Friday, January 31, 2014

China's New Year: Smog and Drought Underscore the Contradiction of Pollution and Mitigation

As China celebrates its new year festival, many of the country's major cities appear deserted as millions of workers returned to their childhood homes in rural parts of the nation. On the upside the mass exodus has improved air quality in some of China's biggest cities. However, as the New Year was being celebrated another round of heavy smog hit a large region of the country.

In China, the Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Horse which is one of 12 animals that make up the Chinese zodiac. According to Chinese astrology the year will be marked by conflict. One of the ongoing issues that is contributing to social tensions in the country is the problem of smog.

On Jan. 30, Chinese New Year’s Eve, China’s National Meteorological Center published yellow alerts for heavy smog in 11 provinces in central, eastern, and southern China. Visibility was less than 50 meters in some places. Smog is not only destructive to human health it also closes highways and cancels flights.

Firecrackers are a central part of New Year's tradition in China, but this year as with last people are being asked to avoid them to alleviate the air pollution they cause. Nonetheless, at midnight on January 30th, firecrackers were heard all across China.

Air pollution is not the only problem faced by China, they are also undergoing a serious drought. A dramatic illustration of just how bad the drought is can be found in a dessicated lake bed that was once China's largest freshwater lake. Once 3,500 sq km, Poyang lake in rural Jiangxi province has completely dried up due to drought.

The world largest dam, the Three Gorges reservoir water storage facility is located upstream from the lake and has contributed to the problem. This has resulted in a cascade of ecological impacts including water shortages and the decimation of the local fishing industry. It has also deprived a half a million migrating birds of food.

China is a fascination contradiction they are at one and the same time, pumping massive quantities of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere while leading the globe in renewable energy infrastructure like wind and solar.

China is the undisputed leader in GHG emissions and a leading consumer of coal, the dirtiest of all energy sources. They have started seven carbon trading markets in a number of cities, and they have repeatedly pledged to invest massively in efforts to clean the air. They have even enacted federal laws that put big polluters to dealth.

China’s air pollution is undeniably a big problem, both for residents struggling with airborne toxins and for the international community struggling to curb climate change. However China's air woes also represent an economic opportunity for cleantech companies.

As reported by Environmental Leader The US Department of Commerce forecasts China’s clean-tech market will triple to $555 billion by 2020.

According to report titled Stranded Down Under, by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) at Oxford, concerns about air pollution and climate change are decreasing coal demand from China. The country is replacing coal with renewables.

According to the latest International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest annual World Energy Outlook 2013 report Renewables will account for nearly half of the increase in global power generation to 2035—with China generating more than the US, Japan and the EU combines.

Overall China has one of the most ambitious carbon cutting programs in the world. The nation plans to cut carbon emissions by up to 45 percent per unit of GDP by 2020.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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