Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Cross-boundary pollution: China's rubbish hits the beaches

There is a large literature in environmental economics that looks at the economics of cross-boundary pollution although it is usually theoretrical and concerns air pollution and the location of factories etc.

This story from China is a good example of a new type of cross-boundary pollution.

Taiwan Rankled By China Litter Washing Up On Beaches
KINMEN - It's been decades since artillery shells landed on this strategic frontline island at the height of the China-Taiwan civil war, but now a new battle rages as garbage from the Chinese mainland washes up on Kinmen's shore.

Bottles, plastic bags, rags and effluent from China is washing up on the otherwise pristine beaches of the Taiwan-controlled, sub-tropical island of Kinmen, better known in the West as Quemoy.
Wind-driven ocean currents from China's booming coastal city of Xiamen, only about 2 km (1.25 miles) away, bring garbage across a sea channel that decades ago was the scene of fierce fighting between China and Taiwan during a protracted civil war.

The problem gets worse when it rains, as storms bring extra-large onslaughts from the mouth of the nearby Jiulong River in China.

Kinmen residents aren't the only ones complaining about trash from their bigger neighbour. China's refuse also contaminates seawater and fouls the air in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.

South Korean fishermen have complained about polluted waters, and their government is investigating pollution from China in the Yellow and East China seas, said Park Sun-yong, an official with the fisheries ministry.

"There is no border in the sea, so we cannot say how much water pollution is coming from China," said Park.

"However, we're investigating with China on the Yellow Sea's environmental condition."

Seoul and Tokyo have also complained about dust storms that blow in from northern China in March and April almost every year. Eroded soil from China's over-grazed and deforested north-central plains adds dust to storms that originate in Mongolia.

In Hong Kong, many suspect the city's near-constant haze originates in the heavily industrialised Pearl River Delta region of southern China. Recent reports also say pollution is threatening Hong Kong's mangrove trees.

Any clean-up will take an international effort, a Beijing-based environmental expert said, since the pollution comes in part from at least 60 foreign firms and an unknown number of Taiwan and Hong Kong firms with factories in China.

"Things are complex, because China is manufacturing to the rest of the world," said Ma Jun of the non-governmental Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. "I myself believe that pointing fingers is not the way to deal with this."

Back on Kinmen, local officials say they mention the trash to China whenever they meet counterparts in Fujian province, across the straits from the Taiwan province.

But the Chinese say it's not their problem, said Lee Shang-ren, a tour guide and environmental volunteer.

This final quote shows the extent of the problem - will China say the same thing when pressed on global warming?

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