China’s Environment Is Flailing: Report

Just how bad is that smog in China?

smog-filled skyline


It’s not surprising to learn that the local environment isn’t doing so well in China, a country famous for its smog. But it is disheartening to find out just how bad it is, courtesy of the “State of the Environment in China,” an annual report put out by the Chinese government.

We don’t have access to an English version of the report yet, but we’ve gathered information from the Guardian, Reuters, and Xinhua to pinpoint some of the highlights.

  • Surface water pollution is “relatively grave,” with 16.7% of rivers failing to meet any sort of grade standard–meaning the water is completely unfit for use (including in agricultural irrigation). And 42.3% of rivers are affected by eutrophication, a process where phytoplankton deplete oxygen from the water.
  • Approximately one in five cities doesn’t meet China’s urban air quality standards, which are lower than those recommended by the World Health Organization. Acid rain was observed in over 50% of the country’s cities.
  • 22% of the country’s 2,588 nature reserves are damaged in some way, mainly because as “economic development and industrialisation have gained momentum,
    unreasonable activities have weakened the function and value of those
    reserves.” In other words, the country is just too crowded.
  • Heavy metal pollution is a growing (but still small) problem, with 14 reported cases last year and seven this year.

So the country has toxic water, air, rain, and increasingly less pristine nature reserves. It’s a bad situation, and one that proves how dominance in the clean energy race isn’t necessarily linked to a cleaner local environment.

There are signs of improvement: Beijing saw more “blue sky days” in May than in the past 10 years, according to the Chinese government. The city also decreased carbon emissions in 2010, and took 50,000 vehicles that did not meet emission standards off the road.

But these are small steps, of course, and the problem spans all of China’s hundreds of cities. And if China–and all of its burgeoning wealth–can’t slow down pollution, what chance is there for other rapidly growing countries?

[Image by Flickr user David Barrie]


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About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more