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Air Quality in China: Perception Versus Reality

China has seen significant economic development over the decades. This has taken place largely to the benefit of their population, but some problems have arisen. China air pollution has become quite a significant concern. If air pollution does lead to global warming as some experts claim, it is worth considering when using an air emissions source. They are aware of it of course, and some progress has been made in rectifying it. With that said, they have a long way to go. More and more, industrial firms concern themselves with environmental consequences of their activities, and then the economic implications of changes to the environment. Most countries have agencies that regulate activities to some degree and support beneficial practices. Those highly concerned with global warming are glad to see that somebody with power cares, but often wish they had, even more, power. Then we could all see the difference they are looking for. An active government agency facilitates the creation of that difference and significant moves in the right direction.

air quality in China

China has been through some of the greatest economic developments over the last few decades. However, this growth has come at higher cost. There has been massive industrial development in the country, and that has significantly increased the level of air pollution here. In fact, polluted air quality in China has become a major subject of concern in recent times. Although this matter has been brought to light and steps are being taken to rectify the situation, the situation is quite grave, and much still needs to be done to see any signs of major improvement.

China has been ranked as the world’s number one emitter of the main greenhouse gasses since the year 2007. Although the air pollution has only affected China, the matter has now escalated into a serious issue of global importance. Not only it is a major problem for the Chinese people themselves, but the poor air quality is also prone to affect any foreign individual who visits the country for some purpose or the other. According to the statistics presented by WHO (World Health Organization), the bad air quality in China contributes to the untimely deaths of 3 quarters of one million people each and every year.

The current situation of air pollution in China has resulted from the economic growth of the country as well as the kind of industrial equipment that are in use there to yield production. One of the pillars of Chinese development is cement making. The boom in the Chinese construction industry has made the country the leading producer of cement in the world.

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More than 50% of cement used worldwide is now produced in China. The process of concrete production has always been highly energy intensive and polluting, and the methods that are currently in use in China also add to the problem. Several of the cement producers use shaft kilns that were long ago abandoned in the West. Nearly 6% of the country’s electricity is used for operating the cement plants, of which a lot is wasted. The un-scrubbed kilns emit large quantities of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide, particulate matters, and many other harmful substances.

The issue of air pollution in China came to the forefront during the Beijing Olympic Games held in 2008, which began with the city skies all clouded in smog. Even though the skies cleared up later, there is widespread speculation as to how far the air quality improved.

Why Are Indian Cities Among World’s Most Polluted?

According to data released by the WHO earlier this year, of the world’s top 20 polluted cities, 13 are in India compared to just three in China. The Ganga and the Yamuna are ranked among the world’s ten most polluted rivers. An earlier analysis rated Vapi (Gujarat) and Sukinda in Odisha among the ten most environmentally-degraded zones in the world.

Air pollution slashes life expectancy by 3.2 years for the 660 million Indians who live in cities, including Delhi. In China, the corresponding dip is lower at three years. China leads the world in carbon emissions and India is in the third position. The one key difference between the two nations lies in China’s ability to control the ecological impact of its growth much better than India.

While both countries faced similar ecological challenges a decade ago, China has since cleaned many of its polluted rivers, reduced growing urban air pollution levels by imposing strict restrictions on polluting vehicles and building heating systems and stressing the importance of using renewable resources for development.

In stark contrast, Delhi’s air pollution has steadily climbed by 20% in the same period. The story is the same in a majority of Indian cities, with the only exception being Coimbatore in the South where the air was found to be fit for breathing.

The impact of increasing air pollution is noticeable in the life of the average Indian, as proved by a Lancet study in 2012 that rated toxic air to be a severe health hazard accounting for approx 66 million lives annually.

A 2015 report by the Delhi-based NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment, states that the reason for the decline in the country’s overall environmental standards is because of river pollution, which is worse now than it was three decades ago, piling garbage in cities and increasingly toxic urban air.

A three-year analysis of the water quality in 290 rivers by the Central Pollution Control Board revealed that approx. 66% of the stretches monitored had high organic pollution. Simply put, 8,400 km of these rivers are badly polluted due to untreated waste flowing into them from urban cities.

But all is not lost, with the government now giving a renewed thrust to renewable energy development with a string of new initiatives that have opened the doors for the setting up of renewable energy projects pan-India. Power generation from renewable sources has increased significantly as a result of these efforts and is expected to lower pollution levels in the coming years.

Further the Union environment ministry also plans to introduce a new environmental policy that will focus on “self-regulation” and strengthen existing laws mandating higher penalties for a breach of environmental laws

Reality of Sustainable Development in China

This development would lead to a quadrupling of the main energy consumption up to 4.5 billion tons of standard coal equivalents. Emission of 11.5 billion tons of CO2 is expected. All these expectations have made China seek urgently for mechanisms of easing the negative implications that are associated with rapid economic growth. To avoid the devastating environmental problem in China, China is seriously considering embracing sustainable environment.

Environmental impact of economic growth in China

China has been the most populated nation in the world for many years. The impact of the population pressure, as well as the implication of rapid economic growth, is quite evident in the environment even in the remotest part of the country. The exceptional economic boom of China has lead into serious environmental concern all over the world. Although the utilization of resources by individual remains low, the impact of cumulative steady growth in the consumption of more than a billion people is tremendous. This impact is felt beyond the borders of China. The intensive economic activities in China are posing a significant threat to biodiversity as far as in the continent of Africa.

air quality in China

Biodiversity and habitat

Various commercial projects have lead to the loss of habitat as well as biodiversity. Improperly established hydrological engineering projects have interfered with the natural flow of rivers. Wetlands have been converted into agricultural land. Infrastructural projects have been inappropriately constructed in the flood plains. All these have contributed to the destruction of the ecosystem

Air pollution

Air pollution has lead to an increase in respiratory and heart diseases. The leading causes of death in China are the diseases related to air pollution such as respiratory disorder. Although some positive steps have been attained towards improving energy efficiency and emission of carbon, about 75% of power generation in China still depends on Coal. This has been worsened by the ever growing demand for automobiles.

Desertification and Erosion

Approximately 30% of the Chines land has been affected by desertification. This area is increasing at the rate of about 2,460 km2. The severity of desertification in the continental land of Mongolia has forced residents to leave their villages. The disappearance of soil also accompanies the expansion of the desert. Soil erosion has lead to the loss of 5 billion tons of soil every year. This activity has also resulted in the loss of nutrients. The nutrients that have been lost are the equivalent of 40 million tons of fertilizer.

There is the generation of huge transport demand in China since the major coal reserves are found in the North and Central provinces, but the demand for the commodity is generated in the growing South and the coastal East of China. Due to the limited transport capacity, there is a serious problem in energy supply security. This trend is likely to grow in the future.

The future strategy of the China’s energy security must consider the following factors: improving the volume of transport on the supply side; improving the energy efficiency of coal utilization; and the possibility of having a substitute source of fuel instead of coal so as to reduce the demand for coal transport.

China has substantial domestic oil reserves as compared to other nations. Despite the big oil reserves, the domestic production of oil is not sufficient to satisfy the growing oil demand in the country, particularly the demand from the transport sector as well as the non-energy use demand. China has been a net importer of mineral oil and oil products since 1993. The country became a net importer of crude oil since 1996. The import demand for crude oil has been on the increase in China since 1996. The crude oil reserves could be depleted in China by 2018 if there are no major fields under exploration in the country. In such a case the country will have to import crude oil by 100%. Oil security can be ensured by taking various dimensions such as the construction of strategic oil reserves, improving the efficiency of energy regarding oil consumption as well as the substation of fuel with other energy sources; and enabling a geographical diversity of oil supply.

Although there are domestic gas reserves in China, they are not enough to satisfy the expected future demand for gas in the country. This has been attributed to power generation during the peak load, cooking, hot water and residential heating. The main energy security concern, in this case, is also transport. The government of China is working on a project that is aimed at ensuring security in energy supply. The government has constructed a large pipeline for supply of gas from Xinjiang to Shanghai.

When it comes to electricity, the incidence of power shortages is the primary challenge for energy security. The fast growing demand for energy often leads to a lack of power. The increasing demand for electricity cannot be met by the installation of the new additional power generation capacity. In most cases, energy security is maintained by establishing additional power generation plants that are powered by fossil fuel. The growing demand for energy in China, especially for transportation, has promoted the growth of nuclear and renewable energy. This has greatly helped the coastal province which has limited coal reserves. There are several considerations that need to be factored in the energy security strategy of China. These include the additional restriction that is linked to increasing the capacity of large hydropower projects; the additional costs associated with the establishment of renewable and nuclear energy. Also, nuclear safety measures need to be considered as part of the energy security which should include the final deposition of nuclear waste.

Conclusion

China has learned from its serious environmental problem it is facing following its rapid economic growth. As a result, the country has established a national strategic plan that aims at fostering economic development, while at the same time reducing environmental degradation associated with rapid economic development. The state has established policies for sustainable development that would lead to higher energy efficiency.

In the past few decades, the economy of China has flourished at a very rapid pace. This economic boom owes its success largely to coal, and the high percentage of use of this fossil fuel is the prime reason for soaring levels of air pollution in the country. Coal is also known to emit lethal greenhouse gasses into the environment. The only solution to the problem is switching to the use of renewable sources of energy. However, this remedy may be feasible for richer countries such as the United States, but China does not fall into that domain. Therefore, financial pressures and the undying urge to make a place for itself in the world economy, result in the use of inappropriate fuel such as fuel to meet the requisites. Fortunately, the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing opened doors for some respite. The country showed awareness towards its state of air pollution and devised plans for utilization of renewable forms of energy instead of coal. China did make headway, especially in the wind energy sector. However, there will not be a marked difference in the situation until the coal power plants dictate the industrial scenario.

Another problem is that the Chinese government does not have very rigid rules against industrial pollution. The government levies such an insignificant amount of fine for causing air and water pollution that most factory or company owners find it easier to pay the penalty than reduce their contribution towards pollution. However, it seems that shortly the country aims to implement the cap and trade system used in the US that will have companies earning pollution credits as a requisite for trade enhancement.

As long as the rest of the world keeps importing Chinese products, the economy of China will keep flourishing and in turn, take the use of coal as a source of energy even higher. China has to devise a method to strike a balance between her lust for economic growth and the ever increasing air pollution. Unless certain measures are devised to control this pollution, despite the economic boom the country’s common man will suffer immensely.

Air Quality in China: Perception Versus Reality
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