01/29/2007, 00.00
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Chinese economic juggernaut among the last in environmental protection

In a recent report China is ranked 100 of 118 in terms of environmental protection. No progress has been registered in recent years despite Beijing’s promises. The central government is still unable to rein local government. A proposal is being floated to given more power to China’s environmental agency.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In 2006 China ranked 100th of 118 countries in terms of environmental protection, the same as three years earlier, this according to a joint report by the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and mainland universities.

The China Modernisation Report 2007 says that China is the second largest source of green house gases after the United States. But as the economy grew by leaps and bounds, no improvements have been registered in reducing carbon dioxide emissions (cause of acid rains), in improving effluent treatment and guaranteeing drinking water protection. The mainland was no better off than at the time of the last report three years ago.

The situation is alarming since China, whilst consuming only 4 per cent of oil (3 million barrels imported per day), has one fifth of the world’s population. With continued economic growth its energy needs will rise, especially in terms of its most commonly used and most polluting fuel, namely coal. And this will have ominous consequences.

Although Beijing is investing in alternative energies it is expected that they won’t cover more than 15 per cent of the demand by 2020. Moreover, these sources will be largely represented by hydro-electric plants which have themselves tremendous environmental costs on rivers and related natural resources.

He Chuanqi, who headed the research group responsible for the report, said that “compared with social and economic modernisation, China's ecological modernisation lags far behind”.

This state of affairs also marks a personal failure for Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao, who had put environmental protection and rehabilitation at the top of their agenda for 2006 when they insisted that a “harmonious society” had to maintain good air, water and soil quality. In fact, high pollution levels create huge problems, especially for rural residents, who are some 800 million people or two thirds of the population.

The report suggests that the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) should be strengthened and be given department-level powers and resources so that it can intervene, especially against local governments who tend to privilege economic development over environmental protection.

For many experts, not much will change until the Communist Party's 17th national congress this autumn, since leaders are more interested in ensuring that economic development remains strong in their respective region of the country as a way to ensure their upward mobility within the party. (PB)

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