China grappling with serious pollution problems

In the emerging awareness of global warming, much attention has been focused on the United States as one of the world’s leading polluters. The U.S. is not the only source of greenhouse gases, however.

Last year, Reuters reported China’s capitol of Beijing was in “a state of emergency” because of air pollution. Chinese media reported one of the city’s largest polluters would cut its production until the end of that year in hopes of improving air quality for the 2008 Olympics.

International Olympic Committee members, who visited Beijing in November 2004, saw the city’s air quality at its worst. The capital city had set a goal of 227 days of clean air for that year, but fell far short of its goal. “With 40 more days of clean air still needed, we are in a state of emergency,” the Beijing Morning Post declared.

Air quality in Beijing is normally poor but becomes very bad in the winter when auto exhaust, factory emissions, construction dust and other sources combine with the output of thousands of coal-burning furnaces and stoves to load the air with particulates. China has earmarked $7 billion of its $37 billion Olympic budget to clean up the capital, according to Reuters.

Even earlier, in 2000, the State Environmental Protection Administration claimed that 86 percent of China’s industrial polluters had met state environmental standards, by the end of May in that year.

The agency said there were 238,096 industrial polluters in China and that 204,710 met state standards for emissions, yet the report stated 30,000 of these industries failed to meet standards and 6,105 industries had done nothing to curb pollution.

A strict requirement of China’s ninth five-year plan is that industrial and urban discharges must be completely under control, and all industrial polluters were required to meet state standards by December 31, 2000. Obviously, they failed to do so.

Officials said China will continue to shut down small businesses that waste resources and cause environmental damage. Small coal mines, oil refineries and other ecologically unsound operations will get primary attention in an effort to wipe out obsolete production methods, according to a report in the People’s Daily.

The State Economic and Trade Commission said China closed 36,000 illegal coal mines by the end of June 2000, in a move that cut production by 302 million tons. It also shut 5,600 oil refineries that year.

Small coal mines, cement plants, oil refineries, steel factories and thermal power plants have been singled out as responsible for a range of problems. Officials said businesses that failed to meet workplace safety standards and that polluted the environment would be closed.

Back in 1999, statistics compiled by the government showed China already had a serious pollution problem. Carbon dioxide emissions that year totaled 18.57 million tons, air pollution emissions amounted to 11.59 million tons and industrial dust emissions reached 11.75 million tons, according to a report by the State Environmental Protection Administration of China.

The agency said 137 Chinese cities that year were considered severely polluted.

At the same time, acid rain was spreading, reaching 30 percent of the country’s land area, making China the third-largest heavy acid rain area in the world after Europe and the U.S. Acid rain is a serious problem in China’s central, southern, southwestern and eastern sections, the agency said.

A World Health Organization report back in 1998 said that of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, seven were in China. Sulfur dioxide and soot from coal combustion are the two principal pollutants and result in the production of acid rain. Beijing, by 2002, had converted its bus fleet to natural gas, some 1,630 vehicles.

Energy consumption in East Asia, outside Japan, is dominated by China’s industrial sector. It accounts for 53 percent of East Asia’s total usage. By 2025, projections put China’s consumption at 14.2 percent of the world’s total use. China is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the U.S. China is expected to reach 17.8 percent of total emissions by 2025. Overall, China’s energy-related carbon emissions have more than doubled since 1980.

Rapidly rising energy demand has caused China to speed up development of cleaner fuels such as natural gas, coalbed methane and hydropower. It also is developing alternate energy sources such as wind and photovoltaic for generating electricity.

From the Dec. 14-20, 2005, issue

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