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The Victims of China’s Soil Pollution Crisis

The Victims of China’s Soil Pollution Crisis

Rapid Industrialization Has Damaged Health and Livelihoods Across China

This is the first of a special three-part series of investigations jointly run by chinadialogue and Yale Environment 360, with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. You can also read parts two and three.

When Zhang Junwei’s uncle died in February 2012, he was only 50. In the three years that he had endured the cancer that killed him, surgeons had removed both his rectum and his bladder. “Perhaps he was better off dead,” said Zhang, reflecting on his uncle’s ordeal. “It was a release.” Two years after his uncle’s death, Zhang still refuses to name him, afraid that even now, talking about how his uncle lived—and died—could bring trouble down on the family.

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The Legacy of Hunan’s Polluted Soils

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This is the second of a special three-part series of investigations jointly run by chinadialogue and Yale Environment 360 with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. You can also read parts one and three.Cao Fushe spent much of 2013 worrying that he wouldn’t...

Zhang’s uncle lived in Fenshui, in Central China’s Jiangsu province, a village of some 7,000 people that straddles a network of waterways on the western shore of Lake Tai, China’s third largest freshwater lake. Lake Tai boasts 800 square miles of fresh water, shared between Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and has been celebrated throughout Chinese history for its abundant fish and beautiful limestone landscape.

But as China’s industrial boom gathered speed through the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century, a new, metaled road connected the once sleepy village of Fenshui to the major highway networks being built across China. Factories began to cluster along the lakeshore and the village’s traditional single-story whitewashed houses, with their signature black-tiled roofs, were steadily replaced with two- and even three-story houses, as factory wages brought a surge of prosperity to Fenshui. Zhang’s uncle, like many of his neighbors, had found work in one of those factories.



His illness hit the small family hard. His only son was serving in the army when his father fell ill, and the soldier’s wage was too small to cover the medical bills. Zhang’s aunt took a factory job herself to support her sick husband, making the difficult choice to leave him unattended during her working day. The cancer was to consume the family’s savings entirely, all spent in a fruitless effort to save his life. The patient struggled through his final days at home, getting up to see to his own needs until the day he finally collapsed while fetching a drink of water. He died later that day.

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07.17.14

China Faces Long Battle to Clean Polluted Soil

CHINADIALOGUE

This is the third of a special three-part series of investigations jointly run by chinadialogue and Yale Environment 360 with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. You can also read parts one and two.Luo Jinzhi is 52 and lives in the village of Shuangqiao, in...

Zhang Junwei (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) believes that the cancer that ended his uncle’s life was caused by soil pollution, a subject so sensitive in China that Zhang himself is still afraid to discuss it openly. Zhang has just turned 40 and, like his uncle, has lived all his life in Jiangsu, near the lake. His village of Zhoutie is just five miles from Fenshui and less than 40 miles from the county town of Yixing, in the heart of the Yangtze Delta, today China’s biggest regional economy. For more than 1,000 years, Yixing and its surrounding countryside was an important source of grain for China, celebrated in poetry as far back as 960 AD for its benign climate and fertile soil, and famous for the manufacture of a dense, brown pottery that is still highly prized in China as the ideal material for teapots.

But today, Yixing and the land around it sit in China’s new industrial landscape. Since the 1990s, nearly 3,000 factories have been built on the once-beautiful shores of the lake. The chemical boom made Yixing one of China’s richest county-level towns, with a GDP that reached 106.6 billion yuan ($17.06 billion) in 2012.

It is also still an agricultural area: the road from Fenshui to Zhoutie runs between flat, regular fields of vegetables, these days more profitable crops than grain for farmers who live close to urban markets. But many local farmers have given up eating the crops they grow. They know that their vegetables are planted in soil polluted with cadmium, lead, and mercury, heavy metals that are dangerous to human health. Zhang confessed that he rarely eats local produce either. “There’s too much soil pollution,” he said.

A ‘State Secret’

Soil pollution has received relatively little public attention in China. Despite the fact that it poses as big a threat to health as the more widely covered air and water pollution, data on soil pollution has been so closely guarded that it has been officially categorized as a “state secret.” Until recently, the Chinese government also resisted media efforts to draw attention to local cancer epidemics in China’s newly industrial areas. It was not until February 2013 that the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) finally admitted that “cancer villages” existed in China, and released a list that included the area around Lake Tai and the villages of Fenshui and Zhoutie. Some civil society experts have estimated that there are 450 cancer villages in China, and believe the phenomenon is spreading.

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China’s State-Run Media Shares Powerful Map of “...

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It appears that Chinese environmental activism is going further mainstream. The Sina micro-blogging account of Global Times, a well-known Communist Party mouthpiece, has just shared news about the horrific proliferation of “cancer villages” in China. Earlier today...



The story of the cancer hotspot of Yixing is characteristic: in the rush to develop that engulfed China from the 1990s, local officials were eager to invite factories and chemical plants into the area, and their already weak environmental controls were often disregarded entirely. “Government officials just care about GDP,” Zhang complained. “They were happy to welcome any polluting firm.” So, for a time, were the villagers who found jobs in the new factories.

The first real signs of the troubles to come were in Lake Tai itself, and were the subject of a long campaign by another resident of Yixing township, the fisherman turned environmentalist Wu Lihong. In the early 1990s, Wu grew worried about the deterioration of Lake Tai’s once famously pure waters. He organized a local environmental monitoring group that he called Defenders of Tai Lake, to collect water samples from the lake and its feeder rivers.

For 16 years, Wu campaigned to draw attention to the lake’s declining health, despite harassment from local officials and police and, by appealing to senior government officials, he succeeded in forcing more than 200 factories to close. But his campaign abruptly ended on April 13, 2007, when he was arrested and later sentenced to a four-year prison term on charges of extortion and blackmail. The following month, the Ministry of Environmental Protection named Yixing a “National Model City for Environmental Protection.” Five days later, a toxic algae bloom turned the waters of Lake Tai into foul-smelling green sludge.



That episode, in the high summer of 2007, attracted international attention and was a major embarrassment for the national as well as the provincial government. According to the Lake Tai Basin Authority, more than 30 million people draw their drinking water from the basin’s 53 water sources. A Zhoutie local official admitted to the government newspaper People’s Daily that the algae bloom had caused a “water supply crisis,” and said the lake’s water “looked like soy sauce.” The authorities finally acted.

At the end of 2006, Yixing had been home to 1,188 firms producing chemicals. By October 2013, after six years of “rectification,” 583 had been closed down, merged, or reopened as other types of business, as were 104 chemical plants in Zhoutie and 57 in neighboring Taihua township. In late 2013, Yixing started a new round of chemical industry clean-up, with plans to deal with an additional 52 chemical firms over the next two years.



It all came too late for the campaigner Wu Lihong: he has now completed his prison term and his wife and daughter have moved overseas, but Wu himself remains subject to restrictions, including a ban on talking to the media. His harsh treatment is a reminder to other villagers that environmental activism carries a high cost.

Pollution remains a highly sensitive subject in the district. Most interviewees were too frightened to give their names, worried about how local officials might react. Others complained that official secrecy about pollution meant that they could not discover what dangers Zhoutie’s toxic legacy might pose to their own health and that of their families. Zhang Junwei recalled that, when the pollution was at its worst, even people’s sweat was discolored. “Several of my relatives died from cancer very young,” he said.

Although the local government has now closed the worst of the factories, the pollutants those factories had released in their wastewater or sludge ended up in the soil, and the toxic waste from those polluting years continues to threaten the health of the people of the area and beyond.

Zhang Junwei and villagers like him are well aware that cancer rates in their district have risen, and they suspect that pollution is the cause. They say the number of cancer victims started to increase 10 years ago, when local farmers began to fall ill and die. Their suspicions were well-founded: when crops are grown in soil contaminated with cadmium or other heavy metals, the grain absorbs the toxins. But even today, despite this awareness of what pollution can do, local farmers have little choice but to continue to plant: these are families that reaped no direct benefit from industrialization and still have few alternative sources of income. The poorest still eat locally produced food, knowing it is contaminated.

Linking Pollution and Illness

Establishing a clear connection, however, between pollution and cancer is scientifically challenging. At Hohai University, in Jiangsu province, Chen Ajiang, a sociologist who heads the university’s Institute of the Environment and Sociology, admitted that the link between pollution and cancer is extremely complex, and it is difficult to pin down cause and effect.

In 2007, Professor Chen won a government grant to study the interaction of human and water environments in the basins of Lake Tai and the Huai River. For five years, he and his four researchers carried out field studies in the provinces of Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Guangdong, looking for evidence of the health impacts of water pollution. Professor Chen believed that pollution-related illness was damaging economic development, keeping villagers in poverty or driving them away from their native villages altogether. Although he admits that the medical world has not yet identified an undisputed link between pollution and cancer in the villages he studied, his team established beyond doubt that cancer villages exist and that the lives of those who live in them are severely impacted.

The pollution that chemical factories released in gas and sludge, and in the wastewater they discharged into Lake Tai and other local waterways, has now accumulated in the surrounding soil, but the government has been reluctant to acknowledge the scale of the problem: in April, 2013, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development awarded Zhoutie a “Habitat Environment Prize,” an award, like the accolade given to Xining, that seems out of tune with the real state of Zhoutie’s environment.

In April 2013, the Jiangsu Geological Survey published part of a report that showed that heavy metal pollution in the Wuxi, Suzhou, and Changzhou areas has increased continuously since 2004, with once isolated spots of pollution from cadmium and mercury now expanding and merging to form larger, continuous areas. The report, “New Technologies for Monitoring and Preventing Heavy Metal Pollution Resulting from Urbanization,” revealed that between 2005 and 2011 increasing levels of cadmium were found at 37.5% of the sites sampled, with average increases of 0.03 milligrams (mg) of cadmium per kilogram (kg) of soil. At its highest, the annual average increase was 0.2 mg.

Continuous monitoring revealed an escalating pattern of pollution: in one unspecified area, researchers reported, cadmium levels higher than 0.4 mg per kg of soil were found only in relatively isolated patches in the land surrounding industrial development. But by 2012, large stretches of nearby farmland were polluted to the same levels, and rice and wheat produced in the area were contaminated.

It also described one case—later identified as the township of Dingshu, 18 miles to the southwest of Zhoutie—where, due to a cluster of township enterprises that were dumping their waste, cadmium levels in the river silt had reached 1500 mg per kg, and that rice produced on nearby land was contaminated with cadmium to levels of more than 0.5 mg per kg. China’s food safety standards rule that rice can contain no more than 0.2 mg per kg of cadmium, and the international limit is 0.4 mg per kg. Rice from Dingshu has long been in breach of those limits.



Dingshu is the center of Yixing’s ceramics industry, home to many glazed tile factories, teapot factories, and clay workshops. Yixing’s stoneware is an important source of revenue, but the factories have also badly damaged the local environment and contribute to the area’s soil pollution. Yixing launched a crackdown on ceramic factories in early 2011, but by June 2013 only 300 had been fully shut down.

The area’s problems illustrate the high price China is paying for 30 years of rapid economic development and the risks China’s increasingly serious soil pollution poses to its food. Official estimates say that China produces 12 million tons of heavy metal contaminated grain a year, with an economic cost of more than 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion).

A Lack of Transparency



China’s official approach to soil pollution has been characterized by secrecy and obfuscation. Even now, a picture of the scale and severity of the problem must be pieced together from disparate reports.



In 2010, for instance, a report on soil protection policy from the international expert body, the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), warned that overall trends in China’s soil pollution gave no cause for optimism. Quoting China’s official 1997 Report on the State of the Environment in China, it characterized the pollution of China's arable land as “rather severe,” with pollution affecting an estimated 10 million hectares (38,610 square miles) of land. By the year 2000, according to that year’s report on the state of the environment, 36,000 of the 300,000 hectares (139 of the 1,158 square miles) of basic farmland monitored for harmful heavy metals were found to be more than 12% beyond the standard.

CCICED’s researchers were no more optimistic about China’s system of supervision and management of soil, finding that investment in soil pollution prevention and control was too low. They stressed that soil pollution reduces the quality of crops and recommended legislation to protect the soil and to control pollution, as well as improvement in China’s environmental soil standards.

There are now signs that the gravity of the soil pollution problem is belatedly forcing the Chinese government to begin to deal with a problem that has accumulated over many decades, and to reconsider its policy of pursuing economic growth at the expense of the environment. In July 2007, the Ministry of Land and the National Bureau of Statistics launched a nationwide soil survey. It was completed in 2009, but partial results were not published until December 2013. In April 2014, the government released partial results of a second soil pollution survey, conducted from April 2005 to December 2013, and covering 630 square kilometers (243 square miles) of farmland. The survey reported that about 16.1% of China's soil and about 19.4% of farmland were contaminated.



China has 135 million hectares (52,1238 square miles) of arable land in total, but the amount of available high quality arable land has been dropping due to advancing urbanization and pollution. According to the recently released data, the government classifies more than 3 million hectares (11,583 square miles) of arable land as moderately polluted. How much of that is contaminated with heavy metals is still not clear, though in 2011 Wang Bentai, then Chief Engineer of the State Environmental Protection Agency (now the Ministry of Environmental Protection) said that 10% of China’s arable land is polluted with lead, zinc, and other heavy metals.

Starting to Clean Up?



Rising public concern about the impacts of pollution have begun to force a change in government attitudes, but changes at the top can take some time to percolate down to lower levels of government. In November 2013, delegates to the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CCP Central Committee—an important Party meeting—adopted a key strategy document that set out the government’s priorities for the immediate future.

The document, prosaically entitled “Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms,” promised that environmental protection would be given more importance in the performance evaluation of local and national officials, and that local officials would be considered directly responsible for pollution. Economic growth would no longer guarantee promotion for local officials. The government also promises to put in place the legislation and powers to allow polluters to be heavily punished, a promise that began to take shape in the new environmental protection law, approved in April 2014, which removed the caps that had kept fines for polluters low.

However, Zhuang Guotai, the head of the MEP’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation, has said that cleaning up soil pollution is a difficult and lengthy process that will require huge investment. In some cases, he explained, the pollution the ministry had identified in soil samples could be traced back decades: pollution from the pesticide benzene hexachloride, for instance, a substance banned in the 1980s, was still in evidence.



Mr. Zhuang promised that an action plan to deal with soil pollution will pull together both central and local government and businesses, using market mechanisms to promote soil restoration, with rewards systems in place to encourage public participation. A new law on soil pollution is also promised. But soil remediation is expensive and complex, and there are no easy answers to a pollution nightmare that has brought early death to the afflicted villages, reduced harvests, and rendered much of China’s home-grown food toxic.

chinadialogue is a bilingual source of high-quality news, analysis, and discussion on all environmental issues, with a special focus on China. Founded by international journalist and broadcaster...

By He Guangwei, a China-based journalist who won a chinadialogue Environmental Press Award in 2012. This article was first published by chinadialogue.

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CHINADIALOGUE

In the bike-loving Netherlands, electric bicycles now account for one-third of bicycle spending. The e-bike is encroaching on the Vespa in Rome, and multiplying on the steep roads of Lausanne. Globally, the production of electric bicycles is expected to increase by roughly a...

Environment

09.23.13

Chinese Coal Demand to Peak by 2020

CHINADIALOGUE

Over the last decade, predicting the future of global energy markets has centered more or less on what people thought China was going to do. Analysts and researchers have since assumed that Chinese coal demand is insatiable and will continue along this trend. This viewpoint has,...

Environment

09.12.13

Electric Cars Offer China the Chance to Become Global...

CHINADIALOGUE

Despite some serious doubts over the viability of electric vehicle (EV) makers, the sector could still have a promising future in China, according to a report published by the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.China’s EV sector currently relies heavily on the...

Environment

08.29.13

Beijing Water Shortage Worse Than the Middle East

CHINADIALOGUE

Beijing’s annual water consumption has reached 3.6 billion cubic meters, according to statistics released by the Beijing Water Authority, far more than the 2.1 billion cubic meters locally available.The per capita annual water availability is now around 120 cubic meters, well...

Environment

08.14.13

Beijing’s Neighbors Hesitate at Pollution Cuts

CHINADIALOGUE

The recent announcement of plans to lower air pollution levels in the next five years are far greater than any proposed before, some being several times tougher than those included in the Twelfth Five Year Plan (FYP) period, which was only finalized in 2012.However, while Beijing...

Environment

08.09.13

Beijing is Trapped in its Polluted Neighborhood

CHINADIALOGUE

In 2011, approximately 9,900 premature deaths in China are estimated to have been due to pollution. The Ministry of Environmental Protection recently released a pollution ranking of seventy-four cities over the first three months of the year. Of the ten most polluted, seven are...

Environment

08.07.13

China’s Abandoned Steel Mills Are a Threat to Public...

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s steel industry has been in trouble since 2011, with numerous bankruptcies nationwide. The city of Tangshan in Hebei province has been no exception. Though the city is Hebei’s biggest steel maker, with its 70 million tons of annual production accounting for almost half...

Environment

07.25.13

Comment: Polluters Shouldn’t Be the Judge of Other...

CHINADIALOGUE

If the law sets a criminal to catch other criminals what do you think those criminals will think? My colleagues have discovered that new legislation threatens to do just that.A new draft revision of the Environmental Protection Law is now online for public comment. The draft...

Environment

07.24.13

Government-Backed NGO Under Pressure to Act Against...

CHINADIALOGUE

The All-China Environmental Federation (ACEF), a government-backed NGO, is being urged to take legal action against the Shenhua group, one of China’s largest energy companies and also a member of the ACEF.A subsidiary of the Shenhua group in Inner Mongolia has reportedly been...

Environment

07.18.13

Chinese Nuclear Versus Chinese Renewables

CHINADIALOGUE

Germany’s Energy transition (‘Energiewende’) has been much feted, but when it comes to energy and climate-change policy, China is the country to watch. Its burgeoning economy and voracious appetite for coal-fired power make it the world’s biggest source of greenhouse...

Environment

07.16.13

Local Officials in North China Quit Smoking to Fight...

CHINADIALOGUE

If you are planning to quit smoking, here is another reason to do so—it can fight air pollution, at least according to local officials in China’s northern Hebei Province.Officials in Cangzhou city, Hebei vowed to quit smoking in front of a mass rally this week, claiming the...

Environment

07.08.13

The Water Challenge Facing China’s Coal and Power...

CHINADIALOGUE

It is an inescapable truth that China needs coal—and that coal needs water. The coal industry, from mining to power generation and coal-to-chemicals, accounts for one-sixth of China’s water withdrawals. This is not sustainable and in some areas coal mining is already...

Environment

07.03.13

Understanding China’s Domestic Agenda Can End U.N....

CHINADIALOGUE

Li Shuo of Greenpeace China has recently argued on chinadialogue that U.N. climate talks can drive more ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions in China, the world’s largest emitter. This optimism goes against much of the conventional wisdom regarding the negotiations....

Environment

06.06.13

Wuxi-Düsseldorf and the Challenge of Green City...

CHINADIALOGUE

At first glance, it isn’t an obvious pairing. Düsseldorf is the fashion and advertising capital of Germany. Wuxi is a fast-growing industrial city on China’s east coast, with probably more coal plants than catwalks. But a German environmental think-tank has linked the two...

Environment

05.30.13

China’s “NIMBY” Protests: Sign of Unequal Society

CHINADIALOGUE

NIMBY—or “not in my backyard”—protests happen when residents attempt to protect their neighborhoods from the negative impacts of public or industrial facilities. Since the 2007 “walking protests” against a PX chemical factory in Xiamen, we have seen a halt called to...

Environment

05.28.13

How China Can Kick-start Carbon Capture and Storage

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s estimated total carbon dioxide emissions reached 25 percent of global emissions in 2011 and they continue to grow rapidly—so rapidly, in fact, that the increase in China’s emissions over an eight-month period is about the same as the UK’s total...

Environment

05.23.13

Food Safety Scandals Bring Reality-Check to “Chinese...

CHINADIALOGUE

In the wake of China’s recent food scandal, Chinese premier Li Keqiang has vowed to enforce the toughest food safety regulations.“We need to crack down on practices that violate laws and regulations with a heavy fist, and make the lawbreakers pay an unaffordable price for...

Environment

05.20.13

Water-Trading Could Exacerbate Water Shortages in China

CHINADIALOGUE

Large-scale engineering projects and rigorous state control are hallmarks of the Chinese developmental model, and both have been apparent in the country’s approach to water management.A US$62 billion project to divert water from the south to the parched north is under way,...

Environment

05.17.13

China Tops Table for Disaster-Induced Displacement of...

CHINADIALOGUE

More than a third of all people forced from their homes by disasters such as floods, storms, and earthquakes in the past five years were in China, says a new report from the leading international body on displacement.Around 49.8 million Chinese people were displaced by natural...

Environment

05.16.13

Singapore’s Growth Story Holds Lessons for Water-...

CHINADIALOGUE

When the tiny city-state of Singapore gained independence in 1965, its social, economic, political, and environmental constraints appeared so formidable that many of those looking in from outside predicted a future of dismal dimensions.Forty years on, the reality looks very...

Environment

05.03.13

Time to End Secrecy Over Chinese Overseas Fishing

CHINADIALOGUE

It is well-known that overseas fishing fleets are more cavalier in terms of respect for laws and regulations than their domestic counterparts. There are innumerable examples from all over the world of fishing with gears that are not part of agreements, or catching amounts of fish...

Environment

04.30.13

Why Has Water-Rich Yunnan Become A Drought Hotspot?

CHINADIALOGUE

Yunnan’s drought continues. During China’s annual parliamentary session in March, the deputy party secretary of the southwest Chinese province, Qiu He, blamed spring floodwaters that flow through Yunnan and on into other countries for the water shortages. He proposed a...

Environment

04.22.13

Why It’s Time to End China-Bashing on the Environment

CHINADIALOGUE

The major impact that international summits and treaties have had on China’s environmental governance is often overlooked. Environmental protection first emerged as an issue in China in 1972, after the country dispatched a delegation to the U.N. Conference on the Human...

Environment

04.16.13

Morococha: The Peruvian Town the Chinese Relocated

CHINADIALOGUE

The headlines have been stark: a Chinese mining company moves an entire Peruvian town of 5,000 people five miles down the road to make way for its new mine.It sounds like another story about an extractive corporation riding roughshod over local lives. But the reality is more...

Environment

04.10.13

Writing Yunnan a Rubber Check

CHRIS HORTON

Our van stopped at a scenic vista on the contour road where verdant mountains undulated southward toward China’s border with Laos. Stepping out to take some photos, I was overcome by an acrid, unpleasant odor. I asked my local travel partner, Xiao Guan, what the stink was.“...

Environment

03.22.13

Public Fury After Chinese Environment Minister Keeps...

CHINADIALOGUE

In his eight years as China’s environmental protection minister, Zhou Shengxian has failed to keep almost a single promise. I say “almost”: he has kept his word at least when it comes to his own career—as promised, he has not quit.When the new leadership’s ministerial...

Environment

03.18.13

Baby Milk Restrictions Cause Outrage in Mainland China

CHINADIALOGUE

The Hong Kong government’s recent listing of baby formula as a “reserved commodity” and a 1.8kg per person per day export limit has sparked widespread criticism—as well as becoming a hot topic at China’s annual session of parliament [the Lianghui, or “Two Meetings...

Environment

03.13.13

Chinese Fracking Plans Prompt “Water-Grabbing”...

CHINADIALOGUE

China has become one of Asia’s leaders in expanding unconventional shale-gas extraction in the name of energy self-sufficiency and national autonomy. Experiences of “fracking” worldwide, however, suggest the costs to China of joining this revolution will be loss of control...

Environment

03.06.13

Environmentalists Unconvinced by Wen Jiabao’s Green...

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s outgoing premier Wen Jiabao vowed that the government would solve the country’s ever-worsening pollution in his final work report yesterday as he opened the annual session of parliament.But coming amid rising public concern about China’s air, water, and soil quality...

Environment

03.02.13

China Criticized over Tiger Farms and Illegal Ivory

CHINADIALOGUE

China is under pressure to regulate its rampant trade in illegal ivory and tiger parts ahead of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), opening this weekend in Bangkok.It has also been accused of quietly stimulating domestic markets for tiger skins...

Environment

02.28.13

Drought and Earthquakes Pose “Enormous Risk” to...

CHINADIALOGUE

When the Fukushima nuclear disaster struck, China was building new nuclear power capacity at a rate unprecedented in world history: 40 percent of all reactors planned or under construction were in China. Targets for installed nuclear generation capacity by 2020 were raised...

Environment

02.22.13

Could Smartphones Help Clear China’s Congested Roads?

CHINADIALOGUE

The extraordinary growth of China’s cities is well-known. Today, 160 Chinese metropolises have over one million inhabitants and more than half the population lives in urban areas, which are growing at two to three times the rate of Western cities.One sector feeling the weight...

Environment

02.20.13

Air Quality in China: A Snapshot

TEA LEAF NATION

Nearly five weeks ago, Beijing experienced its worst day of air quality on record: Levels of PM2.5—small particulates that can cause lung, cardiovascular, and respiratory disease—soared to more than thirty times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization.View...

Environment

02.20.13

China Air Daily

MICHAEL ZHAO

Beijing’s air pollution regularly makes international headlines. But exactly how bad is the air in the Chinese capital, home to more than 21 million people? That’s the question China Air Daily strives to answer—in pictures we take every single day from the same spot.Air...

Environment

02.19.13

China’s Disappointing Absence from U.N. Water Summit

CHINADIALOGUE

After recent heated debate over China’s mega-dam plans, any visitor to the launch on February 11 of the U.N.’s much-vaunted International Year of Water Cooperation would have been disappointed.As well as a notable absence of any representatives from China, there was...

Environment

02.14.13

A Progress Report on U.S.-China Energy & Climate Change...

LEAH THOMPSON

In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama committed to confronting climate change, stating, “The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.” These were welcome words...

Environment

02.13.13

Nuclear Fusion: An Answer to China’s Energy Problems?

CHINADIALOGUE

The global nuclear sector has been through something of an apocalyptic patch since the disaster at Fukushima—from power station shutdowns in Japan and Germany to waste-plan chaos in the U.K. to doubts about China’s ability to showcase new reactor designs.But not everything is...

Environment

02.07.13

Xi Jinping Must Tackle Corruption and Boost Innovation...

CHINADIALOGUE

In January 2013, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain Woolworths began restricting sales of baby formula to four tins per customer after a massive increase in demand stripped shelves bare of popular brands such as Karicare.The buyers were not Australian mothers suddenly...

Environment

02.03.13

Where Does Beijing’s Pollution Come From?

SOHU BUSINESS, TEA LEAF NATION & more

In January alone, a stifling and noxious haze twice enveloped the Chinese capital of Beijing, pushing air quality indexes literally off the charts and inciting widespread outrage both on-line and off. Pollution—and the outcry surrounding it—has gotten so severe that,...

Environment

01.25.13

Climate Change, Not Grazing, Destroying the Tibetan...

CHINADIALOGUE

Sanjiangyuan—which literally translates as the “three river source area”—feeds China’s mightiest rivers. The 300,000-square kilometer region, high on western China’s Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, provides a quarter of the Yangtze’s water, almost half of the Yellow River...

Environment

01.15.13

We’re Winning the Air Pollution Data Battle—So What...

CHINADIALOGUE

Last year, China made a breakthrough in the publication of air quality data, as more than sixty cities started to monitor and publish levels of the dangerous air pollutant PM2.5. But the figures themselves were depressing. With PM2.5—fine particulates—and ozone now included...

Environment

01.07.13

Taxi Drivers in China Have Highest PM2.5 Air Pollutant...

CHINADIALOGUE

A study conducted by Greenpeace has revealed that taxi drivers suffer the greatest levels of exposure to PM2.5 air pollution: three times that of the average person, and five times the world standard.The study, carried out by Greenpeace in partnership with the Beijing University...

Environment

01.07.13

Car-Driving Officials in China Urged to Get on a Bus

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s new leadership has asked government officials to travel simply and, in normal circumstances, not to close roads to ease their journeys. In a recent visit to the Qianhai area of Shenzhen, south China, incoming president Xi Jinping made sure to follow the new rules.As a...

Environment

01.02.13

China’s New “Middle Class” Environmental Protests

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s urban residents (or the new “middle class”) protest on the streets only very rarely. Discontent is expressed almost exclusively online, via angry typing. But this has changed over the last five years—protests have come offline and on to the streets.2012 saw...

Environment

12.21.12

China’s Environment in 2012

CHINADIALOGUE

From mass protests to trade wars, shale-gas drilling to hazardous cosmetics, it’s been a topsy turvy twelve months for China’s environment. Here’s a quick refresher of the year that was.JanuaryThe year got off to a bang – literally. The customary fireworks set off for...

Environment

11.28.12

Russia’s Siberian Dams Power “Electric Boilers”...

CHINADIALOGUE

The underdeveloped, sparsely populated Eastern Siberia region that shares a 4,000-kilometer border with China has vast resources to offer its heavily populated and fast-developing neighbor. Hydroelectricity is key among them.A major new hydroelectric plant commissioned on October...

Environment

11.27.12

Millions Await News of Test-tube Panda Taotao’s “...

CHINADIALOGUE

On October 11, at the age of two years and two months, giant panda Taotao went home.This was China’s second attempt to introduce a giant panda born through artificial insemination into the wild. Unlike last time, however, Taotao was born and raised in an environment designed to...

Environment

11.15.12

China’s Low-Carbon Zones Lack Motivation, Guidance,...

CHINADIALOGUE

None of China’s so-called low-carbon industrial zones currently live up to the name. That’s the conclusion to draw from the work of the U.S. Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), which this year released a guide for the development of green industrial parks in China....

Environment

10.19.12

Overfishing Pushes 80% of Chinese Fishermen Towards...

CHINADIALOGUE

In mid-September, the fishing season got under way as usual in Ningbo, on China’s east coast, after the three-month season when fishing is forbidden. Over 2,000 steel-hulled boats headed out to sea. But, on board, there was little cause for optimism.“For the last two years...

Environment

10.16.12

Chinese Boycott Airline China Southern After Mysterious...

CHINADIALOGUE

On the morning of October 10, a high-profile lawsuit against China Southern, one of China’s “big three” airlines, opened at Chaoyang People’s Court in Beijing. The plaintiffs? Zhao Nan and Chen Lei, a couple from Tianjin, north China, who blame the airline for the death...

Environment

10.11.12

China’s New Leaders Must Respect Environmental Rights

CHINADIALOGUE

China has achieved remarkable economic successes over the last three decades. For years, it has led the world in GDP growth. But widespread industrialization and urbanization, along with growth based on increased use of resources, mean the nation also leads the world in energy...

Environment

10.09.12

Top Clothing Brands Linked to Water Pollution Scandal...

CHINADIALOGUE

China is the major hub of the international textile industry, exporting US$200 billion worth of textile and apparel products in 2010—accounting for 34 percent of global exports.It’s provided cheap T-shirts and other clothes to people around the world but at a huge...

Environment

10.02.12

Decline of Bees Forces China’s Apple Farmers to...

CHINADIALOGUE

In the last fifty years, the global human population has nearly doubled, while the average calories consumed per person has increased by about 30 percent.To cope with the ever growing demand for food, more land has been brought into agricultural production, mainly by clearing...

Environment

09.20.12

Desertification in Tibet’s Wetlands Threatens the...

CHINADIALOGUE

The “kidneys” of the Tibetan plateau are failing.The Zoige Wetland National Nature Reserve, which sits on the northeastern fringe of western China’s Qinghai-Tibet plateau, contains the largest alpine peat wetlands in the world. It is also the catchment area for the Yangtze...

Environment

09.06.12

Sinking Shanghai “Not Prepared to Admit” Climate...

CHINADIALOGUE

It’s been a brutal summer for much of urban China. From the once-in-sixty-years storm that lashed Beijing in July, killing seventy-nine people and costing US$1.6 million, to the typhoon floods that triggered mass evacuations in Jingdezhen city, the heavens have been parading...

Environment

08.30.12

Milk Price War Puts Squeeze on China’s Dairy Farmers

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s dairy industry has been in a precarious state since 2008, the year of the Sanlu milk-powder scandal, when babies across the country were poisoned by melamine-tainted infant formula. This incident revealed to the world the flaws in China’s milk industry, including deep...

Environment

08.28.12

China’s South-North Water Transfer is “Irrational...

CHINADIALOGUE

Ruth Matthews, executive director of the Water Footprint Network, tells Tom Levitt how food has come to dominate our water use and why China may need to re-think its South-North water transfer project.Tom Levitt: What do you mean by our water footprint?Ruth Matthews: A water...

Environment

08.20.12

Tibetans Fight Tourism on Holy Lakes

CHINADIALOGUE

Mining, dam construction, sand excavation, poaching, and grassland degradation are seriously damaging the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, the world’s most fragile ecosystem. But without a second thought, the tourism industry has joined their ranks. The only difference is that tourism,...

Environment

08.15.12

Can New Trials Boost Chinese Wind?

CHINADIALOGUE

For the last half year, the National Energy Administration (NEA) has been making its interest in Inner Mongolia’s western regions crystal clear. This part of north China, rich in wind-power potential, has hosted group after group of energy officials—one lot even spent the...

Environment

08.15.12

Official Shrugs Off Public Food “Panic”

CHINADIALOGUE

Wang Guowei heads up the policy and legislation department at the State Council Food Safety Commission. He spoke to Xu Nan and Zhou Wei about the nature of China’s food safety problems and the ongoing policy response.chinadialogue: Compared with other countries, what are the...

Environment

08.09.12

Data Gaps Hobble Carbon Trading

CHINADIALOGUE

Late last October, China’s top economic planning body—the National Development and Reform Commission—instructed the cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Shenzhen, plus Hubei and Guangdong provinces, to get ready to run carbon-trading trials.{...

Environment

08.01.12

Protests Show Chinese Kids’ Fears

CHINADIALOGUE

The decision to cancel the metal refinery project in Shifang last month after protesters clashed with the police has been widely reported in the Chinese and global media. This is not the first time a project has been shelved due to public demonstrations. The same happened in...

Environment

07.18.12

Shifang: A Crisis of Local Rule

CHINADIALOGUE

China has been engrossed in the mass protests in Shifang, Sichuan province, where on the morning of July 2, locals and police clashed during demonstrations against a planned molybdenum and copper refinery. The next day, the government announced a halt to the project, restoring...

Environment

07.11.12

Why Big Dams Don’t Work

CHINADIALOGUE

The record of Africa’s large dams is one of widespread environmental destruction to the continent’s major river systems, upon which millions of people depend for their livelihoods; forcible resettlement and human rights abuses; corruption and cost overruns.Large dams across...

Environment

06.11.12

The Diplomacy of Air Pollution

CHINADIALOGUE

On June 5, World Environment Day, China’s environment ministry published its annual “state of the environment” report as normal. But this year, the launch attracted unusual levels of attention thanks to a statement from vice minister Wu Xiaoqing on who should, and...

Environment

06.08.12

In Ecuador, Home Truths for China

CHINADIALOGUE

“We need to make contact with the Chinese media as urgently as possible.” I was on my university campus in New York when I received this call for help from an Ecuadorean NGO on March 5.Some 4,000 kilometers south, in Quito, the Chinese embassy was already surrounded by...

Environment

06.07.12

What’s Coming Out of China’s Taps

CHINADIALOGUE

China’s urbanites use a lot of water. Every day, more than 4,000 water-treatment plants supply 60 million tons of water to 400 million people living in Chinese cities. Despite the impressive figures, the water industry is grappling with widespread criticism as concerns grow...

Environment

06.05.12

Hot Air?

MICHAEL ZHAO

It has been a busy season for U.S. diplomatic activity in China. Given the tensions aroused by U.S. involvement in the Bo Xilai scandal and the flight of the blind activist Chen Guangcheng, perhaps it should come as no surprise that even relatively indirect affronts to China’s...

Environment

06.02.12

A Fallacy of Steel and Glass

CHINADIALOGUE

Among its many environmental challenges, China faces an enormous increase in energy consumption by buildings over the coming decades. Bricks and mortar already account for 25% of China’s total primary energy consumption, but are currently consuming energy at a very low level...

Environment

05.30.12

We’re All Farmers Now

CHINADIALOGUE

At a monthly “friends of farming” dinner held by Green Heartland, an NGO based in Chengdu, west China, Chen Xia quietly reads an ode to the land against light background music. It’s a simple thanksgiving ceremony the hosts conduct before leaving the diners to tuck into a...

Environment

05.24.12

Unplugging from China

CHINADIALOGUE

Apparent preparations by US energy giant AES Corporation to withdraw from China have raised eyebrows lately. Earlier this year, it emerged that the firm—one of the world’s biggest independent power generators—had engaged an investment bank to sell all or part of its...

Environment

01.02.12

As China Grows Rich, Rainforests Fall

CRAIG SIMONS

An incredible forest lies on its side in this gritty industrial town in southeastern China. On the southern bank of the Yangtze River nine-foot-diameter kevazingo trees from Gabon rub against Cambodian rosewoods and Indonesian teaks. Nearby, rust-colored bark from Malaysian...

Environment

01.02.12

Chinese Demand Stokes U.S. Coal Battle

CRAIG SIMONS

TRINIDAD, Colorado—When the New Elk mine reopened amid windblown prairies last winter, it attracted little attention. But the mine—a long shaft boring through some of the world’s most valuable coal—strikes at the heart of a growing debate about the future of American coal...

Environment

01.01.12

China’s Rising Consumer Class Sparks Climate Change...

CRAIG SIMONS

TUOJIA VILLAGE, China—When you think about China’s growing greenhouse gas emissions, you probably don’t think of people like Zhang Chao or his father Zhang Dejun. Zhang Chao, a thirty-five-year-old middle school teacher living in small city in southwestern China, earns the...

Environment

11.14.11

China’s Rise Creates Clouds of U.S. Pollution

CRAIG SIMONS

At more than 9,000 feet along the crest of Oregon’s Cascade mountain range, the top of this snow-covered peak normally enjoys some of America’s cleanest air. So when sensitive scientific instruments picked up ozone—the chief component of smog—at levels higher than...