In this guest post, Alex Wang acknowledges that the current sharp public reaction to China’s deteriorating air quality bodes well for a potential strengthening in policy efforts to protect the environment, but observes that China’s environmental tipping point occurred at least seven years ago.
The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the US during wildfires.
All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New York in the last century are beside the point. Air pollution at these concentrations constitutes a public health emergency. Fine particulate (PM2.5) concentrations of 250 µg/m3 are considered emergency levels. This past month, air pollution in Chinese cities has regularly been two, three, even four times this emergency threshold (and up to 40 times levels the WHO considers healthy). In the worst cases, people are literally dying from this pollution. And PM2.5 is only the tip of the iceberg. China’s air is brimming with a heady mix of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, lead, mercury, and other assorted pollutants.
The recent “airpocalypse” is just the latest in a long series of environmental disasters in China that have the world wondering whether a tipping point is imminent. Will it be China’s equivalent of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the United States (or the Minamata mercury poisoning cases in Japan, or the Great Smog of 1952 in the United Kingdom)? That is, a catalyst for genuine environmental change?
My own view is that China’s tipping point, in a sense, already arrived a few years ago. But the official response has been wholly inadequate to the task. Fundamental weaknesses in the way that China has approached its environmental protection efforts mean that the environmental crisis has continued to run amok.
I had the chance to catch up with Calvin Quek, Head of Sustainable Finance at Greenpeace East Asia based in Beijing, and also the former executive director for the Beijing Energy Network, to discuss the recently announced 12th Five Year Energy Development Plan. See also previous post on this topic.
GLF: First of all congratulations, I saw that photo spread [link here] of you and your Greenpeace colleagues and, I must say, you are looking pretty hip and fashionable these days!
CQ: Thanks, thanks, what can I say, I’m just trying to keep up with you, and green is the new black.
GLF: Well I was just kidding really. But let’s get serious. Last week, the China’s State Council unveiled its overall 12th Five-Year Energy Development Plan. First of all, why is this five year plan that supposedly covers the five year period from 2011 to 2015 released in 2013? Isn’t that kind of late?
CQ: It does seem odd. The public release of this 12 FY Energy Plan took significantly longer, coming out 24 months into the 12th five-year period (2011 -2015), compared to the 11th Five Year Energy Plan, which was released 16 months into the 11th five-year period (2006 – 2010).To me, this suggests that the new Plan required greater and deeper rounds of consultations among various stakeholders.
It is also worth to point out that this overarching Plan is designed to encompass previously released sub-sector industry energy plans such as Solar Power (Feb 2012) (), Coal Power (Mar 2012),Wind Power (Sept 2012) and Emission Reduction & Energy Savings (Aug 2012), which themselves, given the increasingly complexity and size of China’s energy sub-sectors required stronger coordination across various government departments. Thus, the overall energy plan, which encompasses the sub-sector plans may have been delayed as a consequence. Read the full story
Editors Note: We are pleased to announce that John Romankiewicz, aka Sustainable John, of Low-Carbon Style fame has joined the GLF team as a contributor! This is his maiden GLF post, a video interview / book review.
If Dr. Richard Muller, author of “Energy for Future Presidents” were President of China, he’d get the country to switch from coal to natural gas in a hurry.
Dr. Richard Muller is well-known for his popular science book and UC Berkeley course “Physics for Future Presidents”. While that volume explores a number of science and technology topics that a president might face including bio-terrorism, nuclear war, and space exploration, his latest volume “Energy for Future Presidents” focuses solely on energy through the lenses of energy security and climate change. Muller, a professor of physics at UC Berkeley and Faculty Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has devoted much of the past five years to understanding our climate problem and our global energy system.
Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Muller and ask him a set of questions related to China’s energy situation. Read the full story
This guest post is by Michael Davidson, a Masters Candidate and pre-doctoral student in the Technology and Policy Program of the Engineering Systems Division at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He blogs on energy and climate issues with a focus on Asia at East Winds.
While Washington debates about whether to get serious on our climate and energy policies, Beijing this week released China’s five-year energy development plan, laying out an ambitious “all of the above” strategy that where lacking in specifics more than makes up for in vision (the plan, in Chinese; and Google translated). The wide-ranging proposal builds on a number of previous plans and targets designed to ramp up renewable energy and transition fuels, aggressively consolidate the coal industry, scale up large hydropower, and build a coastal nuclear development zone. I was struck by this map of projected energy bases and import lines:
China comprehensive energy bases Read the full story
“Green Hops,” our periodic newsy updates of energy and environmental developments concerning China resumes. Anora Wang and Jenny Tang contributed research and summaries to this edition.
In this edition:
1. WATER: Aniline leak in Shanxi on Dec. 31 affects neighboring province.
2. ENERGY POLICY: National Energy Conference targets almost 50GW of renewables to be added in 2013
3. AIR: National policy to scale up coal-fired plant denitrification tariff
4. COAL: Eradication of coal-electricity dual-pricing system affects market
5. NUCLEAR: China resumes nuclear ambitions with “fourth generation” technology
6. SOLAR: Chinese Gov Vows $2B in subsidies as Overcapacity Plagues Industry
7. NATURAL GAS: Conoco Hunts for Shale Gas in China
8. NATURAL GAS: More reserves found as successful exploration tenders announced
9. INVESTMENT: Brazil Taps China’s State Grid for Energy Project
10. GRID: China’s Electrical Grid Freeze UP
11. WATER: Danjiakou City economy suffering due to water pollution control
12. WATER: Beijing Tap Water getting worse, Expert says
13. WATER: Nestle Taps China Water Thirst as West Spurns Plastic
14. GOVERNANCE: 88 Environmental impact assessment agencies penalized by MEP
15. RAIL: NDRC approves 840 bln yuan in metro lines
16. CARBON EMISSIONS: Carbon intensity drops 3.5% in 2012; but 2011 witnessed record level emissions in first ever GHG bulletin
1. WATER: Aniline leak in Shanxi on Dec. 31 affects neighboring province.
The other big pollution story in the past month aside from “airpocalypse” concerned a chemical plant in Changzhi Cit, Shanxi Province that was reported to have leaked 38.7 tons of aniline into Zhanghe River (漳河) from a broken industrial pipeline on January 5th. The leak was believed to have begun no later than Dec. 31 when workers discovered the situation. Leaked aniline traveled along the Zhanghe River and reached reservoirs in neighboring cities including Handan, a city in Hebei Province with over 1 million residents. Handan shut down part of its municipal water supply system on Jan. 5th and at least 15% of city population was still under impact on Jan. 6th. Areas in Henan Province were also affected, as Zhanghe River is a tri-provincial major stream that flows through Shanxi, Hebei, and Henan. 30 tons of aniline were contained at nearby reservoirs after the leak was reported. [People's Daily] [Xinhua] [China.org.cn] [Sina English] Read the full story
News over the past five days in many parts of northern China have centered around the unprecedented air pollution shrouding several northern cities, including the capital. The “Airpocalypse,” so dubbed by micro-bloggers, has elicited a strong, unambiguous response frot the public and the media – causing many to call a spade a spade by casting away euphemisms like fog in favor of more candid descriptors like smog and pollution. It has also inspired this poignant music video lamenting the lost of Beijing to the evil forces of pollution:
It all started on or around January 10th, with report that a number of cities in the north were afflicted with almost historic levels of air pollution. A sampling of Air Pollution Index (API) readings (on a scale of 0-500) on that day: Read the full story
Editors Note: We are pleased to announce that China water expert Christine Boyle has joined the GLF team as a contributor. Christine brings with her 15 years of environmental planning experience. She was previously a Fulbright Scholar in China and recently obtained her PhD from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She will be blogging on topics related to water and agriculture.
The current trajectory for global greenhouse gas emissions is rising faster than the most pessimistic emission scenarios envisioned in the 4th Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Despite large uncertainties, a recent World Bank report warns that it increasingly plausible that this has put the world on a 4° C average warming path within the 21st century.
Such climate developments, their implications, and the resulting potential impacts – some very likely, others masked by great uncertainty – are, of course, relevant for the large populace of China.
Climate-Induced Impacts on Agriculture
Assessments of China’s vulnerability to climate-induced impacts suggest that due to extremes in temperature and precipitation, the nation’s agricultural sector faces large impacts from Read the full story
In my attempts to catch up on lots of literature published over the past year that I missed, I finally read the 2012 paper China’s Long Road to a Low-Carbon Economy: An Institutional Analysis by Philip Andrews-Speed, one of the first and foremost international commentators on China’s energy economy. Naturally, its stuff worth reading (otherwise I wouldn’t be blogging about it) because it addresses the core factors of whether China will ever succeed in its quest for sustainability – its governance institutions, and more specifically, the tension between the tendency of such institutions to maintain the status quo and their capacity to adapt to change. Andrews-Speed is ultimately pessimistic, but more interesting, I think, is his thought processes in reaching such a conclusion.
Andrews-Speed’s paper begins with a simple and powerful premise: governance must be “at the heart of the low-carbon transition” because energy is an inherently political issue as it is embedded in practically all facets of society and any change to how much or how it is utilized requires a complex alignment of incentives with the norms, values and priorities of a multitude of stakeholders in society.
Implicit in this premise is that other factors such as technology or financing, while important, are factors of a lower order. Its hard to disagree with such reasoning. Ultimately, technology innovation and capital mobilization exist within Read the full story
After that grand return, its time to sink our teeth into the substance of the next chapter of the Green Leap Forward. Following a two and a half year hiatus and shortly after celebrating GLF’s 5th Anniversary earlier this month, we resume our watch on China and all the ways it is succeeding and failing at creating a more sustainable future.
In this reincarnation, GLF will do things slightly differently from its first five years.
- We’ll cover more than just sustainability – the Chinese government has to juggle competing priorities, and how China fairs in providing economic welfare and ensuring social stability will influence how much resources to channel towards sustainability (although how China fairs in promoting sustainability will surely affect how it fairs economically and socially as well). Furthermore, international relations, both political and economic, will shape how China manages its natural resources, and vice versa. In short, a systems thinking approach will be employed to understand the political economy of sustainability in China.
- We’ll cover more than just China – sustainability is poorly understood. Here at GLF, we’ll lay down some universal principles of sustainability along the way, and apply them real life examples in China and other places.
- We’ll cover more than just energy and climate. When we speak of sustainability, energy is just one of four pillars in the emerging food-water-energy-waste nexus. Here at GLF, we’ll seek a more balanced treatment of all four nexi.
- We’ll avoid the trap of Read the full story
Yes, we are back, and back with a bang! This new video by G Fresh and @sustainablejohn is just the sort of epic “bang” that Green Leap Forward is coming back with:
Directed by Sustainable John @sustainablejohn (twitter) @罗大翰 (weibo)
Producer: An Na; Editor: Sustainable John, Lyrics: Sustainable John; Choreography: Yu Fei; Filming: Tim Quijano; An Na, Zhang Yuchen; Green PSY: George Ding; Dancers: Liu Dan, Guan Fei, Wang Zhuqing, Sustainable John; Sound: Busy Bee Studios, Beijing
GLF had an exclusive one-line SMS interview with @sustainablejohn this morning that went like this: Read the full story