Chinese Demand Action on Environment, Sparking Investment and Policies

In a New York Times opinion piece, Daniel K. Gardner, a professor of Chinese history and environment at Smith College, argues that heavy pollution in China caused by industrial progress is causing growing anxiety among the country’s people about the environment in which they live.

According to one former leading member of the Communist Party’s political and legislative affairs committee, pollution is now the leading cause of social unrest in China, which is fueling a number of riots, according to the Times article.

In fact, a 2013 Pew survey found that 47 percent of Chinese believe that air pollution is a “very big problem,” up from 31% of people surveyed in 2008.

These new attitudes have been sparked by events such as 2013’s “airpocalypse,” in which Beijing experienced a pollution blackout that, according to the World Heath Organization, made the air 40 times more dangerous than what is deemed safe to breathe.

There are now 450 “cancer villages” that live downstream from industrial plants; chemical tainting of its domestic food supply; and the scientific acknowledgement that populations in certain areas in the North of China will live 5.5 years fewer than those living in other parts due to their proximity to China’s smog-laden coal region.

In 2013, Beijing’s air quality failed to meet government standards 52 percent of the time last year, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said in March.

The Chinese government is taking action and is now the biggest global investor in clean energy, with $61.3 billion invested in clean energy projects last year, and its clean energy investment rose by 16% to $28.2 billion year-to-date through Q2 2014 versus the same time period a year ago, says Bloomberg. Over the next five years, China will invest 2.3 trillion yuan ($375 billion) in projects intended to reduce emissions and save energy, according to China Daily.

The government also committed $277 billion to an air pollution “action plan” and $333 billion to a water pollution “action plan.”

China declared a “War on Pollution” in March of this year, and enacted stronger Environmental Protection Laws to fine polluters, including the banning of new coal fired power plants in certain areas. And trial carbon-trading programs have been introduced in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, says the Times.

In an effort to reduce the amount of polluting vehicles on its roads, China is restricting new cars sales and offering rebates for the purchase of electric and hybrid vehicles.

As we wrote on Nov. 15, 2013, China announced it was opening to both foreign and private investment its energy conservation and environment protection industries. According to Reuters, that marked a transformation in China’s clean energy approach, which was primarily funded by government subsidies—a system critics described as protectionist.

China’s opening of funding for those industries signaled its willingness to work with the international community to find ways to improve green technology.

The largest Chinese cleantech deals 2013 were focused on water and waste management. Most of these deals involved basic “cleanup” technologies. Private-equity investors in China’s environmental sector are mostly investing in old technologies adopted long ago in the U.S. and Europe.

To read the full New York Times opinion piece, click here



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