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.
William Ide
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

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

10 Migrants Drown, While 4,100 Rescued off Libyan Coast

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs