Date: January 6,2011
Reporter: Xu Nan, Yuan Ying, Meng Dengke, Feng Hao
In this article we use nine prophecies to look back on the past year and look forward to the next. From these prophecies we can see that, while it may be difficult to go forward, we must struggle to reach the dawn.
We hope that the environmental movement will open the eye's of each individual to her right to survive. At the same time, we worry that the commercialization of environmental actions will intensify the slant of interest groups. We worry that the beautiful natural environment, because of its scarcity, will be monopolized by capital and power. As problems continue to mount, we hope that human society can face them with superior wisdom. At the same time, we worry that one day the quality of our air will make even breathing a commodity.
We will continue making New Year's prophecies and we welcome our readers to join us. We’re eager for you to share your wisdom and ideas and hope to see them reflected in next year's predictions. This time next year, let us examine these prophecies together and look into the future.
Garbage incineration in more cities
Excess garbage and garbage incineration are already public hazards facing Chinese cities. What’s worse is that in the next one to two years, more garbage incinerators will open. The reason is simplethere are no other short-term alternatives. The amount of garbage in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities is rising at rates of at least 8%, and cities are generally unable to obtain tracts of land big enough for landfills. Even if landfills were feasible, however, they too create a range of environmental problems such as bad smells, leachate and methane treatment. Research from the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development has long shown that a fee-based trash collection system faces operational barriers. Sorting and reducing trash are solutions to the siege of garbage, but an increase in public knowledge, a systematic approach and the long-term commitment of all actors are also prerequisites.
The continued popularity of garbage incineration is an obvious prediction.
European visitors pickup carbon-emissions tab
According to the EU Emissions Trading System, airlines which fly to or stop in Europe are going to be included in the EU carbon-emissions taxation system. That means that Chinese passengers flying in Europe are likely to pay for carbon emissions, and experts currently estimate fees for a round-trip flight between RMB 100 and RMB 400. China (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) has 33 air carriers that will be affected by the plan, including large-scale, state-owned companies like Air China, China Eastern and China Southern, and private companies such as Spring Airlines and Junyao Airlines.
Climate talks fail again in South Africa
At the end of 2011, Durban, South Africa will host the next round of international climate talks, but there is a strong possibility that negotiations will end in failure. No matter how righteously blame is passed around at the negotiating table, a general “lack of political will” continues to doom the talks. It's unlikely that the Obama administration will be able to pass its climate bill in the the next two years, and this gives the “Umbrella Group,” which includes the European Union and Japan, an excuse not to act. As for developing countries, in the past year, the ability to use the “common but different responsibilities” principle to make room for concessions was nearly exhausted. We have to admit that the international climate talks are entering a depressing period.
Serious polluters will be delisted
In 2010, “Zijin” became synonymous with environmental scandals among listed companies.
Eleven NGOs wrote a joint-letter to the Shanghai and Hong Kong stock exchanges requesting the strengthening of environmental information disclosure in the securities market. In its reply, the Hong Kong Exchange said it would take the matter into consideration. The Shanghai Stock Exchange did not send a formal written response; however, in a public statement, the bourse's chairman said that listed companies must disclose serious pollution incidents within two days. Individual cases will spur the growth of environmental regulatory strength.
Environment tax introduced, resources tax in large-scale pilot
After being approved by the Ministry of Finance, State Administration of Taxation, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the environment-tax collection plan was sent to the State Council for review. In the same year, the resources tax was piloted in Xinjiang, and western provinces called for its introduction on a larger scale. Using taxes to make the exploitation of resources and the environment cost prohibitive has already become an inevitable trend. Moreover, conservative estimates indicate that the annual financial burden created by the environment tax will exceed the tens of billions of yuan generated by current sewage charges: the government has a reason to move.
Lead poisoning incidents continue
In 2009, the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) received 12 reports of heavy-metal pollution incidents, and said it would concentrate its efforts to create comprehensive solutions to the problem.
A year later, MEP statistics indicated that there were nine large-scale lead poisoning incidents in provinces including Jiangsu, Sichuan, Hunan, Gansu, Hubei and Anhui.
China has a long way to go in solving the problem of heavy metal pollution. Soil and water quality and ecological restoration cannot be improved overnight, and incidents of lead poisoning are expected to break records again in 2011.
Chinese turbines test their wings overseas
China's foreign market for wind turbines doesn't stop at the US and Europe. It expands into Australia, Southeast Asia and even Africa. In 2009, China had four turbine manufacturers that sold more than 20 turbines to countries including the United States, Japan and Thailand, despite the fact that most of these products were still undergoing testing. At the end of that year, Shenyang Power Group signed a contract with US companies Renewable Energy Group and Cielo Wind Power to provide 240 wind turbines for a 600 megawatt wind field in Texas.
By the mid-2010, similar projects were in abundance. Some enterprises declared that in the next three to five years overseas business would account for one third of their total business.
But in the same year, 10 domestically manufactured turbines either toppled or caught fire.
Core turbine technology originated overseas, but domestically it was not that popular. Moreover, there were no regulatory controls overseas, and quality and safety were key to the success of China’s turbines. So, Australia goldern beach may seem attractive, they may also lead to dream break.
Rare Yangtze River fish face extinction
In November 2010, the State Council considered making adjustments to a national reserve protecting rare fish in the Yangtze River. If the amendments are approved, the habitat of these rare fish would be replaced by a hydropower stationhydropower stationhydropower station in the South Sea, which is also home to several species on China’s endangered species list. After construction of the Three Gorges Dam began in 1994, about 40% of upstream fish were affected, experiencing a loss of one forth of their original habitat. In April 2005, in order to make room for the development of a hydropower station in the Jinsha River, protected areas were redefined, resulting in the flooding of 90% of paddlefish spawning grounds and more than 50% of Yangtze sturgeon spawning grounds.
The Yangtze River will become a grave for these rare fish:
although government leaders declared in 2005 that the adjustment of national nature reserves should be done carefully and sparingly, the development of hydropower continues.
Escape from the crowded city
Traffic, poor drainage, congestion, smog, food safety concerns and the high cost of living are making life in the mega-city less than beautiful.
Let's take Beijing as an example. Plans put forward in 2003 claimed that by 2020 the city's population would be controlled at 18 million; this target was surpassed in 2009. Forty-four percent of Beijing’s total water consumption is for household use, making it clear that even water coming from the south would quickly be devoured. Creating two million tons of garbage a day has left the city's treatment facilities long overcapacity, and air pollution statistics put the city sixth from the bottom on the list of 113 cities where air-pollution control is key.
Mega-cities' resource capacities are reaching their limits, and the upper class is moving on to find better air, food and water. High-end clubs and villas are likely to pop up in areas with good ecology in order to serve the urban refugees. Young men and women, on the other hand, are forced to live far from city centers or in second- or third-tier cities because of income pressure. The 12th Five Year Plan advocates against mega-cities, and although the number of people actually fleeing these gargantuan urban centers has so far been small, the buzz words surrounding the trend reflect real pressures.
It won't be long before we see the people that escape from cities forming a network to share their experience and goals. People from all walks of life will join the exodus for a variety of reasons, but the logic behind the move will remain the same: the deterioration of the environment and the unsustainable exploitation of resources.
Translator: Li Jiahou, Liang Tingting
Proofreader: Alex Boyle, Megan Ko