Archives For china water

Mountains of garbage in Mumbai

Mountains of waste

 

We hear about climate change all the time now, we know it’s bad, we understand much of the science behind the phenomenon. But what can we do? No really, what CAN we do? How does this broad concept connect with our daily lives? 

We turn off and unplug appliances, we try to take public transport where possible, we use fewer resources, turn down the air conditioning in summer and heat in winter, we buy less bottled water. 

But often we don’t stop to think about the rest of our lives. We still want to eat strawberries in winter, meat flown in from the U.S. We (or our children) still buy clothes where often quantity and price reigns over quality. 

We look for lower prices (because we’re hooked on cheaper is better) and then don’t have to think so hard about whether or not that particular cheap item that clearly is not taking into account the environmental or social cost of  production is actually needed.  

We change our cars regularly, buy the latest Apple gadget (must have the ipad, the latest computer to stay in touch) and think nothing of chucking an iphone, ipod that has lasted only a year. 

What happened to the time in the not so distant past when we romanced a dress for a long time and just one purchase was ok, when we could buy fresh local produce and meat in season, when one car lasted a decade or more, when we didn’t need gadget upon gadget to be happy?    

So back to climate change: All of that consumption, flying goods around, needs energy. Production and energy (produced largely by coal in China) at least at the moment lead to air pollution and climate change. Sometimes we forget the connections. 

 In Hong Kong this week Clean Air Network has been good to remind us  with its tongue-in-cheek Fresh Air video what we face if we don’t change our bad habits:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmH3xCpOSW8

In Hong Kong we rightly complain about the state of the air we are forced to breathe and the government’s apparent lack of interest in addressing the pollution challenges – despite  HK$ half-trillion in fiscal reserves this year.

The moribund HK government seems incapable of taking action to protect its citizen’s health despite having the financial resources to do so. Clean Air Network is working hard and successfully to educate the public and stir the government to act, providing the tools and support to do so – hand-holding of sorts.

But perhaps part of the challenge is that in Beijing, from where I am working for three weeks, Hong Kong’s pollution pales by comparison – not that this city should set any standard!

Here, my eyes are a constant rimmed-red, a smog headache challenges concentration and my sinuses are in revolt. Here, the clouds are but a memory and weather is either cold or hot but never sunny, it seems, but there is only a steady grey. The near distance fades into a smog that anywhere else would be unbelievable.

This is the price of China’s progress, and, to be fair, of pulling an estimated 600 million people out of poverty over the past two decades by fulfilling our Western need to consume ever-more products. According to the ADB, over the past 20 years, China’s poverty rate fell from 85% to 15.9% – a huge challenge for any government and unmatched anywhere, anytime.

Still, what we hear more about in the West is the fantastic progress machine that is China, the well-oiled production centre for the world’s consumers.

The flip side of that for China’s citizens is the polluted rivers, the smog-filled air, the cancer villages in evidence countrywide, the drained aquifers, the contaminated land. All of these will be the Beijing government’s newest challenges if it is to keep its population healthy and maintain social stability, which is the utmost goal.

Highly polluted areas near factories have shown increasing cases of cancer.  Southern China is replete with communities that recycle electronic waste and here people are exposed to toxic heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury.  The country’s myriad chemical factories produce carcinogens that enter the water and soil, also contaminating food grown on the land.

According to a recent Guardian article, in 2007, cancer was responsible for one in five deaths, and Chinese farmers are more likely to die of liver and stomach cancer than the world average.

Water supplies are polluted and aquifers significantly drained, something leading environmental activist Ma Jun warned about ten year’s ago in his book, China’s Water Crisis, which considered the local equivalent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

The Qinghai-Tibet plateau area suffers from environmental degradation that is threatening three major rivers: the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong. Melting permafrost and glaciers in the surrounding mountains are also eroding the grasslands and wetlands, causing the ground to lose its capacity to absorb water, according to AFP.

Xin Yuanhong, a government scientist quoted by the news agency says that at the current rate, 30 percent of the region’s glaciers could disappear within 10 years.

Climate change is also affecting the 580 million people living in these river basins.  This crisis also affects food security; drought and drying up water sources are severely lowering crop yields in the area.

By all accounts, the government increasingly understands the severity of the challenge. Careful Chinese environmentalists are being allowed to speak out. Indeed, many seem to be encouraged by the government to highlight bad practice by companies breaking local laws by emitting pollutants into the water, air and ground. Information disclosure has taken leaps forward in recent months.

Ma Jun and his Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs over the past several years have divulged information in online databases of air and water violations by factories throughout China. He has created a groundbreaking “blacklist” of polluters. At last count, IPE databases listed more than 60,000 air and water violations.

To be removed from the list, companies must take corrective action and accept IPE-supervised environmental audits of their Chinese factories. Ma is also a champion of increasing access to environmental information, which he believes will bring public pressure on companies to operate more responsibly.

In Yunan Province, Yu Xiaogang, another courageous environmentalist I met with recently, is also using information disclosure, to gain bank data. He and his group, Green Watershed, along with a network of nine other NGOs, are compiling information on loans granted to development projects that are damaging to local populations.

The group recently published the environmental record of 14 Chinese banks, looking at their policies, regulations, investments and loan portfolios, noting which were connected with environmentally damaging projects.

Yu is also working with communities to help them open channels with local financial institutions to discuss social and environmental impact ahead of any loan being granted to a large development initiative.

That Beijing seems to be backing the sort of discussion underway in China is certainly encouraging. It seems Hong Kong should be setting standards in the environmental arena not lagging behind its severely challenged neighbour.

Asia Water Project: China

Lisa Genasci —  February 25, 2010 — 1 Comment

The ADM Capital Foundation and Civic Exchange today launched in beta the Asia Water Project: China and AWP’s first piece of commissioned research, Water in China: Issues for Responsible Investors, authored by the independent research company Responsible Research, which is Singapore based.

Feels great to get the water portal birthed and visible, even if it’s only in testing phase ahead of the official launch on March 18 in Hong Kong. That will happen with IPE’s Ma Jun, who was the inspiration behind the water portal. It was a desire to translate Ma Jun’s data from the IPE website that names and shames water and air polluters in China, (see Jan. blog) that first inspired ADMCF to create AWP. Ma Jun, who wrote the first major book on China’s water crisis in 2000, uses only government emissions and penalties data on his site and in that way has been allowed to work relatively unimpeded in China.

ADMCF saw there was space to fill a lacuna in information relating to China’s water supply, management and pollution and at the same time better inform investors. We see there are both risks and opportunities in China’s growing crisis. Informed investors can help shape how companies respond to water challenges. Ina Pozon, who has built and manages AWP and ADMCF environment director, Sophie Le Clue,  have worked tirelessly in recent weeks with freelance writer, Pua Mench, to get the site in shape. Still work to do but today we are a big step closer!

Bloomberg sponsored today’s event, which featured Christine Loh of the CE, Lucy Carmody of RR and Guo Peiyuan of Beijing’s SynTao, an AWP partner and participant in the RR water research.

The research, found here: http://www.asiawaterproject.org, showed that China may be looking at trade-offs between access to clean water and economic growth. At the national level, China’s water shortages are thought responsible for direct economic losses of US$35 billion every year.  This is 2.5 times the average annual losses due to floods.

The report points out that sectors where China dominates globally, such as in steel, textile, paper and forest products, are heavily water intensive. Fluctuations in quantity and quality of water supply in these industries carry significant potential risks to earnings.

The new report draws on case studies from ten industries that have the most impact on water in China including agriculture, forest products, textiles and beverages. As water becomes increasingly material to investors in China, they will need to be more pro-active in looking at how listed companies are addressing supply issues.

While there is some understanding of water-related risks to companies and investors, “a key barrier is the lack of reliable, comprehensive information on water issues in China,” according to Ina. “The Asia Water Project has a unique role to play in fast-tracking this trend, through its commissioned research and its new web-based information portal.”

Earlier this month, the Chinese government released the findings of a pollution survey that show water pollution levels in 2007 were more than twice the official estimate, in part because previous reporting had failed to take agricultural contamination of water supplies into account.

Christine Loh reads this as good news that the Chinese government has done its homework and now understands that “the problem is as big as it is urgent.” She anticipates that “there will be more dialogue and debate in China this year” as government plans require reductions in wastewater pollution that are not easy.

The new investor report  also highlights some shocking statistics: 70 percent of China’s rivers and lakes are “significantly” contaminated, 50 percent of the country’s cities have polluted groundwater and over 30 percent of China is affected by acid rain.