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Chinese Economy Reaching Limits

Nowhere are China's intensifying growing pains more apparent than in its burgeoning love affair with the automobile.

China's Yangtze river in peril: report
Beijing (AFP) April 15 - China's longest and most important river, the Yangtze, is under serious pressure from human activity with long stretches in "critical condition", state media reported Sunday. The first annual report on the health of the Yangtze has found that massive amounts of pollution dumped into the river were taking a serious toll on its aquatic life, the Beijing News reported. More than 600 kilometres (372 miles) of the 6200-kilometre river are in critical condition, beset by pollution, excessive damming and too much surface traffic on the country's most important inland waterway, it quoted the report as saying.

Nearly 30 percent of major tributaries are seriously polluted and a comprehensive management system needed to be put in place to prevent the situation worsening, it said. "The impact of human activities on the Yangtze water ecology is largely irreversible," said Yang Guishan, a researcher with the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology and one of the chief editors of the report, in comments quoted by official Xinhua news agency. "It's a pressing job to regulate such activities in all the Yangtze drainage areas and promote harmonious development of man and nature."

The report said the river's annual harvest of aquatic products had plummeted from 427,000 tons in the 1950s to about 100,000 tons in the 1990s, Xinhua said. A separate study had found that cities along the river discharged at least 14.2 billion tons of polluted water every year, 42 percent of China's total, it said. Rare species such as the white-flag dolphin were thought to be on the verge of extinction, but even more common species such as carp were gasping for survival, the report said.

The report, compiled by the Nanjing Institute, the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, also warned of higher flood risks despite the presence of the massive Three Gorges Dam, as more extreme weather linked to global warming hits China. The Yangtze accounts for about 35 percent of China's total fresh water resources. The report also said the Three Gorges Dam project has created a huge reservoir seriously polluted by pesticides, fertilisers and sewage from passenger boats.

by Robert J Saiget
Beijing (AFP) April 15, 2007
China's booming economy is being increasingly constrained by shortages of energy and natural resources as well as environmental concerns -- forcing the nation to seek a more efficient growth model.

According to high-ranking officials in Beijing, there is simply not enough fuel around on the planet to sustain a Chinese boom using the same energy-intensive recipe that made the western nations rich.

China would need 4.5 billion tonnes of oil annually if it consumed energy like the United States, according to Xu Dingming, the vice head of an energy task force at the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's economic planner.

But the annual global oil supply is just four billion tonnes, including 1.6 billion tonnes in commercial circulation, Xinhua news agency quoted Xu as saying earlier this month.

Officials are aware of the looming pressures, but they also say it will not be easy to change an economic formula that has resulted in a 25-year boom with little attention to efficiency or the environment.

"Over the past two years we've seen a change, as the government has acknowledged environmental degradation is resulting in social instability," Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's expert on climate change, told AFP.

She mentioned policies to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2010 and make renewable energy account for 16 percent of overall output by 2020 -- up from about 7.5 percent now -- as examples of a new outlook from Beijing.

Greenpeace is supportive of the changes, but the government's difficulty will come in taking such ambitious targets and executing them at the local level, she added.

Nowhere are China's intensifying growing pains more apparent than in its burgeoning love affair with the automobile.

Thirty million private cars are plying the nation's roads, a number that is increasing by 20 percent annually.

According to Pan Yue, the outspoken vice head of the State Environmental Protection Administration, the government's car policy has also resulted in daily gridlock in major cities, already among the world's most polluted.

"Beijing has automotive exhaust standards, but the air keeps getting more polluted because more cars are being introduced," Pan said in an article last week in the Study Times, an influential Communist Party publication.

"We need to make environmental assessments that can set the environmental capacity of an area ... and ensure that economic development does not surpass the capacity of the environment."

Pan's article was focused on the need to incorporate environmental parameters into overall macro-economic planning at the central government level.

Oil is only one of the huge problems facing China's 1.3 billion people, he said.

Inefficient energy use, shortages in land, fresh water, mineral resources and biodiversity were exacerbating rampant pollution and backward industrial growth, he said.

"Our limited resources are being polluted and destroyed. If we continue in this way we will make all the talk about sustainable development empty nonsense," Pan said.

China's per capita arable land resources were one-tenth of those of the United States, while per capita water resources were a quarter of the world average, falling to a sixteenth in the Beijing-Tianjin region, he said.

"We face the constraints of energy resources and other natural resources (so) we cannot copy the existing consumption pattern of energy in developed countries," Zhou Dadi, the top energy planner at the National Development and Reform Commission, said in a speech late last month.

"China has to develop a new approach of industrialisation, using energy and other resources more efficiently, even more efficient than achieved by the best practice in the world now."

The country would strive to cut coal use, which makes up 70 percent of its energy production, and seek to burn it cleaner and more efficiently, Zhou said.

Much of China's move toward renewable energy would include hefty increases in hydroelectricity and nuclear power, he added.

earlier related report

China's farmland shrinks to near warning level
Beijing (AFP) April 13 - China's farmland shrank 0.3 percent in the year to 2006, putting it just above the warning level set by the government, state press reported Friday. After losing 307,000 hectares (760,000 acres), the country had 121.9 million hectares of arable land, the China Daily reported, citing results of a survey conducted by the Ministry of Land and Resources.

Premier Wen Jiabao has stressed in the annual parliament session that China must defend the red line that arable land never shrinks to less than 120.1 million hectares.

"The reality of 121.9 million hectares of arable land tells us that the situation to protect the arable land is exceptionally severe," the ministry said in the survey results posted on its website late Thursday.

The decrease in arable land mainly resulted from reforestation, but the illegal use of arable land for construction purpose also remained rampant, it said.

During the period, more than 36,000 hectares of farmland was illicitly used for construction by local governments before receiving approval, it said.

The situation is even worse considering that China's farmland is becoming increasingly polluted, with coal-dependent factories and polluted waterways causing billions of dollars in damages.

More than 10 million hectares (24.7 million acres), or 10 percent of China's farming land, has been ruined, state-run press reported earlier, citing figures from the country's environment watchdog.

But the land ministry noted that government measures to curb land grabs and better manage its land were taking effect.

The land ministry issued two catalogues last year detailing projects that should be restricted or banned, targeting villas, golf courses and race tracks that take up large amounts of land.

"The key to protecting arable land lies in the management of land used for construction," the China Daily quoted Xu Jian, a researcher with the China Land Science Society as saying.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Plastic That Degrades In Seawater A Boon For Cruise Industry
Washington, DC (SPX) Apr 10, 2007
Large volumes of plastic waste generated aboard military, merchant and cruise ships must be stored onboard, often for prolonged periods, until they make port. In the future, a new type of environmentally friendly plastic that degrades in seawater may make it safe and practical to toss plastic waste overboard, freeing-up valuable storage space, according to scientists at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

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