China Environmental News Alert
Posted March 27, 2014
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 22 - 28, 2014
China has broken international trade law by restricting the export of rare earth elements and other metals crucial to modern manufacturing, a World Trade Organization panel said Wednesday. That conclusion opens the possibility that Beijing will face trade sanctions from the United States, which initially brought the case, the European Union and Japan. Members of a W.T.O. panel considering the case in Geneva found that the export taxes, quotas and bureaucratic delays Beijing imposes on overseas sales of the minerals artificially raise prices and create shortages for foreign buyers. The panel concluded that “China’s export quotas were designed to achieve industrial policy goals” rather than to protect its environment, as Beijing had argued. China produces more than nine-tenths of the global supply of the strategically important metals, which are essential to many modern applications including smartphones, wind turbines, industrial catalysts and high-tech magnets. Prices soared in 2010 after Beijing cut export quotas by about 40 percent, to just over 30,000 tons, saying the restrictions were necessary because mining rare earths creates many environmental hazards.
China plans to launch a nationwide market to trade pollution permits within three years as part of efforts to tackle its environmental crisis, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said on Monday. The ministries of finance and environmental protection have submitted draft guidelines for a market to the State Council, China's Cabinet, which will make the final decision, MOF said in a statement on its website. "We will facilitate cross-regional trading, especially among regions covered by the same air and water pollution control regimes," the statement said. The market would cap emissions of key pollutants from major facilities and force those that exceed their caps to buy permits in the market, hence providing economic incentives for polluters to invest in cleaner technologies.
Project to Move Water to Thirsty North Plagued by Pollution Concerns
The world's most ambitious water transfer project, starting from the Danjiangkou Reservoir in the central province of Hubei, is set to transport huge amount of the wet stuff from the Han River to the thirsty cities in the north. The route linking Danjiangkou, Beijing and Tianjin travels is more than 1,000 kilometers long. It is the central route of the South-North Water Transfer Project, which is intended to divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of water a year from the south to the north. With total investment of more than 100 billion yuan, the project is to supply water to more than 100 million people. As the most important of three routes, the central line is set to start operations no later than September. But some experts are concerned that the water quality of the Danjiangkou Reservoir may fail to meet standards. Various sources say that like many lakes in China, the reservoir is also suffering from eutrophication, a process that involves a body of water becoming so enriched with nutrients that excessive plant growth occurs. This leads to algae blooms and the death of fish.
Enforcement seen key to success of China's new environmental markets
Reuters (March 27, 2014)
China's plan for a market in air pollution permits promises to help clean up its air cheaply, but the move could prove just as useless as previous environmental policies unless the government stamps out lax enforcement and spotty data. Smog regularly blankets the country's major urban centers and kills half a million people each year. The news of plans to launch a market within three years demonstrates China's growing will to tackle environmental problems through market-based tactics, rather than its traditional command-and-control measures.
China Cracks Down on Illegal Wastewater Discharges
China hopes to deal a “heavy blow” to businesses that illegally discharge wastewater, Premier Li Keqiang said in a special State Council meeting on energy savings and emissions reduction, in remarks posted on the body's website March 24. Li said the government would “crack down hard” on such activities by businesses and on local officials who have “ignored basic social responsibility and legal liability” by failing to provide adequate oversight of wastewater discharge activities of companies in their jurisdictions.
New school to focus on energy and environment
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's joint school of sustainable development in Xian will contribute to energy and environmental policies on the mainland, the university's provost says. "We'll do studies, research and propose alternative policies for the government to consider," said Professor Wei Shyy, executive vice-president and provost of the university. "We want to have a role in contributing to policy development and thinking." The Clear Water Bay university's joint venture with Xian Jiaotong University is in the northwestern city of Xian, which Shyy described as "the future of China". He said resources such as coal, gas and certain important industrial salts, were highly concentrated in the region.
China Rivers at the Brink of Collapse
China's rulers have traditionally derived their legitimacy from controlling water. The country ranks only sixth in terms of annual river runoff, but counts half the planet's large dams within its borders. A new report warns that dam building has brought China's river ecosystems to the point of collapse. Since the 1950s, China has dammed, straightened, diverted and polluted its rivers in a rapid quest for industrialization. Many of these projects had disastrous environmental, social and economic impacts. The Sanmenxia Dam on the Yellow River for example flooded 660 square kilometers of fertile land and displaced 410,000 people. Yet because it silted up rapidly, the project only generates power at one sixth of its projected capacity.
China says polluting industry still growing too fast, heavy smog alert for Beijing
China's energy-hungry, high-polluting industries continued to grow too fast in 2013, putting "huge pressures" on the environment and causing air quality to worsen, the country's pollution agency said on Tuesday. Premier Li Keqiang "declared war" on pollution in a major policy address this month, but China has long struggled to strike a balance between protecting the environment and keeping up economic growth. China is still too slow in reforming its resource-intensive economy, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in a statement on its website (www.mep.gov.cn). "The pace of restructuring and upgrading industries has slowed, the mode of development remains crude, and emissions of atmospheric pollutants have long exceeded environmental capacity," it said.
Most Chinese Cities Fail Minimum Air Quality Standards, Study Says
Only three of the 74 Chinese cities monitored by the central government managed to meet official minimum standards for air quality last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection announced this week, underscoring the country’s severe pollution problems. The dirtiest cities were in northern China, where coal-powered industries are concentrated, including electricity generation and steel manufacturing. The ministry said in its announcement, posted on its website on Tuesday, that in the broad northern region that includes the large cities of Beijing and Tianjin as well as the province of Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, the air quality standards were met on only 37 percent of days last year. Beijing, with 20 million people, did so on only 48 percent of days, the ministry said. The three cities that met the standards were Haikou, Zhoushan and Lhasa.
Authorities Investigate Pollution in China's Iconic Erhai Lake
An iconic lake at the heart of a popular beauty spot in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan has turned milky-white with pollution from nearby companies, local residents and officials said. Local residents began posting photos online in recent days of the now turbid and white waters of Erhai Lake in the tourist region of Dali, historically famed for its crystal-clear waters. The reports on social media sparked an investigation by the Dali prefectural environmental protection department, the government said in a tweet on its official microblog account. "Regarding the problems highlighted by netizens, the Dali prefectural environmental investigation team tested [the waters]," it said. "The Dali municipal government must now complete clean-up measures within the next 10 days, and pursue and punish those enterprises suspected of causing the pollution according to law," said the statement, posted on Monday. It blamed "unauthorized waste outlets" for the rise in pollution levels, calling for measures to be taken against "private and unauthorized sewage pipes installed by individuals and organizations."
Tigers slaughtered in show of social stature for Guangdong businessmen
More than 10 tigers have been killed as "visual feasts" in China to entertain officials and rich business people, state media reported. Police in the port city of Zhanjiang, in the southern province of Guangdong, seized a freshly slaughtered tiger and multiple tiger products in a raid this month, said the Nanfang Daily, the mouthpiece of the provincial Communist Party. Local officials and prominent businesspeople gathered to watch the tigers being killed as "eye-openers" to show off their social stature, it said. Video footage of a killing two years ago showed the tiger, kept in an iron cage, having an electrified iron mass prodded into its mouth with a wooden stick and passing out after being electrocuted for more than 10 seconds, the paper said.
(CENA prepared by Kate Logan)
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