China Environmental News Alert
Posted April 18, 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.
April 12 - 18, 2014
Reuters (April 14, 2014)
Smog-hit China is set to pass a new law that would give Beijing more powers to shut polluting factories and punish officials, and even place protected regions off-limits to industrial development, scholars with knowledge of the situation said. Long-awaited amendments to China's 1989 Environmental Protection Law are expected to be finalised later this year, giving the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) greater authority to take on polluters. While some details of the fourth draft are still under discussion, it has been agreed that the principle of prioritising the environment above the economy will be enshrined in law, according to scholars who have been involved in the process. The fourth draft is due to be completed within weeks.
New York Times (April 17, 2014)
The Chinese government released a report on Thursday that said nearly one-fifth of its arable land was polluted, a finding certain to raise questions about the toxic results of China’s rapid industrialization, its lack of regulations over commercial interests and the consequences for the national food chain. The report, issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land Resources, said 16.1 percent of the country’s soil was polluted, including 19.4 percent of farmland. The report was based on a study done from April 2005 to last December on more than 2.4 million square miles of land across mainland China, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. The report said that “the main pollution source is human industrial and agricultural activities,” according to Xinhua. More specifically, factory waste products, irrigation of land by polluted water, the improper use of fertilizers and pesticides, and livestock breeding have all resulted in tainted farmland, the report said.
New York Times (April 11, 2014)
Residents of this isolated mountain valley of terraced cornfields were just going to sleep last April when they were jolted by an enormous roar, followed by a tower of flames. A shock wave rolled across the valley, rattling windows in farmhouses and village shops, and a mysterious, pungent gas swiftly pervaded homes. ...All too quickly, residents realized the source of the midnight of the fireball: a shale gas drilling rig in their tiny rural hamlet. This verdant valley represents the latest frontier in the worldwide hunt for shale gas retrievable by the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It is a drilling boom that has upended the energy industry and spurred billions of dollars of investment. Like the United States and Europe, China wants to wean itself from its dependence on energy imports — and in Jiaoshizhen, the Chinese energy giant Sinopec says it has made the country’s first commercially viable shale gas discovery.
Reuters (April 15, 2014)
A Chinese court has rejected a lawsuit filed by five residents from a major northwestern city after authorities said a cancer-inducing chemical had been found in tapwater at 20 times above national safety levels, state media reported on Tuesday. Levels of benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, in Lanzhou's tap water rose 20 times above national safety levels on Friday, forcing the city to turn off supplies in one district and warn other residents not to drink tap water for the next 24 hours. Monday's ruling is a setback for environmentalists, who have argued that courts need to accept pollution lawsuits for proper environmental reform to occur. The lawsuit, filed on Monday afternoon, sought civil damages, a public apology and data from water quality testing in the past year from Lanzhou Veolia Water Co., a local unit of French firm Veolia Environment, according to the Modern Jinbao newspaper, citing Wu Tianying, one of the Lanzhou residents who filed the suit. The newspaper said a court in Lanzhou dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the litigants did not qualify to sue, under Article 55 of the Civil Procedure Law.
The Guardian (April 13, 2014)
Last month, China announced its new urbanisation plan, a massive feat of technical and social engineering which will move more than 100 million country-dwellers into cities over the next six years. The question is how. China’s current development model has proved environmentally disastrous; ghost cities and towns have triggered fears of an impending real-estate meltdown. Chinese authorities began encouraging the construction of “eco-cities” in the middle of the last decade; since then, hundreds have sprouted across the country. While the concept is vaguely defined, most eco-cities are built on once-polluted or non-arable land, comply with stringent green architectural standards, and experiment with progressive urban planning and transportation infrastructure. The catch is that they simply may not work – if, indeed, they get finished at all. According to Neville Mars, a Shanghai-based architect who is writing a book about eco-cities, Tianjin has an advantage because of its proximity to a major metropolis and shipping hub: “It’s already proving to be successful, because it’s still building.
The Economist (April 12, 2014)
Against a powerful alliance of factory bosses and Communist Party chiefs, Zeng Feiyang cuts a frail figure. Mr Zeng, who is 39, works from a windowless office in Panyu, on the edge of the southern city of Guangzhou, where he runs a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called the Panyu Migrant Workers’ Service Centre. For more than a decade his organisation has battled against the odds to defend the rights of workers in the factories of Guangdong province. For his troubles, Mr Zeng has been evicted from various premises, had his water and electricity cut off, and been constantly harassed by local officials and their thugs. Then last autumn he received a call from one such official. “The man asked if I wanted to register the NGO,” he says. “I was very surprised.” Over the past three years other activists at unregistered NGOs have received similar phone calls from the authorities about the sensitive issue of registration, an apparently mundane bit of administrative box-ticking which in fact represents real change.
The Guardian (April 16, 2014)
Around one-third of the air pollution in China's smog-hit capital comes from outside the city, official media reported on Wednesday, citing a pollution watchdog. Chen Tian, chief of the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, said that 28-36% of hazardous airborne particles known as PM2.5 came from surrounding provinces like Hebei, home to seven of China's 10 most polluted cities in 2013, according to official data. The central government has identified the heavily industrialised Beijing-Hebei-Tianjin region as one of the main fronts in its war against pollution, and it is under pressure to cut coal consumption and industrial capacity. ...Chen said that of the smog generated in Beijing, 31% came from vehicles, 22.4% from coal burning and 18.1% from industry, according to China Environmental News, a publication of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The Guardian (April 15, 2014)
China's air pollution could be intensifying storms over the Pacific Ocean and altering weather patterns in North America, according to scientists in the US. A team from Texas, California and Washington state has found that pollution from Asia, much of it arising in China, is leading to more intense cyclones, increased precipitation and more warm air in the mid-Pacific moving towards the north pole. According to the team's findings, which were released on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these changes could ultimately contribute to erratic weather in the US. The authors used advanced computer models to study interactions between clouds and fine airborne particles known as aerosols, particularly manmade ones such as those emitted from vehicles and coal-fired power plants.
The Economist (April 19, 2014)
A new grand plan for China’s cities, overseen by the prime minister and published last month, admits to a number of problems, such as worsening pollution, urban sprawl and congestion as well as growing social tensions. It also points out that China’s urbanisation lags behind that of other countries at similar levels of development (typically around 60%), and that there remains “quite a lot of room” for further urban growth. Getting cities right will help China to keep growing fast for years to come. Getting them wrong would be disastrous, bringing worsening inequality (which the World Bank says has approached “Latin American levels”, although Chinese officials insist it has recently been improving), the spread of slums, the acceleration of global climate change (cities consume three-quarters of China’s energy, which comes mainly from coal) and increasing social unrest.
MIT Technology Review (April 17, 2014)
Sales of electric vehicles in China, the world’s largest auto market, have been minuscule despite government incentives meant to put five million of the cars on the nation’s roads by 2020. Tesla Motors hopes to begin changing that as it makes its first deliveries of Model S sedans to customers in China this month. But while having more EVs might help China reach its transportation goals, it probably won’t improve the environment, given the country’s reliance on coal for more than 70 percent of its electricity. Making matters worse, coal in China is often dirtier than it is elsewhere, and many power plants don’t employ modern emission-control technologies. Recent research led by Christopher Cherry, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee, has shown that in much of the country, an electric vehicle the size of a Nissan Leaf accounts for roughly the same amount of carbon dioxide per mile driven as a comparable gasoline-powered car. On top of that, EVs in China account for a larger amount of dangerous particulate emissions than conventional cars.
(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.