China environment

By Tomasz Telma, IFC

If you want to see how quickly the developing world is urbanising—and the problems that this creates—look no further than Istanbul.

In 1990, Turkey’s commercial capital was home to about 6.5m people. By 2014, that number had more than doubled to 16m, creating an urban crush that has sparked everything from blackouts to 2 am traffic jams.

But Istanbul is far from alone. Its struggles echo those of many cities in the developing world, where a massive urban migration has stretched local infrastructure to a breaking point, entrenching poverty and driving up greenhouse gas emissions. Read more

Smart investors are recognising that China intends to lead the US and other countries in the race to develop green technologies as part of its ambitious new strategy for economic growth.

China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, for the period from 2016 to 2020, is guided by five principles: innovation, coordination, greening, opening up and sharing. When Zhang Gaoli, vice-premier, described these principles this year to a group of overseas business and academic leaders at the China Development Forum, he spent longest on ‘greening’, providing a clear indication of the importance being placed on green development for China’s future growth. Read more

By Chandran Nair, Global Institute for Tomorrow

In April this year, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, burned over 105 tonnes of elephant ivory to protest the continued poaching of elephants. The Associated Press quoted President Kenyatta as saying that “…for us ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants.”

At the same time, he hosted the “Giants Club” Summit, a meeting of African leaders to bolster the protection of elephants. The ivory burn — the largest in history — is a reminder that conservation is not just the purview of activists in the West, but also something that is dear to the hearts of many governments and people in the developing world. It should also be noted that some African commentators have been critical of this action arguing that in the final analysis it still panders to Western arguments about how to put an end to poaching. Read more

By Michelle Chan, VP of Programs, Friends of the Earth US

As chair of this year’s G20, China is mounting an ambitious campaign to promote ways that the banking sector can not only green the Chinese economy, but the global economy too.

Over the past decade, China has prioritised sustainable finance policies as a means of preventing and controlling pollution via its banking sector, leading many to hope that China can lead the world on a greener path towards sustainable finance. The members of the G20 Green Finance Study Group, meeting next month in Xiamen, are certainly betting that China does have something to offer when it comes to green finance.

But have such Chinese finance policies actually led to concrete improvements for the environment? Read more

By Mark Schwartz, Goldman Sachs

In the 1990s, trade was the defining issue of the US-China economic relationship. Today, as much as any other issue, the environment binds the two giants of the global economy together.

This week, leaders from the international financial community are gathering in Shanghai for preparatory meetings in advance of the G20 summit in Hangzhou this September. Among the most prominent items on the agenda is green finance– public and private investment in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Read more

How times change. President Xi Jinping has just become the first Chinese president to attend a climate change conference. His presence in Paris could hardly have been more symbolic of the dramatic shift underway in China, under its New Normal economic policy. After all, it was only six years ago, at the Copenhagen Climate conference, that China’s then premier Wen Jiabao single-handedly wrecked any chance of agreement.

What has caused this dramatic policy turnaround in the world’s second largest economy? One factor is clearly Xi’s oft-stated belief that today’s levels of pollution – and of corruption – represent an existential threat to continued Communist Party rule. Read more

Wealth is not necessarily translating into health for China’s growing cohort of millionaires, many of whom complain of eating disorders, too much alcohol and an average of just 6.2 hours of sleep a night (see chart).

Fast living is blamed for a variety of ailments, with around a third of millionaires (those with a personal wealth of Rmb10m or US$1.6m, £1m) suffering from insomnia, headaches, fatigue and memory loss while smaller proportions endure hair loss, immune problems, numb limbs and smokers’ coughs, according to a survey by Hurun Research Institute released on Friday.

Such conditions underpin a burgeoning demand among wealthy Chinese for products, treatments and lifestyle choices that are thought to confer health. “There is a clear trend among the Chinese millionaire class towards exercise, eating more carefully and generally taking better care of their bodies,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman of the Hurun Report. Read more

Smog isn’t new in China – but 2013 was an especially bad year for the thick stuff. Beijing may get the headlines, but smog has affected 104 cities of 20 provinces in China, from Shanghai to Chengdu and even Sanya, so-called China’s Hawaii.

As a result, Chinese are getting their wallets out. Around Rmb870m ($142m) has been spent in facial masks, air purifiers and other anti-smog appliances so far this year, according to a ‘smog bill’ released by Taobao, China’s biggest online shopping platform. The real number will be even bigger as that’s only one online sales figure. Read more

In the past week Shanghai has wracked up its worst pollution since records began, with the concentration of deadly PM2.5 fine particles topping 600 micrograms per cubic metre.

Enough gloating about shutdowns, now. A Beijing environment officer has warned that if the city has three consecutive days of hazardous smog it will shut down schools, factories and construction sites. It will put curbs on driving and – sorry kids – ban fireworks.

The smog has already closed the schools and airport of Harbin, a northeastern city of 11m people. Read more

Gu Shanhai, a 51-year-old from the Zhoushan archipelago in China’s Zhejiang province, has been a fisherman for more than 30 years and has never thought of doing anything else.

But now it seems he will have to. “There’re no big fish in the East China Sea. No business for me at all,” Gu told beyondbrics. Read more

Even in China, David sometimes beats Goliath – though it’s sometimes hard to be sure.

This week, residents of Songjiang – a suburb of Shanghai which has gained fame around the world for having over 10,000 dead pigs floating in its water supply – found that though they could not vanquish the porcine invader, they had scared away an intruder from the corporate world. Shanghai Guoxuan High-Tech Power Energy company said it was abandoning plans for a battery factory in Songjiang, after residents protested on the streets and on the internet against it. Read more

Meet the world’s newest would-be mining giant: the Ganzhou Rare Earth Group.

It has yet to make any sales, but if all goes according to plan for government officials in China’s poor southern province of Jiangxi, it could control about a third of the world’s supply of rare earths, elements which are crucial in the manufacture of electronics. Read more

Recently there has been a lot of attention paid to an essay on tax reform by the head of the tax department at the Ministry of Finance in Beijing, which mentions two hot-button words: carbon, and tax.

But does this mean that China, the world’s biggest emitter of carbon, will adopt a serious carbon tax? According to Su Wei, director general of climate change at the powerful economic planning ministry, the answer is: probably not anytime soon. Read more

The toxic smog that has descended on much of northern China this winter has had many astonishing side effects: pollution domes being built over sports facilities, fresh air sold in cans on the streets of Beijing, and fewer fireworks to celebrate Chinese New Year.

But what does the smog mean for China’s heavy industry? Even before “airpocalypse”, Beijing had announced proposals to cap emissions from high-polluting industries under the current five-year plan. This programme got a further boost this week, when the Ministry of Environmental Protection unveiled a new accelerated timetable for the changes. Read more

What is it like to live in a place where you can’t breathe the air? In Beijing, people are already finding out—and finding new ways to cope.

The latest trend at Beijing’s posh international schools is pollution domes—giant pressurised canopies that can cover sports fields, playgrounds or tennis courts—so that children can have recess and play sports outside without breathing the toxic air. Read more

By uncanny coincidence, the record-breaking pollution that has enveloped Beijing comes almost exactly 60 years after London’s Great Smog of 1952, the worst case of air pollution in British history.

The comparison will not be lost in China. Many Chinese will remember Mao-era propaganda films which often showed London’s smogs as evidence of the failure of capitalism. Britain responded to the enviromental crisis with a clean-up. It’s time for China to do the same. Read more