Mon, Feb 21, 2005 - Page 10 News List

Blame mounting on China for its pollution

BIG EMITTER China's gangbusters growth has had a nasty side effect of making the global pollution problem far worse. But does it really deserve the blame it's gotten?

THE OBSERVER , London

A man and his son ride past the giant cooling towers of a factory in Beijing last week. China, the world's second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US, and a member of the Kyoto Protocol, has shown its commitment to reducing pollution and switching to renewable energy, but analysts say it still has a long way to go.

PHOTO: AFP

Can the planet's environment survive turbocharged economic growth from China?

Last week, the might of the world's most populous nation came into sharp focus. China officially overtook the US as the world's biggest consumer of agricultural and industrial goods.

Meanwhile, its economy -- on a steep upward curve for 20 years -- surged by 9.5 per cent last year. With compelling evidence that climate change is accelerating, there is growing concern that fast- emerging nations will place an unsustainable burden on the earth's already fragile resources.

Most analysts tend to start from the standpoint that it is unfair to blame China for climate change because the vast majority of emissions have been caused by consumers and businesses in the developed world. And in recent months, the Chinese government has taken environmental concerns more seriously, says Bryan Cress, the Confederation of British Industry's (CBI's) head of east Asia.

Cress visited the country recently with his leader Digby Jones and Trade and British Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, and is optimistic that Beijing now realizes that increasing evidence of river pollution and environmental degradation cannot be ignored. This comes after environmentalists reacted with horror to China's importation of vast supplies of timber: in Indonesia, forests the size of Switzerland are now cleared every year.

Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth, says the environment cannot tolerate the demands placed on it by industrialized countries, never mind the accelerating growth of emerging nations like China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

Western countries' addiction to economic growth has to be recast, he says -- if not, the consequences will be "utterly disastrous."

China is now forging significant alliances with Russia, Venezuela, Sudan and Middle Eastern countries to secure oil and gas supplies. Juniper warns that, quite apart from climate change, with fossil fuel demand set to vastly outstrip supply, the only way the world can avoid war is to find greener alternatives to oil and gas quickly.

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