Environmental reforms can tackle China’s nagging pollution woes

By Mark Kapchanga Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-11 19:48:02

China's thriving economy has come with heavy environmental and health costs, generating massive criticism across the globe. 

On average, China emits almost twice as much carbon dioxide as the US, the second biggest polluter in the world. Going by the present rates, it means China will have produced more than 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050.

To augment this claim, a recent report issued by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said stark pollution in Beijing had made the capital barely suitable for living. And China's health authorities say that industrial pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death.

Unfortunately, only 1 percent of the country's 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by European Union standards, according to a World Bank study.

With such severe repercussions, the environmental degradation poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public, but also an acute political challenge to the government.

The economic costs of pollution have been enormous. A 2006 Chinese green GDP estimate stated that pollution in 2004 cost 3.05 percent of the nation's economy. Further, a 2007 World Bank report estimated the cost of water and air pollution in 2003 added to 2.68 percent of the GDP.

Fortunately, China has been improving in environmental protection and has achieved major improvements.

As one of the signatories of the Stockholm Convention, a treaty to control and phase out major persistent organic pollutants (POP), China plans to establish an inventory of POP contaminated sites and remediation plans by 2015.

The nation is today one of only a few countries that have been rapidly increasing their forest cover. It has made plans to reduce air and water pollution.

Though the country is starting from a point of grave pollution, it is setting priorities right and making progress that bears a resemblance to the events in industrialized countries during their initial stages of development.

Perhaps the far-reaching decision was made in mid-February. Beijing announced it would invest a total of $1.65 billion in 2014 to tackle the country's pollution.

This is corroborated by the recent call that requires 15,000 enterprises to make public, on a real time basis, particulars of their pollution. 

The more the details that were once kept secret are made open to the public, the more China can cut pollution. It may not be an end to itself, but exposing pollution levels to public scrutiny will allow companies to make informed decisions on the environment.

The move will give the entities in charge of the environment an opportunity to monitor, scrutinize and advise polluters.

But the stern rules must also move beyond China's national borders, more specifically into regions where the country's manufacturing and construction operations are prominent.

Chinese companies now dominate the continent's construction, manufacturing and mining sectors. Currently, China's construction industry in Africa has a market share larger than those of France, Italy and the US combined.

This strength of Chinese firms in Africa's construction continues to grow, with revenues in central and southern Africa expanding by 31.7 percent to $27.52 billion in 2009. But its growing penetration of the continent translates to increased energy consumption due to the dependency on manufacturing and heavy industries.

The rewards of such growth, however, may be opposed by the harm from the pollution unless environmental protection is increased.

Therefore, efforts of overseas Chinese firms in protecting environment should be given to susceptible areas like Africa, whose environment and healthcare policies are still shaky.

The author is a journalist on African issues based in Nairobi, Kenya. mkapchanga@gmail.com

Posted in: Viewpoint, Environment

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