China declares war on pollution

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Aggressive legislation raises hopes that Beijing is finally getting serious about the environment.

China's explosive growth has wreaked havoc on its environment, and for decades, the government paid it little more than lip service. But the ruling Communist Party has changed its tune in recent months, acknowledging the extent of its pollution crisis, and taking aggressive action to curtail it.

Last week, the government passed sweeping amendments to its environmental protection laws — the first changes in 25 years — imposing tougher penalties for polluters and making it easier for whistleblowers and advocates to report polluting companies. When it goes into effect next January, the law will establish "environmental protection as the country's basic policy."

The amendments passed this month mark the latest in a series of recent moves to curb pollution in China, where environmental concerns have become a hot political issue. Late last year, the government announced its first national plan to combat climate change, and it has already committed $280 billion to cleaning its air. In March, Premier Li Keqiang saidChina will "declare war" on pollution, describing the country's smog problems as "nature's red-light warning against inefficient and blind development."

Rapid industrialization and a burgeoning middle class have strained resources in China, with devastating effects on its air, land, and waterways. Coal-burning plants have fueled regular smog crises in some parts of the country, and widespread pollution has put extra pressure on limited water supplies. Earlier this month, the government announced that one-fifth of its farmland is contaminated by pollutants like cadmium and arsenic. And despite world-leading investments in renewable energy, China continues to rely heavily on fossil fuels to meet its energy needs: it remains the world'slargest emitter of carbon dioxide, and accounts for about one-third of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts are cautiously optimistic about the revised legislation, describing it as an encouraging sign that the country is getting serious about environmental stewardship. Although China has announced several initiatives to tackle pollution in the past, few have been implemented, and the government has long been reluctant to acknowledge the extent of the damage.

Its efforts have been especially hindered by weak central oversight from the federal Ministry of Environmental Protection, as well as vested industrial interests that are intrinsically linked with local governments, weakening incentives to implement change. The stiffer penalties announced last week could signal a transformation: executives of polluting companies can be detained for up to 15 days under the amended legislation, and local government leaders who cover up environmental abuses risk being demoted or fired.

"What's most exciting is that there are parts of it that are trying to give the Ministry teeth," says Jennifer Turner, director of the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center. "That's been a vital weakness in China's environmental enforcement for a long, long time."

The Chinese public has become more aware of the country's environmental crisis, and have begun voicing their concerns through both social media and public demonstrations. In late March, about 1,000 people demonstrated outside government buildings in the southern city of Maoming to protest plans to build a new chemical plant. Similar demonstrations sprouted elsewhere in the country, and hundreds of protests occurred last year, underscoring an ongoing and important shift in thinking on environmental issues.

Written By: Amar Toor
continue to source article at theverge.com

10 COMMENTS

  1. The most blatant abuses, seem to be producing pressure for radical reforms.

    @OP – The stiffer penalties announced last week could signal a transformation: executives of polluting companies can be detained for up to 15 days under the amended legislation, and local government leaders who cover up environmental abuses risk being demoted or fired.

    I can think of many other places where this would be an excellent idea!

  2. This is excellent news and will dismantle some other countries’ arguments against doing things in order to stay competitive. Its awesome that China is finding it can afford a conscience.

    In further fairness to China its industrial revolution has put far less CO2 in the atmosphere than that hugely protracted and messy first ever industrial revolution in the UK.

    • In reply to #2 by phil rimmer:

      This is excellent news and will dismantle some other countries’ arguments against doing things in order to stay competitive. Its awesome that China is finding it can afford a conscience.

      In further fairness to China its industrial revolution has put far less CO2 in the atmosphere than that hugely p…

      While it’s good that China finally appears somewhat serious at doing something about it’s pollution problems, don’t mistake this for “finding it can afford a conscience”. This is about the Chinese Communist party maintaining power, no more, no less.

      Collectively, the Chinese government doesn’t really give a toss about the environment, but the peasants are starting to revolt over not being able to breathe the air, drink the water or eat the food, so now the CCP is looking for a way out of the hole they’re in. The same thing happened in England and mainland Europe back in the day; people got tired of the filth and the grime and started pressuring the politicians to do something about it and out of self-preservation, they did. Same thing is happening here.

      • In reply to #3 by Muljinn:

        In reply to #2 by phil rimmer:

        Collectively, the Chinese government doesn’t really give a toss about the environment, but the peasants are starting to revolt over not being able to breathe the air, drink the water or eat the food, so now the CCP is looking for a way out of the hole they’re in.

        China has been at the forefront of eco-tech investment for quite a number of years now

        I wish our UK peasants still had the ear of David Cameron as much as the Chinese folk have the ear of Li Keqiang (a decent chap btw.)

        Meanwhile Germany, despite covering their roofs with Chinese Solar PV, revert to their dirty old habits.

      • Isn’t that the way it always is? Everywhere? Or is there some country that has a collective conscience?

        In reply to #3 by Muljinn:

        In reply to #2 by phil rimmer:

        This is excellent news and will dismantle some other countries’ arguments against doing things in order to stay competitive. Its awesome that China is finding it can afford a conscience.

        In further fairness to China its industrial revolution has put far less CO2 in t…

  3. I now see the difference between skepticism and cynicism. The former facilitates progress but the latter defeats it.Cynicism, justified or not, has the effect of conservatism by adding the imputation of ill or malicious thinking.

    Politics, the art of the possible, is ever unseemly quite without the need for ill or malicious thinking to make it so.

  4. I am reminded of the Great Stink in London 1858. Finally, some of the more enlightened members of the ruling class realised that they also had to breathe the same air, drink the same water, and be just as susceptible to infectious diseases as the great unwashed working class. Something had to be done, and London was eventually provided with a proper sewage system, – one still basically the same today.

    Of course the capitalists had to pay for this, the workers couldn’t afford to, but it was in the capitalists’ long term interests, and that of their system. It was better to have the workers producing profits , than to have them dying in the streets.

  5. they’ve (media) taken the gloves off

    Right on, information needs to be personal – a la` 3-eyed fish served to Burns.

    Are there any calls from citizens to dismantle the Yangtze/Three River Gorges dam, citing ecological problems, or is the dam a juggernaut.

    • In reply to #8 by bluebird:

      they’ve (media) taken the gloves off

      Are there any calls from citizens to dismantle the Yangtze/Three River Gorges dam, citing ecological problems, or is the dam a juggernaut.

      Their war is on pollution, not environmental damage! Hydro-electric power is one of their answers.

      Climate models suggest climate change will put more rainfall in the Yangtze in future.

      • In reply to #9 by Alan4discussion:

        Their war is on pollution, not environmental damage!

        I know. It was in general reference to the Chinese media > “not pulling any punches on pollution” > garbage pileups near the dam.

        Few weeks ago I posted a link per “clean mountain-air bags” – ’twas a gimmick, but smart move by the company, nevertheless.

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