Monday 23 April 2007

Environmental Roundup: Farm Land Polluted, Water Shortages and Global Warming

Today PlantArk ran 3 stories on China - all with worrying implications for the Chinese economy.

China has not been growing sustainably and today sees the first official response that clearly states that future economic growth is threatened by the affects of global warming.

China Says Ten Percent of Farming Land Contaminated
Over 10 percent of China's farm land is contaminated, threatening the ability of the world's most populous nation to feed itself, the official Xinhua news agency said on Sunday.

Excessive fertilizer use, dirty water and solid waste were among the main pollutants, with heavy metals alone poisoning around 12 million tonnes of grain a year, the report said, quoting the Ministry of Land and Resources.

That pollution caused 20 billion yuan (US$2.59 billion) of annual losses.

In total, around 12.3 million hectares have been damaged, and the country is also losing large amounts of arable land to development as its cities expand, posing a "severe threat" to national food security, Xinhua quoted an unnamed ministry official saying.

China had already announced that agricultural land had shrunk by 306,800 hectares in the first 10 months of last year alone, to a total 121.8 million hectares.

Beijing is trying to halt the outward sprawl of its cities, with a series of restrictions on luxury developments and the use of farmland for housing or industrial zones.

China's Hebei Province Hit by Drinking Water Shortage
Some 500,000 people in China's northern province of Hebei are suffering from a shortage of drinking water following a drought that began late last year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday.

Quoting local water conservation authorities, the agency said more than 200 small reservoirs had dried up in Hebei.

Sources at the provincial bureau of agriculture said the water shortage was affecting farmland in Hebei, one of China's major wheat and corn growing provinces.

It was also affecting hydro-power generation, the news agency said.

Last month it was reported that a drought in southwestern China could continue well into April, affecting nearly 10 million people and 9 million livestock.

China Says Global Warming Threatens Development
Global warming could devastate China's development, the nation's first official survey of climate change warns, while insisting economic growth must come before greenhouse gas cuts.

Hotter average global temperatures fueled by greenhouse gases mean that different regions of China are likely to suffer spreading deserts, worsening droughts and floods, shrinking glaciers and rising seas, the National Climate Change Assessment states.

This environmental upheaval could derail the ruling Communist Party's plans for sustainable development, a copy of the report obtained by Reuters says.

"Climatic warming may have serious consequences for our environment of survival as China's economic sectors, such as agriculture and coastal regions, suffer grave negative effects," the report states.

There is a lot more in this last article. Talking about the report:
The 400-page report was written over several years by experts and officials from dozens of ministries and agencies, representing China's first official response to global warming.

With its mixture of dire warnings and caveats, it bears the markings of bureaucratic bargaining.

On the potential disasters ahead for China:
By the end of the century, glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet highlands that feed the Yangtze river could shrink by two thirds. Further downstream, increasingly intense rainfall could "spark mud and landslides and other geological disasters" around the massive Three Gorges Dam.

Coastal cities will need to build or strengthen barriers to ward off rising sea levels.

Unless steps are taken, water scarcity and increasingly extreme weather could reduce nationwide crop production by up to 10 percent by 2030. Wheat, rice and corn growing capacity could fall by up to 37 percent in the second half of the century.

"If we do not take any actions, climate change will seriously damage China's long-term grain security," the report states.

So what of the future? It is clear that the Chinese government is increasingly prepared to face up to the impact of China's rapid growth on the environment and is now showing some willingness to act now to prevent far worse (and more costly) disasters in the future.

They key to China's environmental future is for China and the Party to have a clear understanding of the economics - that is to say, the costs of doing nothing now may be severe costs in the future. However, it must be remembered that the cause of global warming today was not China but the West's rapid industrialisation. So whilst China is certainly contributing to future problems, they also have to adapt to the man-made global warming from the developed world.

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