China: Air Pollution Worsens As Economy Booms – How Bad Will The Air Get?

According to a new study at the University of East Anglia, China’s efforts to reduce its carbon emissions are being severely hampered by its rampant economic expansion.

The study, published today in Nature Climate Change, says that though many significant advancements have been made in cutting the country’s CO2 emissions, expansion of the economy has led to a growth in CO2-emitting activities such as mining, metal smelting and coal-fired electricity generation, consequently undoing any progress made regarding CO2 emissions.

China increased its carbon intensity by 3 percent during a period of unprecedented economic growth. This was despite its pledge to reduce carbon intensity by up to 45 percent by 2020 (relative to the 2005 level).

According to the study, there were wide variations reported between China’s 30 provinces. The less economically advantaged province of Guizhou achieved a 98 percent gain in carbon efficiency, but concurrent production increases led to a 125 percent efficiency loss. Consequently, the net carbon efficiency of the province fell by 27 percent. The most improved sections of the country were the economically advanced coastal areas and the heavily industrialised inland regions.

Greenpeace has reported that in 2009, China burned over half the world’s coal for energy. In 2012, Beijing experienced 2,589 deaths and a loss of over $328 million due to air pollution.

According to The Asahi Shimbum, spending a day in Beijing when the smog is at its heaviest is equal to smoking 21 cigarettes, leading government officials to stress to citizens how important it is that everyone wear protective masks.

Professor Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics at UEA’s School of International Development, said that according to Chinese doctrine, clean air will always take a backseat to economics.

“China’s national government sets both climate and economic targets and uses these criteria in evaluating performances and promotion of local government leaders. Among the two targets, GDP always comes as a priority. The efficiency improvements are largely due to diminishing investments in emission-intensive industries, but this could be a temporary lull if China cannot decouple its economic growth with emission-intensive capital investments. China needs to look to its recent past and appreciate that substantial capital projects – even more efficient ones – won’t help it achieve its commitment to reduced emissions.”

According to Professor Guan, China’s air isn’t the only environmental factor at risk in the world’s most populated country. Guan says that the country’s economic boom has severely impacted its water supply to a point that 75 percent of China’s lakes and 50 percent of its ground water is contaminated.

Professor Guan spoke about the water contamination.

“Urban household consumption, export of goods and services, and infrastructure investment are the main factors contributing to accumulated water pollution since 2000. Although China has taken steps to improve its water consumption and pollution is decreasing, it needs to tackle the cumulative pollution – triggered by manufacturing and capital investments – which is a key element of its water crisis.”

China’s pollution problems are the worst the world had ever seen, and may be a portent to the rest of the industrialized world if we’re not mindful of what we’re putting into the skies, lakes and rivers.

image via L.A. Weekly

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