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Greenlaw from NRDC China’s Blog

China Environmental News Alert

Greenlaw from NRDC China

Posted March 20, 2014 in Greening China

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NRDC has been working in China for over fifteen years on such issues as energy efficiency, green buildings, clean energy technologies, environmental law, and green supply chain issues. This China Environmental News Alert is a compilation of news from around the world on China and the environment.

March 17 - 21, 2014 

China Releases Plan to Incorporate Farmers Into Cities

New York Times (March 17, 2014)

China has announced a sweeping plan to manage the flow of rural residents into cities, promising to promote urbanization but also to solve some of the drastic side effects of this great uprooting. The plan — the country’s first attempt at broadly coordinating one of the greatest migrations in history — foresees 100 million more people moving to China’s cities by 2020, while providing better access to schools and hospitals for 100 million former farmers already living in cities but currently denied many basic services. Underpinning these projections would be government spending to build roads, railways, hospitals, schools and housing. Formally announced on Sunday, the plan has been one of the most contentious projects in recent years. Originally scheduled to be announced last year, it backs away from more radical proposals, which predicted even more farmers leaving the land for cities. But the plan is still ambitious, with 30 chapters, covering topics that include Internet access, building standards, environmental protection and safety.

China draws up plan to tackle widespread soil pollution

Reuters (March 19, 2014)

China's environmental authorities have passed a plan to tackle soil pollution as the government becomes increasingly concerned about the risk to food posed by widespread contamination of farmland. About 3.33 million hectares (8 million acres) of China's farmland - about the size of Belgium - is too polluted for crops, a government official said in December, after decades of industrial development and poorly enforced laws allowed poisonous metals and discharge to seep into soil and water. The plan, together with a soil pollution law in the drafting stage, is expected to focus on protecting food supplies and ensuring that contaminated crops do not enter the food chain. ...The action plan, approved in principle, will be submitted to the State Council, or cabinet, for approval. The ministry is also working on a draft law on soil pollution.

China vows to clean up 60 percent of cities by 2020

Reuters (March 17, 2014)

China pledged on Sunday that it will make sure that 60 percent of its cities meet national pollution standards by 2020, with pressure growing to make cities liveable as hundreds of millions of migrants are expected to relocate from the countryside. China's environmental problems such as pollution and water scarcity are expected to intensify as rapid migration pushes urban infrastructures to the limit. Almost all Chinese cities monitored for pollution last year failed to meet the standards. The environment has emerged as a key priority amid growing public disquiet about smog, dwindling and polluted water supplies and the contamination of farmland. Poor air quality is estimated to end hundreds of thousands of lives prematurely each year and has led to a series of riots and public protests. The pledge to clean up the nation's major metropolitan centers was made in a State Council plan for how to deal with China's rapid urbanization drive.

China's Shanghai aims for cleaner energy, lower CO2 growth

Reuters (March 19, 2014)

The Chinese city of Shanghai will reduce the energy intensity of its economy by 3 percent this year through shifting from coal to natural gas and limit the growth of carbon dioxide emissions to 8.5 million tonnes, the city government said. The city said in an energy-saving and climate-change plan for 2014 that it would curb growth in year-on-year energy consumption to 4 million tonnes of standard coal equivalent, keeping it on track to meet a total consumption cap in 2015 of 34.64 million tonnes. But the energy would be cleaner as dirty coal would be replaced by alternative sources, according to the plan, posted on a municipal government website. Shanghai will "increase electricity imports, increase the use of natural gas, encourage distributed gas and renewable energy like wind, solar and biomass", the city government said. New manufacturing facilities for iron and steel, building materials and non-ferrous metals would not be allowed in 2014, it said.

China working on uranium-free nuclear plants in attempt to combat smog

The Guardian (March 19, 2014)

China is developing a new design of nuclear power plant in an attempt to reduce its reliance on coal and to cut air pollution. In an effort to reduce the number of coal-fired plants, the Chinese government has brought forward by 15 years the deadline to develop a nuclear power plant using the radioactive element thorium instead of uranium. A team of researchers in Shanghai has now been told it has 10 instead of 25 years to develop the world's first such plant. "In the past, the government was interested in nuclear power because of the energy shortage. Now, they are more interested because of smog," Professor Li Zhong, a scientist working on the project, told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. An advanced research centre was set up in January by the Chinese Academy of Sciences with the aim of developing an industrial reactor using thorium molten salt technology, the newspaper reported.

Air Pollution May Cause Genetic Harm in Kids, China Study Finds

Bloomberg News (March 20, 2014)

Air pollution led to genetic changes that may have sapped learning skills in children whose mothers were exposed to a Chinese coal-fired power plant before it was shuttered a decade ago, researchers found. Babies born in the southwestern Tongliang county just before the plant was shut in 2004 had significantly lower levels of a protein crucial to brain development in their cord blood than those conceived later, a March 19 report in the Plos One journal said. They also had poorer learning and memory skills when tested at age two, the study by Columbia University and Chongqing Medical University found. The findings add to a growing body of evidence on the health fallouts of China’s pollution crisis, which has sparked public outrage and forced its leaders to pledge stronger efforts to protect the environment.

China deploys drones to spy on polluting industries

The Guardian (March 19, 2014)

China is using drones to spy on polluting industries in its attempts to battle the lung-choking smog that frequently engulfs many of its cities. The deputy minister of environmental protection, Zhai Qing said drones have recently been used in Beijing, Shanxi and Hebei provinces to inspect for pollution. These are some of the worst affected areas of China, with a high number of coal-fired power stations, steel mills and cement plants. The unmanned aircraft can cover 70 sqkm during a two hour flight. According to the state-run China Daily newspaper the drones have helped the ministry "resolve" over 200 environment-linked cases, and the ministry is considering more drone inspections in other areas. The ministry has four drones, first introduced in 2012 at a cost of approximately $1.3m (8m renminbi), according to Yang Yipeng, a ministry official. ...While the drones are mainly used to gather evidence about environmental breaches they are also employed to evaluate the performance of local governments in enforcing environmental protection.

Climate change fuelled storms, rising seas cost China $2.6 billion in 2013

Reuters (March 20, 2014)

Climate change fuelled storm waves and rising sea levels cost China 16.3 billion yuan and killed 121 people in 2013, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) said. China is the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases which scientists say is driving climate change. Southern Guangdong province was hit hardest, recording 7.4 billion yuan worth of damage, the SOA said in a new report. Storm waves caused 94 percent of the destruction, it said. Climate change-linked rising, warmer seas cause more frequent storms and typhoons, flood coastal areas, contribute to coastal erosion and salinate farmland, said SOA. Average sea-levels in China have risen 2.9 millimetres on average every year since 1980, faster than global sea-level rises, said SOA.

Rare earth mining in China: the bleak social and environmental costs

The Guardian (March 20, 2014)

Although Wang Jianguo knows little about rare earths mining, he is an accidental expert on its consequences. A short walk from the 43-year-old former farmer's dilapidated brick home in Xinguang Number One Village, is the world's largest rare earths mine tailings pond – an endless expanse of viscous grey sludge built in the 1950s under Mao Zedong. The pond, owned by the Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-Earth Hi-Tech Company, or Baotou Steel, lacks a proper lining and for the past 20 years its toxic contents have been seeping into groundwater, according to villagers and state media reports. It is trickling towards the nearby Yellow River, a major drinking water source for much of northern China, at a rate of 20 to 30 metres a year, a local expert told the influential Chinese magazine Caixin.

China courts Big Business to tackle water pollution

Finance Asia (March 19, 2014)

Chen Xiaoping is in no doubt what is to blame for the parlous state of China's rivers, often thick with industrial waste that threatens the country's water supply. Sitting in his offices in Hong Kong, the chief executive of China Everbright International (CEI), one of China's biggest water and waste management companies, tells FinanceAsia that the country's toxic growth story has made the rivers toxic. It is a sentiment shared by Beijing and for that matter, domestic and foreign companies. Domestic groups in particular are seeking cash, technology and expertise through the capital markets and M&A in an effort to seize the opportunities created by what is becoming a huge growth industry.

(CENA prepared by Michelle Ker)

*The links and article summaries in this post are provided for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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