News / Asia

China Takes Steps to Confront Pollution

Workers sail on a boat as they clean up a polluted river in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China, July 13, 2013.
Workers sail on a boat as they clean up a polluted river in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China, July 13, 2013.
China’s environmental watchdog made a rare decision this week to halt new projects for two top state-run oil companies after they failed to meet pollution targets.
Environmental groups welcomed the move, but as China grapples with the difficult balance of fueling continued economic growth and environmental protection, the move is just one small step.

China’s notoriously smoggy air and the environmental price it has paid for decades of fast economic growth has won the country much unwanted international attention. It is also a leading source of public discontent.

Increasingly, projects from coal-fired plants to petrochemical facilities have come under intense public scrutiny in China because of their feared environmental impact. In some cases, local officials have had to abandon the projects altogether following large public protests. 

The Ministry of Environmental Protection’s decision this week was made in part because of the growing pressure from the public, analysts say. The strong message was not only directed at the companies the halt targeted - China National Petroleum Corp. and China Petrochemical Corp. or Sinopec Group.

“This is a warning to all state-owned enterprises that they must work hard to shoulder the social responsibility that they bear as a state-owned enterprise,” said Yang Fuqiang, with the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

The decision was also a response to public criticism that China’s environmental ministry is not doing enough to rein in polluters, Yang added.

“The move by the Ministry of Environmental Protection is an effort to use their actions to show that they have the resolve to strictly enforce the law,” said Yang.

Public concerns and awareness about the environment has surged in China in recent years. Last January public concerns heightened when a severe wave of pollution hit Beijing and other parts of country. Later, the discovery of chemically tainted rice in Guangdong peaked concerns about water quality.

But as public concern grew, environmental groups and non-governmental organizations said much more needed to be done. One of China’s biggest sources of pollution is coal, an energy source that accounts for a large portion of the country’s massive energy needs.

Earlier this week, a new study warned that plans to build 22 more coal-fired power plants in southern Guangdong province could cause as many as 16,000 deaths over the next 40 years.

The study was conducted by Andrew Gray - a private air quality consultant - and commissioned by the environmental group Greenpeace. Gray said right now there were around 140 coal-fired power plants in the area and the additional 22 would increase local capacity by more than half of its current output.

“The amount of energy increase and demand is obviously growing very very rapidly in that area and so the decisions that are made will affect the people in that part of the world for a long, long time,” he said.

The Chinese government is working to improve environmental protection measures for coal plants and has begun a massive undertaking of consolidating the industry into 10 large and 10 medium-sized companies. The country currently has tens of thousands of small local mines where funding is lacking.

But, as China seeks to consolidate the industry, it also has plans to build even more coal-fired plants. The construction of the plants is not only an issue because of the pollution risks, but also because of their high usage of water.

“When we looked at our own analysis of 363 planned new coal fired power plants we found that over half of those are in high or extremely high water stressed areas…where there is already a lot of competition for the available water. Because coal fired power plants require a lot of water, for cooling and for energy generation that is only going to increase the strain in water supply,” said Betsy Otto, a project director at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based research group.

Environmental group Greenpeace tried to raise concerns about the demand coal puts on China’s limited water resources in late July when it issued a report on China’s biggest state-run coal company, Shenhua.

The report said a liquid-to-coal plant, Shenhua was not only polluting the environment by illegally discharging toxic wastewater, but also draining water levels in Inner Mongolia, where the plant was located.

The company has admitted to illegally dumping waste and is in the process of carrying out an environmental impact assessment that its plant has on the water resources.

Shenhua had until the end of the year to complete the review, but in the meantime operations continued - as did the company's plans to expand its operations there, said Greenpeace East Asia climate and energy campaigner Deng Ping.

“Water resources are not something that is going to change rapidly. What we have now, is what we have. The government’s plans for the expansion of coal production, however, is growing and growing at rapid pace,” said Deng.

The World Resources Institute says that 60 percent of the proposed power capacity for plants in the government plans will come from six provinces, including Inner Mongolia. Those provinces, however, are home to only five percent of China’s total water resources.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs