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Kari Rissa: More Clear Skies for China

The air in the major cities of China is hazy with pollution, and the rivers and lakes are contaminated with poisons and wastewater. China has sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities. In the coming decades, however, more blues skies are hopefully in sight for China’s badly polluted cities.

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First the bad news that many of us have grown to expect…

The air in the major cities of China is still hazy with pollution, and the rivers and lakes are contaminated with poisons and wastewater. China has sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities.

Current estimates indicate that around 700,000 Chinese die each year from sicknesses attributable to contaminated water, and about 400,000 die from air pollution.

The rapid economic growth in China is built on cheap labour and energy reserves. Although energy consumption per person is still relatively low, China is now the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after the USA.

More than two thirds of China’s energy is produced by coal, which is the cheapest yet most air-polluting source of energy.

At the present rate, China will become the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter in a couple of years.

At the turn of the millennium, the World Bank estimated that around 8-12 per cent of China’s GDP is wasted on costs attributable to environmental pollution.

The downside to China’s rapid economic growth still makes dismal reading.

And now for the good news…

But happily, good news is also slowly beginning to emerge from China.

China has finally woken up to the fact that economic growth cannot continue unchecked at the expense of the environment and people’s health. The problems are known, and there is now a desire to get water and air emissions under control. China has also begun to see climate change as a real threat.

The Government has set the goal of a 20-per cent reduction in energy consumption by 2010. This goal is highly challenging in the light of current growth in the country’s economy.

Words are also slowly becoming deeds. Many of the old polluters have been shut down. Old coal-burning plants have been replaced with modern ones. And in many plants, coal has already been replaced with natural gas.

China also wants to invest in renewable forms of energy – particularly in wind and solar energy as well as in geothermal heating.

If the Government is able to implement its ambitious programmes, China will experience a huge surge in demand for clean technology.

Eco export opportunities for Finns

Finns also have a lot to give to the giant Chinese market. We have the know-how to reduce water and air emissions and to improve ecological efficiency. But the market in China is highly competitive, and trade generally requires a local presence… and a huge country calls for huge investments.

We should also remember that combating climate change is not simply a tremendous technological challenge; global warming has an impact on all sectors of society, both on economic development as well as on people’s wellbeing.

The core values of sustainable development that rise to the fore in the United Nations Millennium Declaration are freedom, equality, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility. Ultimately, corporate and social responsibility can only be grounded in a clean environment and the balance of nature. Besides exporting technology, Finland would also have a superb opportunity to further these matters in China.

In the coming decades, more blues skies are hopefully in sight for China’s badly polluted cities, which would be vitally important for the whole earth as well as for China itself.

Kari Rissa
Freelance journalist and scientific writer specialising on environmental matters
Chairman
Ympäristötoimittajat ry (Association of Environmental Journalists)

Topic

Climate change

Human activity contributes to climate change, and the consequences are serious. Curbing global warming requires a drastic reduction in emissions – right now.

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