Aviva Grunpeter | Tuidang
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), an independent, nonpartisan membership organization issued in February 2014 a harsh report on China’s Environmental situation, calling it “a crisis”.
China’s environmental crisis is due to the fact that it’s huge economic growth has come at the expense of its environment and public health.
According to the report, life expectancy in the north of the country has decreased by 5.5 years due to air pollution.
Severe water contamination and scarcity is compounding land deterioration problems.
China began to develop its environmental institutions after the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, and at that time, the country’s environment was already in dire straits.
Economic reforms spearheaded by Deng Xiaoping, a former leader of the Chinese regime in 1978, boosted China’s industrial output at an average annual rate of more than 11.4 percent.
No Air to breath
The report pointed out that China’s energy consumption has ballooned, spiking 130 percent from 2000 to 2010 followed by air quality degradation. Today, most of the big cities in China experience smog so severe that citizens have dubbed it “airpocalypse”.
Based on a 2012 Asian Development Bank report, less than 1 percent of China’s 500 largest cities meet the WHO’s air quality standards.
They account for almost half of the global coal consumption, which is said by the report to be the source of as much as 90 percent of the country’s sulfur dioxide emissions and half of its particulate emissions.
Water depletion and pollution
The report highlights water pollution as the country’s biggest environmental hazard: “overuse, contamination, and waste have produced severe shortages.” Approximately two-thirds of China’s roughly 660 cities don’t have enough water.
Industry along China’s major water sources has also polluted the supply heavily. Almost 90 percent of underground water in cities and 70 percent of China’s rivers and lakes are now polluted. The impact is particularly felt in rural areas, where some 300 to 500 million people lack access to piped water.
But China is responsible not only for the deterioration of its own rivers, according to Foreign Affairs magazine, China’s regime controls the down-river water supply of thirteen neighboring countries and has dammed every major river on the Tibetan plateau.
The cost? Not only economic
China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection calculates its own “green GDP” number, estimating the cost of pollution at around 1.5 trillion RMB, or roughly 3.5 percent of GDP, annually.
According to The Lancet, a medical journal, the Chinese pay also a high heath price from the environment crisis; air pollution has contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010.
“The pollution has also been linked to the proliferation of acute and chronic diseases; estimates suggest that around 11 percent of digestive system cancers in China may stem from unsafe drinking water”, is said in the report.
Acid rain out of China
China’s neighbors, including Japan and South Korea, have also expressed concern over acid rain and smog affecting their native populations.
A study published by the US National Academy of Sciences in the CrossMark publications, “emissions from China’s export industries are worsening air pollution as far as the western United States.”
According to the CFR report, the economic burden is not the only danger facing China’s regime: “the greatest collateral damage for the ruling Communist Party has likely been growing social unrest.”
Demonstrations have proliferated as citizens gain awareness of the health threats. It has increasingly led to challenges to the political control of the Communist regime through organized protest.
One of the examples given in the report was the suspension of an $8.9 billion petrochemical plant in the eastern city of Ningbo in October 2012.
In February 2013, a poll by the state mouth-piece People’s Daily, named the environment as one of the top issues citizens wanted addressed by the Communist regime.
What is done?
Can this regime solve the environment problems? CFR reports that the central government has structured its efforts to find solutions to the environmental situation, in much of the same way it has pursued economic growth, but it does not control all aspects of its implementation. In fact, local officials rarely heed Beijing’s environmental mandates, preferring to concentrate their energies and resources on further advancing economic growth.
“The truth is that turning the environmental situation in China around will require something far more difficult than setting targets and spending money; it will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms”, was written in one of CFR’s publications.