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

Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

'It is not possible that women can be at par with men' incoming African Union president declares on eve of summit More

Somali Terror Suspect's Light Sentence Raises Questions

Abdullahi Yusuf, 18, could have spent 15 years in prison but judge instead sentenced him to a halfway house, and a program to try to integrate him back into the community More

Video Kobani Ravaged Following Kurdish Ouster of IS Militants

Even so, hundreds of refugees sheltering in Turkey seek to return; Kurdish forces hold some back, saying fighting continues More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid