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The Green Life: China Chips Away At Its Pollution Problems

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April 25, 2014

China Chips Away At Its Pollution Problems

Boy in beijing smogHere’s some good news, China-style. Reports Vice: “Animal carcasses in its waterways, heavy particles in its air, toxic metals in its soil and food supply — these are a few of the things that led China to make waves on Earth Day by submitting proposals to its national legislature that would amend the country’s environmental protection law for the first time in 25 years.” If the proposals are approved by the National People’s Congress, China would increase its Ministry of Environmental Protection’s ability to enforce regulations, polluting companies could be closed, whistleblowers could gain legal protections, and industrial development could be restricted in certain areas. It all follows a declaration in March by Premier Li Keqiang, the second-ranked political leader and head of economic policy, of a “war on pollution” in the world’s biggest carbon-emitting nation.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace has issued a (moderately) optimistic report, “The End of China’s Coal Boom,” which focuses on coal policies announced by the government last fall and the coal pledges by 12 of China’s 34 provinces that have resulted from them. Coal consumption in China has increased at no more than 3 percent per year since 2012, which has a “How is this news?” aspect to it until you consider that 2003 and 2004’s rates were 19.2% and 17.5%, respectively. If China’s new coal programs are fully implemented, Greenpeace says, the slowdown in coal consumption “opens up a window of opportunity for peaking global CO2 emissions. Implementing the coal control measures could put China’s emissions almost in line with a 2-degrees trajectory.” (At the 2010 Copenhagen Accords, world leaders recognized the need to keep the increase in global temperature to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.)

That would be good news for all of us. “China’s coal consumption has become the single most significant determinant for the future of the world’s climate,” reports Greenpeace. “Between 2002 and 2012, CO2 emissions from coal burning in China increased by 4.5 billion [metric tons]. This is equivalent to the European Union’s entire emissions in 2011.”

If so much (tentatively) rosy news makes you a glutton for environmental punishment, you can follow the U.S. Embassy’s hourly Beijing air alerts. Spoiler: They seem to vary between “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy.”

Image of boy in Beijing smog by iStock/Hung_Chung_Chih

HS_ReedMcManusReed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”

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