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Japanese Report Disputes Chinese Claims on Environment - 2001-08-16

A Japanese study is casting doubts on claims that China has significantly reduced the greenhouse gas emissions that have contributed to the country's ranking as one of the world's worst polluters.

The new study refutes two separate reports issued in April that gave China's environmental record a huge boost.

The first of the reports, by researchers at the U.S.-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, showed that China reduced its energy output by 17 percent and its carbon dioxide emissions by 14 percent in just five-years. The report said that China achieved this even though the country's economy had grown 36 percent during the same time period.

The second report, by the European Union office in Beijing, also gave China glowing marks. It estimated that the country had managed to double its energy efficiency and cut coal use by as much as 30 percent in five years.

Prior to the report, China had been expected to surpass the United States as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020. Emissions from burning coal and fossil fuels are pollutants thought to be a major contributor to global warming.

Subsequent research conducted by a Japanese scientist and funded by the World Bank has put a cloud over China's achievements. The study calls the statistics "exaggerated, falling outside the realm of experience of any other country in modern times."

The study's author, Nobuhiro Horii, of the Institute of Developing Economies in Japan, says he went to one province to see if the coal mines there had been shut down as ordered by the government. Local officials told Beijing they had closed the mines, when in fact they were still open.

Mr. Horii says interviews with various other local officials in China have convinced him that such lying and bureaucratic cover-ups were rampant.

He also questions Chinese statistics on gas consumption. Automobile traffic in Chinese cities has doubled every five years. But Beijing says gas consumption rose just more than 11 percent between 1996 and 1999.

Environmental professor Hiroshi Tsujii at Kyoto University in Japan agrees there are many inflated reports about China's progress on environmental issues. "In the last five years, I have traveled extensively throughout China," Mr. Tsujii said. "I do not think China has decreased tremendously like the report said 50 percent decline in coal use. I just cannot believe it. Air pollution has not improved very much and factories and houses are still burning lots of coal."

The Chinese government admits it lacks the resources to make sure it always receives accurate and truthful information from its provinces. But if the country's overall coal use is not declining much now, Beijing insists it will go down measurably soon as coal gets replaced by gas and hydro-power.