Wednesday ,June 2, 2010
In Today’s Brief
~Fertile Northeast Threatened by Erosion
~PIL Carries High Price Tag in Kunming
~Rare Sturgeon Mating Affected by Dam
~China Initiates Electric Car Pilot
~English Stories from the Chinese Press
The Good Earth, in Decline
It used to be known as the Great Northern Wasteland, a vast, uncivilized expanse of marsh with mosquitoes large enough to have skulls. To be exiled to this damp malarial hell was one of the greatest punishments exacted on disgraced officials and criminals. Until the 1950’s that is, when Mao sent thousands of demobilized soldiers to augment their glory freshly earned in the Korean War by battling bugs and harsh winters to reclaim the wetland for human civilization. With rich, productive soils up to 80 cm deep, the Northeast was now seen as an agricultural paradise that ought to be conquered by the ox and plow. And so, despite its unforgiving winters and short summer, the black soils of Heilongjiang province became the crown jewel of China’s grain industry.
While these state-owned lands continue to be among the nations most productive, however, scientists and conservation experts are becoming increasingly alarmed at the rapid erosion of soil by up to 10 mm a year in some places. It can take 400 years to accumulate a single centimeter of soil due to the slow decay of organic matter in these northern latitudes, making such rapid loss a major cause of concern. With Heilongjiang’s remaining wetlands already burdened by the toll of a half-century of reclamation and water loss due to irrigation, some fear that the fertile farm soils may also be under threat.
Traditional slope cultivation practices, irrigation, and general overexploitation have contributed to significant soil erosion throughout the Northeast, best demonstrated by the 160,000-some erosion-formed ditches currently found in Heilongjiang. According to some statistics, 27% of Northeast China’s one million square kilometers of black soil area is currently suffering erosion. Surface runoff and poor soil conservation practices have contributed to the large flow of fertile land out to sea. Bad flood in recent years have led to even greater erosion, as the landscape, mostly bereft of its formerly absorbent wetland areas, cannot handle the floodwaters. The government has invested hundreds of millions of RMB into soil and water conservation in the Northeast, particularly in small river basin management projects. Without significant changes to agricultural and conservation practices, however, the “black earth” of the Wasteland may not be around in 40-50 years.
[Source: China Youth Daily
(中国青年报). Read the article in Chinese here
or in English here
A Pricey PIL
Since Shanghai announced plans to open a court for environmental protection
[Liberation Daily] that would accept public interest litigation (PIL) cases, the role of these cases in Chinese law and society has been a hot topic of conversation. With similar courts already up and running in provinces like Jiangsu and Guizhou and cities like Kunming, there is hope of a future upsurge in the use of PIL to exact environmental justice. As an investigative report from China Environment News
reveals, however, these courts have seen few, if any, public interest suits, possibly because they are simply unaffordable.
According to the report, from the creation of the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court Environmental Protection Court in late 2008 to today, not a single environmental public interest lawsuit has appeared before the court. Several cases that dealt indirectly with environmental concerns have been resolved by the body, the financial obstacles to PIL suits have been a major roadblock to any civil group filing a case. Even the local Environmental Protection Bureau has struggled to gather the funds necessary to file and sustain what may eventually become the first PIL case in Kunming. Of the estimated total cost of 330,000 RMB, the bureau has managed to put together 100,000 RMB as a downpayment to advance the lawsuit.
All told, legal proceedings of the magnitude of a PIL suit could accumulate charges in the millions of RMB, with no guarantee of paying off the costs by winning the case. Because of this, Kunming city officials have advocated the establishment of an environmental PIL fund that could provide financial support for these cases. However, the process for doing so is strenuous and drawn out, and might not yield results anytime soon. With the Shanghai government supporting a similar fund for its forthcoming environmental courtroom, there should be more news on the evolution of public interest suits in China’s legal system.
[Source: China Environment News
(中国环境报). Read the article in Chinese here
or in English here
Dam Puts Sturgeon Spawning on Hold
If the conditions aren’t right, there’s not much you can do besides wait. That’s what the critically endangered Chinese sturgeon population has been discovering in the Yangtze River lately, as higher water levels behind the Three Gorges Dam have delayed their reproductive cycle by as much as a month. The chief engineer of the Three Gorges Corp. Chinese Sturgeon Institute recently told reporters that differences in water levels and the subsequent variations in water temperature were pushing back the timing of sturgeon spawning from late October to late November. Some like it hot, but sturgeon clearly don’t.
Conservationists in China have paid significant attention to the Chinese sturgeon in recent years, as the number of fish swimming up the Yangtze to spawn has dropped dramatically
[Worldwatch] since the construction of the Gezhouba dam in the 1980’s. From a reproducing population of 2,000 in the Yangtze in 1970, today only around 300 are making the return trip. The Chinese government had made efforts to replenish the river’s sturgeon population through mass reintroduction, including a large-scale release
[China.org] of 110,000 sturgeon and 300,000 other rare fish in 2007.
[Source: Beijing Times
(京华时报). Read the article in Chinese here
or in English here
China Hopes to Spark Electric Car Sales With Pilot Study
China’s cars of the future may not take the market by storm anytime soon, but five Chinese cities will host an experimental rollout of electric and hybrid vehicles with large subsidies at the beginning. Shanghai, Changchun, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, and Hefei will be responsible for building electric charging stations and managing pilot programs in their respective cities. At first, purchasers of plug-in hybrid vehicles will be eligible for a subsidy of up to 50,000 RMB, or 60,000 RMB for pure electric cars. Once every car company sells 50,000 of either kind of car, the Ministry of Finance will begin lowering the subsidies. Eventually, the Chinese government hopes to make electric cars a major fixture in urban traffic jams throughout the country.
[Source: China Securities News
(中国证券报). Read in Chinese here
or in English here
English Stories from the Chinese Press
~Prepared by Andrew Scheineson
China Environment Brief and China Green News are products of Green Earth Volunteers, a Beijing-based NGO founded by environmental journalist Wang Yongchen. While the editors of this brief strive to be as factually accurate and informative as possible while providing this brief free of charge, time and personnel limitations mean that we can't double check every fact we include in our additional research. If you think we've made a mistake, please let us know, and we will try our best to address the problem. The Brief can and should be used as you wish, but if you wish to republish any content, please provide proper attribution to China Green News