China Gets Greener

By Kathy A. Svitil|Sunday, July 25, 2004

In preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government is embarking on a desperately needed $12 billion environmental overhaul. Within a decade, China may overtake the United States as the leading producer of greenhouse gases, and 7 of the world’s 10 most air-polluted cities are Chinese. Furthermore, sulfur from the coal-fired plants that provide 75 percent of China’s electricity is eating away at agricultural yields, and the country faces severe deforestation and desertification (which contributes to Beijing’s blistering sandstorms), water pollution, and buildups of toxic chemicals. “The magnitude of the environmental problems is really daunting,” says Barbara Finamore, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s China Clean Energy Project.

As part of the Olympian cleanup, Beijing will add thousands of natural-gas-fueled buses and more than 100 miles of light-rail lines to its transportation system. The city has also stepped up sewage treatment and the planting of deforested areas. “They are determined to put their best face forward,” Finamore says. She recently helped start pilot programs in Shanghai and nearby Jiangsu Province that offer economic incentives to industries, residents, and businesses to use energy-efficient technology. The country has enacted regulations that significantly reduce the release of ozone-depleting chemicals. And China’s recent automobile efficiency and emissions laws are among the stiffest in the world.

By 2020 China intends to quadruple the size of its economy while only doubling its use of coal. Plans call for increasing reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. “The progress that they’ve made in certain areas has been impressive,” Finamore says. “Now the public has to take a more active role and push for change. Little by little, I’ve seen that happening too.”

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