January 18, 2011
As 2010 slowly becomes the past and enters the long history of China’s environment, its chapter will be one of many scars. Together with Greenpeace, Green Sohu has selected China’s 10 most significant environmental events in 2010. They serve as a warning and reminder to all of us who are looking forward to a brighter 2011.
1. Droughts in Southwest China
Event outline: Since the end of 2009, Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Chongqing provinces in Southwest China have suffered severe ongoing droughts. In some areas these droughts have lasted as long as half a year, affecting over 60 million people and directly leading to economic losses of over 20 billion yuan.
Comments by Greenpeace: The poor become the victims of environmental disasters caused by climate change such as droughts, floods and snowstorms, yet they are responsible for the lowest level of emissions. People in cities can achieve low-carbon relief to disaster victims by reducing their own level of carbon emissions. In the long run, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and thus reducing our carbon emissions is essential to slowing the impact of climate change.
2. Toxic Cowpeas from Hainan
Event outline: Between January 25 and February 5, spot checks by the Wuhan Municipal Agriculture Bureau found that five cowpea samples from Yingzhou and Yacheng, Hainan Province, had pesticide residues of isocarbophos that exceeded healthy limits. The news shocked the whole country as soon as it was released. At the same time, officials from the Hainan Provincial Agriculture Bureau also revealed that “we cannot rule out the possibility that other agricultural products are toxic”, leading to widespread concern.
Comments by Greenpeace: According to statistics, the amount of pesticide used by China in 2008 reached 1.67 million tons, making China the world’s leading pesticide user. Excessive pesticide use has caused severe water, soil and air pollution, as well as threatening biodiversity. Furthermore, pesticides in the surrounding environment are a great threat to human health. A Chinese saying states that the people see food as their manna, however, in recent years there have been continuous incidents concerning the food that arrives on the tables of Chinese families. We hope that both the government and agricultural enterprises can improve the inspection of every item, and actively take responsibility for providing the public with healthy and safe food.
3. Release of the Results of the Pollution Source Census
Event outline: On February 9, 2010 the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the State Statistics Bureau and the Ministry of Agriculture released their “Report on the First National Pollution Source Census”, marking the end of two years hard work to complete the first ever such census.
Comments by Greenpeace: The First National Pollution Source Census, which took two years to compile, is undoubtedly a milestone in the history of Chinese environmental protection. The huge volume of first-hand pollution source statistics will strengthen environmental authorities’ ability to manage the environment using numerical methods and to lay firm statistical foundations for those practices such as energy saving, emissions reduction and heavy metal pollution control which are currently thriving. However, we would like to ask whether the general public can really make use of such a huge body of pollution source statistics. Does this census make regular people see the pollution sources around them and let them know what pollutants are being produced, thus making them more inclined to help environmental authorities supervise polluting enterprises. The best way to use these new statistics is by helping people to pay closer attention to environmental protection in their daily lives.
4. Leaks at Dayawan Nuclear Power Station
Event outline: There were nuclear leaks at Dayawan Nuclear Power Station on May 23 and October 23, 2010. Acting as the major shareholder, China Light and Power Company delayed making the accident public, explaining that only accidents above a classification of “Grade 2” need to be released immediately.
Comments by Greenpeace: China Light and Power Company was deeply irresponsible with regards to people’s safety. Furthermore, these accidents serve to show that nuclear power is not the safest of energy sources. Nuclear power has the following risks: 1. Safety risks: it can lead to ecological disasters. 2. Shortage of raw materials: it is predicted that uranium, used to produce nuclear power, will run out within 100 years. 3. Environmental pollution: a significant amount of carbon dioxide is produced during the process of uranium mining and nuclear waste management. There is no way to completely dispose of nuclear waste. 4. High cost: Each nuclear reactor costs between two and eight billion dollars. 5. Contributing to the ongoing energy crisis: it affects the development of renewable energy, the only genuine solution to the problem of climate change. To summarize, Greenpeace suggests that the government act with caution when developing nuclear energy, and focus its resources on developing renewable energy such as wind and solar power, which are both safer and have greater sustainable potential.
5. Pollution by Zijin Mining Group
Event outline: There were acid leaks on July 3 and July 16, 2010 at Zijin Hydrometallurgical Plant, owned by Zijin Mining Group Co. Ltd. 9100 cubic meters of polluted water flowed into the Ting River, causing severe water pollution and directly leading to economic losses as high as 31,877,100 yuan.
Comments by Greenpeace: These accidents revealed the inability of Chinese environmental authorities to enforce the law, as well as showing the imperfections of the information disclosure system. Before the accident, Zijin Mining Group had been warned by local environmental authorities on numerous occasions and even received a notice of criticism a mere two months before the accident. However, the fact that this company could get away with claiming to be rectifying all its failings whilst accidents continued to happen right under the eyes of inspectors makes it very clear that our environmental authorities’ bold statements are often little more than hot air, and that their ability to deter companies from polluting is extremely limited. Furthermore, Zijin Mining Group did not announce the accident until six days after it had happened, severely delaying efforts to control the accident’s environmental impact and causing damages to adjacent communities and investors. The reason why polluting enterprises can often get away with dragging their heels and covering their tracks is that the flawed information disclosure system does not force enterprises to immediately release accurate environmental information.
6. Oil Spill in Dalian
Event outline: On the afternoon of July 16, 2010 oil pipeline at Dalian New Port caught fire, causing the explosion of a 100,000 cubic-meter oil tank and leaks from another five tanks. The leaks were not sealed off until July 22. After an on-site investigation, Greenpeace estimated that leaked oil reached between 60000 and 90000 tons.
Comments by Greenpeace: While oil was still spreading in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil spill caused by the Dalian pipeline explosion served as a warning to the Chinese public that these accidents are by no means random. As long as our economic development remains highly reliant on fossil fuels, the risk of oil leaks will always hang over us. The local marine ecology, as well as the fisherman whose livelihoods depend on it, has not yet completely emerged from the far-reaching damage caused by the spill. As long as we still lack effective environmental supervision, as well as appropriate mechanisms for post-disaster reaction and compensation, the alarm bells will keep ringing.
7, Landslides in Zhouqu County
Event outline: On the evening of August 7, 2010 mudslides of over two million cubic meters flowed down the Sanyanyu gully and Luojiayu gully in Beishan village, Zhouqu County. The mud stream terminated at Bailong River near Wangchang Village. By 5:00 pm, August 10 the mudslides had caused 702 deaths and left 1042 people missing, with a further 42 people seriously injured.
Comments by Greenpeace: Over-exploitation of forests, mineral reserves and other resources - there were many serious hidden safety risks that contributed to the Zhouqu landslide. China is a country lacking in forest resources; its per capita forest area ranks only 139th in the world. Destroying forest resources will increase the risk of ecological catastrophes.
8. Environmental Taxes during the 12th Five-Year Plan
Event outline: At the National Conference on Finance on the 27th and 28th of December 2010, China’s Finance Minister Xie Xuren stated that China would impose environmental taxes during the 12th Five-Year Plan.
Comments by Greenpeace: This is the clearest statement the government has made on environmental protection, and represents a long awaited piece of good news which could benefit China’s environment. If the government really imposes environmental taxes on sulfur, nitrogen, mercury and other local pollutants, as well as on carbon dioxide emissions, then pollution, damage to people’s health, global warming caused by increasing carbon emissions; all these external costs of coal-fired power could be controlled through clear-cut and efficient policy. It would also contribute greatly to China breaking away from its heavy reliance on coal.
9. Lead Poisoning Once More
Event outline: In 2010 there were nine blood lead poisoning cases in Jiahe County and Chenzhou County in Hunan Province, Chongyang County in Hubei Province, and Jiyuan County in Henan Province.
Comments by Greenpeace: Frequent incidents of heavy metal pollution show that China still has a long way to go in controlling this problem effectively. As well as hoping that the government’s integrated control of heavy metal pollution will make a difference in controlling key industry and regional pollution, we especially hope that breakthroughs can be made in controlling heavy metal pollution at the source and in advocating public participation. We encourage the public to become part of the process of supervising polluting enterprises: it can aid in the elimination of uranium, mercury and other heavy metals from final products, as well as in the reduction of heavy metal usage at the source. It can help to open up the industry and publish information about heavy metal usage. In this way the public can help the environmental authorities to emerge from the dire straits they are currently in, where they find themselves with more to do than they can cope with.
10. China Becomes the World’s Largest Producer of Installed Wind Power.
Event outline: By the end of 2010, China’s installed annual wind power capacity increased 16 million kilowatts, making China the world leader in terms of accumulated capacity; it reached 41.827 million kilowatts, surpassing the USA for the first time.
Comments by Greenpeace: This is a milestone in China’s development of renewable energy sources – China has become the largest consumer and producer of installed wind power. The amount of electricity generated by wind power has increased rapidly with the fast growth of the Chinese economy and China’s increasing demand for electricity. China plays an integral role in meeting the challenge of diversification in energy sources and environmental protection, as well as in energy saving and emissions reduction. This latest development indicates that China has the potential to become the world’s renewable energy superpower. However, electricity generated by wind power still only comprises a small part of the whole energy network and the bottleneck of wind-power electric grids has not been broken. China must keep up the hard work if it is to go from having the world’s largest installed wind power system to being a genuine superpower in wind power usage, leading the world in the renewable energy revolution.
Translator: Han Huijuan
Proofreader: Larry Adamson