Environmental pollution in China: Is the wind of change blowing?

First, it was the air, when a few weeks ago alarm bells went off in Beijing because of intense smog covering the Chinese capital, possibly reaching peaks of PM2.5 in the air 900 µg/m3. Now it is the turn of water; a recent report from...

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First, it was the air, when a few weeks ago alarm bells went off in Beijing because of intense smog covering the Chinese capital, possibly reaching peaks of PM2.5 in the air 900 µg/m3. Now it is the turn of water; a recent report from the Chinese Ministry of Hydraulic  Resources stated that around 90% of ground water under Chinese cities is from slightly to very polluted.

After decades of exponential economic growth and questionable or null environmental policies, it seems that 2013 brings the awakening of Chinese population, and hopefully also the government, forced by a situation which started as a matter of environmental concern and became a problem of public health. Chinese are no longer willing to accept how their air goes unbreathable and their water extremely polluted, but how long will authorities keep looking the other way?

 

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To begin with, according to the Chinese Ministry of Finance, it seems that the government is planning to impose a tax on carbon emissions and does not exclude a tax for water; it remains to be seen whether this initiative goes forward. Going a little bit further, would this lead to a turnaround in Chinese mentality? Would it have any impact on the international scene? Will this became a first step to the modification of China’s stance concerning to global warming and climate change? After Kyoto’s failure, changes in international policies and mentalities are urgently needed, and China has permanently been one of the countries in the spotlight.

The protocol split the world into rich and poor countries, and that was precisely one of the major pitfalls in the progress of the process. So far, the United States has refused to ratify the protocol until developing but big emitter countries (China and India at the top of the list, China actually being the first world emitter) don’t commit to binding targets, and these ones, on their side, are not willing to do it if industrialized countries don’t do it first, arguing that it would hinder their economic development and that in terms of emissions per capita, the U.S. emits much more CO2 than them. Each one with their weight reasons, the fact is that world emissions keep rising, which demands a deep redefinition of the policy.

At the moment what is clear is that Chinese government is being forced to reconsider its environmental policies at a national scale. Time will tell if this changes cross borders.

By Tamara Coello/ tcoellog@gmail.com.

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