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  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 6:45am
CommentInsight & Opinion

China showing signs of progress in fighting pollution

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 July, 2013, 4:17am

Elevating environmental protection to full ministry status recognised the serious pollution resulting from China's surging economic growth. That was more than five years ago. Regrettably, there is little evidence that the ministry's voice in the cabinet has carried real weight in terms of heading off any environmental damage from major economic development decisions and reining in the growth-first mindset of officials.

The former state environmental protection administration was upgraded to address complaints by environmental officials that they lacked the power to enforce the rules or fine polluters. But enforcement has been disappointing, partly because of the conflicting interests of various government agencies. All too often the vested interests of polluters and governments have prevailed. There are reports of environmental officials colluding with business and, because the ministry has more power, officials now also have more leverage to extort money.

That said, the ministry can claim some progress at the policy level. Its responsibility for reviewing environmental impact assessments ahead of any industrial proposals involving nuclear activity, major investments and those deemed ecologically sensitive has put the brakes on local governments' pursuit of growth at any cost. But activists are concerned at the ministry's plan to hand many of its powers to local government to reduce interference, calling it a "pollution formula".

Things may improve now that officials will no longer be judged solely by economic achievements, according to President Xi Jinping , but also by outcomes for people's livelihoods and the environment. If that was prompted at least in part by the smog that shrouded Beijing during the National People's Congress in March, there is hope the memory won't fade. This is because an analysis of 17 separate population-based health investigations among more than 300,000 people in Europe has confirmed a strong causal link between lung cancer and air pollution, according to a British medical report.

The study, which took into account other factors such as smoking, focused on the lifestyles of more than 2,000 people who died of lung cancer. In particular it looked at their exposure to fine-particle matter - residual pollution from coal-fired power stations, cars and factories, all of which symbolise China's economic progress. Clearly, the country's foul air, as well as polluted waterways and contaminated soil, pose a threat to public health and social stability.


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I can agree in part with dunndavid that things still look no good but I would not be that harsh on the editorial. China doesn't need foreign expertise and equipment, mostly they have it but don't use it or use it badly. It is all a matter of implementation and that does not look yet so good, I agree. On the other hand, the programs and budgets are more or less there and recently China has started to punish more severely the polluters, and locals have been strongly voicing their grievances. But structural reforms are needed as utility costs are too low and the industry cuts corners to satisfy the demand for super cheap goods. As described in my book "Toxic Capitalism", not a nice picture. Worst is in my opinion the water pollution and scarcity.
I have enjoyed reading many newgalileo posts in the past, this is not one of them.
"China doesn't need foreign expertise and equipment, mostly they have it but don't use it or use it badly." Really? When I go to Chinese industrial plants and I have been to 100s, I have just one time seen a foreign - at a Sichuan Petrochemicals Plant maybe 8 years ago. In contrast when I have been to Taiwan plants I have bumped in to foreigners many times. This shows not China's lack of need, but rather lack of engagement.
Sometime you do find foreign equipment and yes they do use the equipment, but this is partly because China normally buys equipment and doesn't want to buy service. I've seen this for 25 years. I attribute this to Chinese hubris and lack of realistic evaluation of their capabilities.
On the point "they don't use it", there are often very good reasons for why they don't use their pollution devices, namely that the products have merely to pass an inspection and after that need not be put in continuous use. That is to stay that the problems have not been designed for long term use, but rather merely to satisfy an a long time requirement. That in fact is a major factor to consider. If China was to one day "get serious" about pollution, what are they to get serious with? China lacks both the rugged, high performance equipment and the skilled manpower to successfully reduce pollution.
BTW, what I know first hand is pollution reduction in coal-fired power plants.
This is a stupid editorial. The correct title should have been "China showing NO signs of progress in fighting pollution." Forget about changes in government bureaucracy, there is no progress at the working level. I was at a power plant in Western Shanxi this week. They have been fitted with some pollution reduction equipment, but the project is being carried out so incompetantly that the equipment will provide no actual pollution reduction. Sorry, no prizes for "trying" it's results that matter. Until one day you read in the paper that China acknowledges that their air pollution remedies have been a dismal failure, that they need foreign expertise and foreign management to help them, that they need to sack replace their environmental bureaucracies and invest large sums to reduce pollution, until you read this you can assume that China's air pollution will only grow worse. You can't expect any level of performance from a flue gas desulfurization plant at 3% of the OECD, a selective catalytic reduction plant of 10% of the OECD or a boiler NOx retrofit of 10% of the OECD.


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