution, accelerate green belt and natural forest planting programs, and increase energy conservation initiatives and pollution control projects [1].


[edit] Environmental issues

Efforts to control China's pollution problem have become a top priority of the Chinese leadership. In March 1998, the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) was officially upgraded to a ministry-level agency, reflecting the growing importance the PRC Government places on environmental protection. Beginning in 2006, the government greatly expanded expenses into environmental protection, and a series of new laws have been passed. Enforcement of these laws is also being expanded. The PRC has strengthened its environmental legislation and made some progress in stemming environmental deterioration. During the 11th 5-Year Plan (2006-2010), the PRC plans to reduce total emissions by 10% and bring China's energy efficiency up by 20%. Beijing in particular is investing heavily in pollution control as part of its campaign to host a successful Olympiad in 2008. Some cities have seen improvement in air quality in recent years. In the first half of 2007, China's total energy consumption per unit of output improved by 2.8% and China's sulfur dioxide emissions fell by 0.6%, showing that these new measures have the potential to slow down pollution growth.[2]

Since 2002, the number of complaints to the environmental authorities has increased by 30% every year, reaching 600,000 in 2004; while the number of mass protests caused by environmental issues has grown by 29% every year.[3]

The Xinhua News Agency has quoted an environmental official, Wang Jinnan, as saying that more than 410,000 Chinese die as a result of pollution each year.[4] The Financial Times said a World Bank report, entitled Cost of Pollution in China, (prepared with the cooperation of the State Environmental Protection Agency)[5] found up to 760,000 people die prematurely each year in China because of air and water pollution. High levels of air pollution in China's cities leads to 350,000-400,000 premature deaths, it said. Another 300,000 die because of indoor air of poor quality. The newspaper article, quoting World Bank advisers and Chinese officials, also said that the report omitted research showing that there are 60,000 premature deaths each year because of water of poor quality.[6]

The Chinese government has placed a greater concern on environmental issues since the early 21st century. In 2004, the central government instituted the Green Gross Domestic Product project, in order to determine the true gross domestic product, adjusted to compensate for negative environmental effects. The results were so much worse than projected that the program was suspended entirely in 2007. In 2005, the eleventh five-year plan contained special emphasis on the nation's environmental degradation. In his annual address in 2007, premier Wen Jiabao made 48 references to "environment," "pollution," or "environmental protection."[7] In addition, the Chinese government attempted to hold national "No Car Days" throughout nearly 100 cities, including Beijing, in which cars would be banned on central roads. However, it was largely ignored.[8]

Industrial pollution has its most severe impact on the poor and in China, pollution incidents have been so serious as to be the cause of rioting in recent years. The lack of democracy and the level of corruption in development of factories and plants is a source of tension.

[edit] Soil problems and river cessation

Approximately 30% of China's surface area is desert. China's rapid industrialization could cause this area to drastically increase. The Gobi Desert in the north currently expands by about 950 square miles (2,500 km2) per year. The vast plains in northern China used to be regularly flooded by the Yellow River. However, overgrazing and the expansion of agricultural land could cause this area to increase, in a process known as desertification. In the past 50 years, exploitation in the form of dams and other irrigation infrastructure have all but halted the river's natural course, threatening to dry up the entire river valley. The cessation of river flows, or flow stoppages, has surged since the 1980s due to increased water usage and waste. In 1997, the lower Yellow River did not flow 230 days out of the year, an increase of over 2000% since 1988. Increased erosion and sedimentation, especially on the Loess Plateau, has made the river much less navigable by ship.[9]

In 2001, China initiated a "great green wall" project. It is a project to create a 2,800-mile (4,500 km) "green belt" to hold back the encroaching desert. The first phase of the project, to restore 9 million acres (36,000 km²) of forest, will be completed by 2010 at an estimated cost of $8 billion. The Chinese government believes that, by 2050, it can restore most desertified land back to forest. The great green wall project is possibly the largest ecological project in history.[10] Starting in 2006, the Chinese government expanded protection for forests, banning logging and restricting the size of cities and golf courses to enhance land usage efficiency.

In many cases, local government officials have failed to enforce, or simply ignored environmental edicts made by the central government.

[edit] Water pollution

Approximately 300 million nationwide have no access to clean water. Furthermore, over 700 million Chinese drink fetid water below World Health Organization standards. Almost 90% of underground water in cities are affected by pollution and 80% of China’s rivers fail to meet standards for fishing.[11] Almost all of the nation's rivers are considered polluted to some degree, and half of the population lacks access to clean drinking water. Ninety percent of urban water bodies are severely polluted. Underground water in 90% of cities are affected by pollution.[12] [2] Water scarcity also is an issue; for example, severe water scarcity in Northern China is a serious threat to sustained economic growth and has forced the government to begin implementing a large-scale diversion of water from the Yangtze River to northern cities, including Beijing and Tianjin.

For the 2008 Summer Olympics, China diverted water from Hebei and Shanxi provinces, areas already beset by drought and dramatic water shortages to Beijing.[13] In July 2008, the head of the Beijing Water Authority Bi Xiaogang denied that the Olympics will increase water consumption by a large amount. However, previously he and other local officials said that Beijing would divert up to 400 million cubic meters of water from Hebei for the Games with water-diversion facilities and pipes been built to pump water from four reservoirs in Hebei.[14] Around Baoding city alone, a mostly rural area, 31,000 residents have lost land and their homes due to a water transfer project; many more have been displaced throughout Hebei.[15] According to an August 24, 2008 report by the UK’s Times, much of the infrastructure intended for the water diversion scheme was left half-constructed or un-used when Beijing officials realized that water demand estimates had been far too high. The number of tourists attending the Beijing games was lower than expected, and many migrant workers, ethnic minorities, and political dissidents had left the city due to intimidation or official requests. Nevertheless, the Hebei area had already been sucked dry to fill a number of large reservoirs, leading to drought and agricultural losses.[16]

An explosion at a petrochemical plant in Jilin City on November 13, 2005 caused a large discharge of nitrobenzene into the Songhua River. Levels of the carcinogen were so high that the entire water supply to Harbin city (pop 3.8M) was cut off for five days between November 21, 2005 and November 26, 2005, though it was only on November 23 that officials admitted that a severe pollution incident was the reason for the cutoff.[17]

The responsibility for dealing with water is split between several agencies within the government. Water pollution is the responsibility of the environmental authorities, but the water itself is managed by the Ministry of Water Resources. Sewage is dealt with by the Ministry of Construction, but groundwater falls within the realm of the Ministry of Land and Resources. China grades its water quality in five levels, from Grade I to Grade V, with Grade V being the most highly polluted. [18]

[edit] Air pollution

A large fraction of motor vehicles sold now in the cities of the Yangtze Delta are electric bicycles

According to the People's Republic of China's own evaluation, two-thirds of the 338 cities for which air-quality data are available are considered polluted-- two-thirds of them moderately or severely so. Respiratory and heart diseases related to air pollution are the leading cause of death in China. Acid rain falls on 30% of the country. China's environmental laws are among the strictest in the world[citation needed], but enforcing these laws has been difficult in China. The World Health Organization has found that about 750,000 people die prematurely each year from respiratory problems in China.

According to the World Bank, the cities with the highest levels of particulate matter in the PRC in 2004 were Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shenyang. These were among the ten most polluted cities in the world by this measure.[19]

During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, air pollution was more closely monitored and (especially in Beijing itself) more and stricter measures were being taken. The monitoring of the air quality was done by the European Space Agency and the Ministry of Science and Technology, in their "Dragon Programme". In this programme, data from the SCIAMACHY-spectrometer aboard the ENVISAT was combined with the AURORA-airqualitymodel. [20]

[edit] Carbon emissions and global warming

The People's Republic of China is an active participant in the climate change talks and other multilateral environmental negotiations, and claims to take environmental challenges seriously but is pushing for the developed world to help developing countries to a greater extent. It is a signatory to the Basel Convention governing the transport and disposal of hazardous waste and the Montreal Protocol for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, as well as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Kyoto Protocol, although China is not required to reduce its carbon emissions under the terms of the present agreement. On June 19, 2007, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency announced, on the basis of an analysis of fossil fuel consumption (including especially the coal power plants [21]) and cement production data, that China surpassed the United States as the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, putting out 6,200 million tons, in comparison with America's 5,800 million.[22]

China can suffer some of the effects of global warming, including sea level rise and glacier retreat.

[edit] Environmental protection

[edit] Pollution control

The quality of the environment has not at all improved, even though there have been years of increased control. According to some national plan targets which were released before 2005, by the end of 2005, discharge amounts of main pollutants would be 10 percent less than in the year 2000. However, this has not happened, according to a survey of air, land and water carried out in the year 2006.

[edit] Protection of forests and control of desertification

Although China's forest cover is only 18%,[23] the country has some of the largest expanses of forested land in the world, making it a top target for forest preservation efforts. In 2001, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) listed China among the top 15 countries with the most "closed forest," i.e., virgin, old growth forest or naturally regrown woods.[24] 12% of China's land area, or more than 111 million hectares, is closed forest. However, the UNEP also estimates that 36% of China's closed forests are facing pressure from high population densities, making preservation efforts that much more crucial.

According to the Chinese government website, the Central Government invested more than 40 billion yuan between 1998 and 2001 on protection of vegetation, farm subsidies and conversion of farm to forests.[25] Between 1999 and 2002, China converted 7.7 million hectares of farmland into forest.[26]

Desertification remains a serious problem, consuming an area greater than that taken by farmlands. Although desertification has been curbed in some areas, it still is expanding at a rate of more than 67 km² every year. 90% of China's desertification occurs in the west of the country.[27]

[edit] Plastic bag ban

Beginning on June 1, 2008, for the entire country of China, all supermarkets, department stores and shops are prohibited from giving out free plastic bags. Stores must clearly mark the price of plastic shopping bags and are banned from adding that price onto the price of products. The production, sale and use of ultra-thin plastic bags - those less than 0.025 millimeters, or 0.00098 inches, thick - are also banned. The State Council calls for "a return to cloth bags and shopping baskets."[28]

[edit] Environmental ratings

[edit] See also

[edit] Topics

[edit] Government

[edit] People

[edit] References

  1. ^ http://www.forbes.com/logistics/2006/03/21/americas-most-polluted-cities-cx_rm_0321pollute.html
  2. ^ "China says energy efficiency slowly improving". The Associated Press. 30 July 2007. http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/07/31/business/AS-FIN-China-Saving-Energy.php. 
  3. ^ Ma, Jun (31 January 2007). "How participation can help China's ailing environment". chinadialogueFUGU BANANA MALL. http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/733-How-participation-can-help-China-s-ailing-environment. 
  4. ^ "Environmental Activists Detained in Hangzhou". Human Rights in China (HRIC). 25 October 2005. http://www.hrichina.org/public/contents/press?revision_id=25771&item_id=25770. 
  5. ^ NPR: The 'Fresh' Gray Skies of Chengdu
  6. ^ "China 'buried smog death finding'". BBC. 3 July 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6265098.stm. 
  7. ^ Kahn, Joseph; Yardley, Jim (26 August 2007). "As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html. Retrieved on 21 September 2007. 
  8. ^ Beijing drivers ignore No Car Day. BBC: September 21, 2007.
  9. ^ Diamond, Jared: "Collapse," pp.364-5. Penguin Books, 2005
  10. ^ Ratliff, Evan (April 2003). "The Green Wall Of China". Wired Magazine. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.04/greenwall.html. 
  11. ^ Miao Hong, “China battles pollution amid full-speed economic growth”, Chinese Embassy (UK), September 29, 2006, http://www.chinese-embassy.org.uk/eng/zt/Features/t274443.htm
  12. ^ Miao Hong, “China battles pollution amid full-speed economic growth”, Chinese Embassy (UK), September 29, 2006, http://www.chinese-embassy.org.uk/eng/zt/Features/t274443.htm
  13. ^ Chris Buckley, “Beijing Olympic water scheme drains parched farmers”, Reuters, Jan 22, 2008, http://www.reuters.com/article/newsMaps/idUSPEK345320080123
  14. ^ Shi Jiangtao, “Official Denies Plan to Divert Water from Parched Provinces,” South China Morning Post, Jul 26, 2008, http://www.scmp.com/portal/site/SCMP/menuitem.2af62ecb329d3d7733492d9253a0a0a0/?vgnextoid=ccef904a9da5b110VgnVCM100000360a0a0aRCRD&ss=&s=
  15. ^ “China refills lake”, Xinhua, June 20, 2008, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-06/20/content_8408839.htm; “Hebei Reservoirs”, November 26, 2007, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-11/26/content_7147334.htm
  16. ^ Michael Sheridan, “Millions forfeit water to Olympic Games,” Times, August 24, 2008, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article4597006.ece.
  17. ^ "China city water supply to resume". BBC. 27 November 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4475096.stm. 
  18. ^ Ma, Xiangcong (21 February 2007). "China's environmental governance". chinadialogue. http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/789-China-s-environmental-governance. 
  19. ^ http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/table3_13.pdf
  20. ^ Science connection 22 (july 2008)
  21. ^ Coal power plants in China Map +oil use
  22. ^ "China now no. 1 in CO2 emissions; USA in second position". Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. 19 June 2007. http://www.mnp.nl/en/service/pressreleases/2007/20070619Chinanowno1inCO2emissionsUSAinsecondposition.html. 
  23. ^ Liu, Jianguo and Jordan Nelson. "China's environment in a globalizing world", Nature, Vol. 434, pp. 1179-1186, June 30, 2005. Accessed April 2, 2008.
  24. ^ "International Effort To Save Forests Should Target 15 Countries," United Nations Environment Program, August 20, 2001. Accessed April 2, 2008.
  25. ^ “Protection of forests and control of desertification” Accessed April 2, 2008
  26. ^ Li, Zhiyong. ”A policy review on watershed protection and poverty alleviation by the Grain for Green Programme in China”. Accessed April 2, 2008.
  27. ^ HAN, Jun. "EFFECTS OF INTEGRATED ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT ON LAND DEGRADATION CONTROL AND POVERTY REDUCTION." Workshop on Environment, Resources and Agricultural Policies in China, June 19, 2006. Accessed March 26, 2008.
  28. ^ "China bans free plastic shopping bags", AP Press via the International Herald Tribune, January 9, 2008
  29. ^ a b c Qin, Jize (15 July 2004). "Most polluted cities in China blacklisted". China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-07/15/content_348397.htm. 

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