Wednesday, July 04, 2007

China, Globalisation and the environment: link round-up

When we talk about "globalisation and the environment" what are we really referring to?

The remit of this blog is fairly wide but what we are really interested in covering is how the trend towards an increasingly globalised world will impact on the environment.

Yes, the vast majority of sensible social and physical scientists acknowledge that climate change is in part caused by human activity.

The question we will to address is whether the increasing role of trade, multinationals, foreign direct investment, migration of labour, the free flow of capital and more importantly ideas is good or bad for the environment.

Irrespective of the affect on local pollutants one might ask whether globalisation will make climate change worse in the long run or short run or neither.

I suspect that globalisation will have a worsening affect short-term (in terms of CO2) but that in the long term it will be beneficial. The crucial question therefore is how short is the short term and will the worsening lead the world past a tipping point when it becomes too late for the beneficial affects of globalisation to kick in.

One of the main reasons for the negativity is the huge growth of countries like China and India. We all know the "China builds 2 coal fired power stations a week" anecdote but this does encapsulate the problem. There is no doubt world CO2 levels have increased due to sheer scale of Chinese production and the methods of production. Whilst technological improvements are being introduced the scale affect still outweighs any technique affect.

Moreover, in this blog we have also covered local Chinese pollution problems. One does not have to look far to find pictures of factories churning out fumes, polluted rivers and people wearing masks. Statistics that 16 of the 20 dirtiest cities are in China are easy to find. See the article below that has just announced that pollution kills nearly 500,000 people a year in China.

It is for this reason that we spend time documenting the environmental problems in China. They are, in a sense, caused by the West's demand for cheap goods and the desire for Multinationals to avoid paying the costs of regulation in the West (that can be avoided legally or illegally in China).

China is therefore at the frontline of the globalisation and environment debate. If we are concerned with climate change it is one thing to recycle your cardboard but quite another to change the habits of the world's most populous and largest CO2 emitting country (who incidentally probably made the product that was packaged excessively in the cardboard you are now recycling).

Here are a couple of links from today's PlanetArk relating to China.

On regulations:

China Punishes Cities for Polluting Rivers
BEIJING - China's top environmental watchdog has punished several cities and over 30 factories for chronic river pollution, accusing growth-obsessed local governments of worsening degradation to an "unbearable" extent.

Beijing Taking Million Cars Off Streets in August Trial

GUATEMALA CITY - Beijing officials will withdraw one million cars from the city's streets next month in a trial run as plans are drawn up to reduce pollution levels for next year's Olympics.

Pollution has been a worry for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as China's economic boom has fuelled increased energy consumption.

Deaths in China from Pollution

Pollution Kills 460,000 Chinese a Year - World Bank
BEIJING - About 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water, according to a World Bank study.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the Chinese government, the bank's partner in the research project, had asked the lender not to publish the estimates for fear they could trigger social unrest.

The conference version of the study, available at the bank's Web site, says some estimates of the physical and economic cost of pollution have been omitted because of uncertainties about calculation methods and their application.

However, the report goes on to estimate the health costs from premature deaths associated with outdoor air pollution at 394 billion yuan (US$51.8 billion). With each life valued at 1 million yuan, that works out at a death toll of 394,000.

The study puts the cost of deaths from diarrhoea and cancer caused by drinking polluted water at 66 billion yuan, pointing to 66,000 premature deaths a year.


China Environment Chief Says Pollution Fuelling Unrest
BEIJING - Chinese anger with worsening pollution is fuelling increasing protests, the nation's top environmental official said, criticising local governments who he said protected factories turning rivers into "sticky glue".

Chief of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), Zhou Shengxian, said discontent with pollution "has resulted in a rising number of 'mass incidents'" -- an official euphemism for riots, protests and collective petitions -- the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Wednesday.
Speaking to officials, Zhou did not give overall numbers for such acts but said SEPA had received 1,814 citizen petitions in the first five months of this year demanding an improved environment, an 8 percent rise on the same period of 2006, Xinhua reported.

The government has been struggling to curb pollution from the factories, mines and industrial plants that have driven frantic growth. China has promised to cut emissions of major pollutants by 10 percent between 2006 and 2010, but last year the country failed to meet the annual target.

Zhou lambasted local officials, eager to generate revenue and jobs, who have fended off pollution controls on local businesses.

"In a considerable number of regions, the Party centre's and State Council's demands in environmental protection have not been implemented," he said.

"Some businesses don't rest deep in the night when they have no scruples about dumping pollution in rivers."

A recent inspection of the Yellow, Yangtze and other major rivers and lakes found that about half the 75 waste water treatment plants checked either under-performed or did not work at all, and 44 percent of 529 businesses checked violated environmental laws, Zhou said.

In some places dumping was so bad that rivers have "turned into sticky glue", he added.

Despite official promises to clean up filthy air and water, China has recently been struck by a series of pollution spills that have drawn sharp criticism from domestic media.

State media reported on Thursday that tap water had been restored to 200,000 residents of Shuyang County in the heavily industrialised province of Jiangsu after a spill of industrial chemicals stopped supplies for about 40 hours.

Another SEPA official said earlier that last year, 26 percent of the length of the country's seven main river systems had pollution of grade 5 or worse, making it unfit for human contact.

About 460,000 Chinese die prematurely each year from breathing polluted air and drinking dirty water, according to a World Bank study.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the Chinese government, the bank's partner in the research project, had asked the lender not to publish the estimates for fear they could intensify public discontent.

At a regular Foreign Ministry briefing on Thursday, spokesman Qin Gang disputed the assertion, saying "the report has not reached its final conclusion, and not been published, thus the so-called situation of China requiring some statistics to be removed did not exist".

Zhou urged officials to root out factories using secret pipes to dump pollution and to halt new projects lacking environmental checks.

"Environmental protection offices and enforcement staff must stand up when the time demands," he said. "Dare to struggle against polluting behaviour." (Additional reporting by Vivi Lin)


Greenearth said...

Have enjoyed your blog.

Anonymous said...

Just because it is easy to find the statistic than 16 out of the 20 dirtiest cities are in China doesn't mean that statistic is right. In an attempt to properly cite said statistic, I finally found the World Bank study underlying it (Pandey et al. 2006). First: the spreadsheet from the study only has 13 out of 20 of the dirtiest cities in China. Second: that spreadsheet was a "selected list" of 100 cities, and in the database with the full list of 3000 world cities, China only holds a few spots out of the top 20. Which isn't saying that China isn't horribly polluted, but it is now my quixotic quest to correct this misstatement...

Rob Elliott said...

Thanks for the comment. Such research is valuable. It is not surprising to see such mistakes being made. I may well follow this up with a post.

Interesting to see today's news touching on this subject:

Rob Elliott said...

More on the top 10 most polluted cities. China not so bad??