Over the past several years, China’s renewable energy growth has outpaced its coal growth yet pollution still remains a major public health issue. Still, China’s rapid growth in sustainable energy has caught the attention of the US and many European countries.
The transition from an mainly agricultural society to an industrial one has always done a lot of harm to the environment, and China’s rapid growth is no exception. Nearly 200 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. In a recent report by Vice President Portection Minister Zhang Lijun, the amount of “chemical oxygen demand” (COD) – a measure of water pollution – in wastewater was 30.3 million metric tons, nearly half of what was actually recorded in the government’s 2007 report. According to Zhan, the Chinese government did not include agricultural waste and into their census, which accounts for around 13.2 million metric tons of COD [Source: Reuters]. This wastewater gets throw into rivers and lakes, making its way to the local population. Agricultural waste and related chemicals account for 43.7% of the nation’s COD, 67% of phosphorus and 57% of nitrogen discharges [Source: NY Times].
Agricultural waste doesn’t just affect water quality, it also affects air quality. Harsh farming practices in conjunction with urban sprawl has led to desertification and deforestation of inner Mongolia and the Gobi Desert. Sandstorms are a common occurence in China due to loose top soil, the most recent sandstorm occuring in March 2010. Due to low visibility and health-related problems, the government issued a Level 5 pollution alert. Over 250 million people were affected by the orange dust, including people in South Korea [Source: BBC]. Besides sandstorms and water pollution, the major source of energy, coal, has been linked to a causing cancer. According to the World Bank, China is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities. Only 1 percent of China’s 560 million citizens breath air considered safe by EU standards [Source: Facts and Details].
Luckily, the people of China are aware of their problem and have rapidly invested in th new technology. The Chinese government has helped nurture the growth of renewable energy technology by offering low interest rates for investors in green energy and upgrading the electrical grid. China has become the largest manufacturer of wind turbines and solar panels in the world [Source: NY Times] and states that 20% of the country’s energy will come from renewable sources by 2020 [Source: Treehugger]. By the end of this year, however, a quarter of China’s energy will come from low carbon energy sources and the government will focus on improving grid connections in Inner Mongolia. According to Zhang Fusheng, general manager of Mongolia Electric Power Corporation, the region may have the potential to power almost half of China’s onshore wind resources [Source: Business Green].
But it’s not just changing electrical grids, China is focused on improving green technology. China and California are working together to help expand and improve commuter rail service (which would help decrease carbon emissions from cars). China largest auto maker, SAIC, plans to release their first hybrid car this year, followed by a plug-in hybrid car by 2012 [Source: Reuters]. Many new contractors and designers are keeping the environment in mind and creating eco-friendly buildins like the Pearl River Towers, which will arguably be one of the most environmentally friendly buildings in the world.
Despite China’s environmental progress, coal still makes up 80% of the country’s power supply, and cannot be phased out so quickly. On top of that, China still faces to problem of contaminated water and soil due to agricultural waste. China’s environmental policies may be a step in the right direction, but they still face many hardships in the future.