China’s Environment: Just How Bad Can it Be?

Thursday, September 21, 2006 19:44
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During the summer of 2002 in Beijing, I remember commenting to a friend that we were in the middle of our 3 day of blue skies, crystal blue in fact. The grey film that seemed to cover the city seemed to have been peeled back so that the sky (or at least what I remembered the sky to be) was visibly a light blue. 10 days later, I knew something was wrong…

Sure enough, the news came across the wires that the I.O.C (International Olympic Committee) had just left town and all construction sites and factories in the area were going on 24/7 to make up for the last 3 weeks of downtime.

For the next 5-6 days, I did not leave the house….

Recently, the government announced the results of a study conducted by the China EPA and the Statistics Bureau.

The findings were staggering as their estimates are that air, water, solid waste, and pollution accidents result in up to 3% of GDP being lost, or 511.8 billion yuan (64$ billion USD). Previous to this release there have been almost daily reports of toxic spills, contaminations, and air pollution levels:

Sept 5 IHT Article: Toxic Sludge Sinks a Chinese Village

Aug 31 Reuters: China Shuts Factory, Detains Seven for Chemical Spill

Aug 30 Newsday: One-Third of China Hurt by Acid Rain

It is a fact that China’s environment is at times a real mess: it is smoggy, in some cities there is a discernable taste of chemicals in the air, water looks more like Drano, etc.

The good news is that the government has begun taking steps (albeit baby steps in some areas) and not only shows an awareness of the problem, but it coming out and publicly acknowledging the problem.

The bad news is that it cannot be changed overnight.

While some say that the governments plan to tackle the problem is not enough (Asia Times article), there are signs for hope. In the last 12-18 months, the central government has taken numerous steps in the to crackdown on offenders where removal of senior government officials occur for those who either did not act, or tried to cover up. Efforts are being made to strengthen China’s E.P.A. and other agencies, however while there have been successes, there is obviously a long way to go.

No doubt, events like the 2007 Shanghai Special Olympics, 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo all offer their own motivations for doing so, but it goes deeper than that. In fact, the environment has become one of those issues that like the real estate market, the banking sector, and unemployment levels has become so big that ignoring it could lead to macro instability.. and thus, the environment will be of Beijing’s concern and focus in the short, medium, and long-term.

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