China's environmental sustainability

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  • Publicado : 17 de enero de 2012
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Rapid urbanization, expansion of heavy industry and staggering economic growth, have profoundly transformed China from a poor, agricultural and quasi- green country into an increasingly wealthy, industrial and gray one. Although those changes have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty, they have also degraded the quality of land, air and water, which in turn affects the lives ofmore than a few hundred million.
China’s motor of economic development has been coal, on which it relies for about two-thirds of its energy needs. Abundantly enriched with coal, China has not hesitated in using it. Between 2000 and 2007 it has doubled its consumption, and an increase of 75% in its demand is projected between 2008 and 2035 (International Energy Agency, IEA 2010). As figure 1 shows,these increases in coal use would be accompanied by the implementation of renewable energy sources. According to the IEA (2010), China will become the market leader in low-carbon energy technologies; yet, coal will remain the main source. However, even many of its newest coal-fired power plants and industrial furnaces operate inefficiently and use pollution controls considered inadequate in theWest (The New York Times, 2007).

As a consequence, pollution of land, air and water have become the main environmental issues in China, making cancer the leading cause of death among its population. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union (World Bank, 2008). Severe acid rain has ruined croplands, threatening the food supply ofthe nation (Dillon, 2009). This could lead to social instability in acid rain-hit areas as crop growers and fish farmers increasingly struggle to earn a living in face of a worsening environment.
Of the 20 cities with the worst air pollution in the world, 16 are in China (World Bank, 2008) and this has been exacerbated by the expanding car ownership and the heavy traffic that it entails (Dillon,2009).
Water pollution has worsened the life conditions of those of the north of the country. Although China has the fourth largest fresh water reserve in the world, it only has 25% of the world’s average per capita availability of water (Economy, 2010). This is due to the water contamination, but also due to its uneven distribution. The northern population counts for 47% of the totalpopulation, contains 64% of the cultivated land and produces about 45% of the country’s GDP (Economy, 2010). Yet it has only 20% of the available water in the country. The discharge of untreated sewage and chemical waste products into China’s major river systems, have made 25% of the water unfit for agricultural production and even unfit for the industry. This scarcity has not yet created a culture ofconservation. According to the World Bank (2008), water remains inexpensive by global standards, and Chinese industry uses 4 to 10 times more water per unit of production than the average in industrialized nations
Linked to water pollution are deforestation and desertification. Illegal logging and slash and burn agriculture consume up to 5,000 square kilometers of virgin forest every year and led tothe silting up of rivers. In northern and central China forest cover has been reduced by half in the last two decades which has increased the impact of soil erosion and desertification (World Bank, 2008). Replanting is something that the Chinese building programs have overlooked (Dillon, 2009).
The government's objectives for energy efficiency and air-and-water quality improvement have not beensuccessfully achieved. Partly because of the scarce policies in pro of environmental conservation and partly because of the many political processes smeared with corruption (Dillon, 2009). Furthermore, the prices polluters have to pay don’t cover the damages of China’s natural resources.
“China is like a teenage smoker with emphysema” (The New York Times, 2007). The costs of pollution have...
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