CHINA GET­TING RID OF EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL POL­LUTER TAG

Na­tion’s plan to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions in­cludes im­ple­ment­ing car­bon trad­ing

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer is Academy of Sciences Malaysia UCSI Univer­sity Fel­low

FEW would dis­agree that China is among the largest driv­ers of the world econ­omy. In fact, in a few years, it will be just that — the lead­ing driver of the global econ­omy. It is easy to un­der­stand why. With a pop­u­la­tion ap­proach­ing 1.5 bil­lion, Chi­nese con­sumers are al­ready a ma­jor force in the world con­sump­tion econ­omy.

And, as the Chi­nese mid­dle class grows, which it will in the com­ing years, United States con­sumers will soon pale in com­par­i­son with the Chi­nese. Al­ready, global tourism is dom­i­nated by big-spend­ing tourists from China.

In many tourist spots around the world, you are bound to bump into them. It is es­ti­mated that about 100 mil­lion Chi­nese travel the world ev­ery year. Many tourist spots have in­cluded Man­darin as an ad­di­tional lan­guage in their com­mu­ni­ca­tion kits.

In Malaysia, we are aim­ing for just one mil­lion of that this year.

In the rush for de­vel­op­ment, China went into high gear soon af­ter em­brac­ing the market econ­omy in the early 1990s. The sup­port in­fra­struc­ture that the coun­try des­per­ately needed was built at break­neck speed. The con­struc­tion of roads and high­ways link­ing cities and the ports did not take long. It was easy be­cause ev­ery de­ci­sion came from the one central au­thor­ity.

The same was true for the coun­try’s ven­ture into man­u­fac­tur­ing. The mod­erni­sa­tion of fac­to­ries largely op­er­ated by sta­te­owned en­ter­prises also hap­pened very fast. Ev­ery­thing hap­pened so fast that re­gard for the en­vi­ron­ment was largely ig­nored.

This soon proved dev­as­tat­ing for the na­tion. The air be­came quickly pol­luted by the emis­sions of pol­lu­tants, par­tic­u­larly par­tic­u­lates. Many rivers and wa­ter­ways got caught up in wa­ter pol­lu­tion, espe­cially as a re­sult of in­dus­trial waste wa­ter from fac­to­ries mostly built in a hurry in the name of de­vel­op­ment. It was def­i­nitely un­sus­tain­able.

One such en­vi­ron­men­tally dam­ag­ing ex­am­ple, which re­ceived world­wide pub­lic­ity, was the havoc cre­ated when rare earth min­ing in China went out of con­trol. In­de­pen­dent min­ers ig­nored en­vi­ron­men­tal guide­lines. The re­sult was a mas­sive wa­ter pol­lu­tion prob­lem that at­tracted neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity on rare earth pro­duc­tion world­wide.

Even in Malaysia, the Ly­nas rare earth op­er­a­tion was un­fairly judged largely be­cause of hor­ror sto­ries from China. Now, af­ter five years, all the con­cerns have been proven to be un­founded and base­less.

As China pro­gressed, the is­sue of en­vi­ron­men­tal ne­glect was used by other coun­tries to dis­credit China at in­ter­na­tional meet­ings. The meet­ings that had hurt China the most were cli­mate con­fer­ences where calls were made for China to be in­cluded in the list of coun­tries that should ob­serve emis­sion tar­gets.

In the early days of the agree­ment, the list only ap­plied to more de­vel­oped coun­tries, such as the US, Euro­pean Union and Ja­pan. So much so that some de­vel­oped coun­tries have called for the clause on “com­mon but dif­fer­en­ti­ated” term to be deleted from the agree­ment on cli­mate mit­i­gat­ing ac­tions.

The dele­tion would mean the list of coun­tries to ob­serve emis­sion tar­gets would be ex­panded to in­clude de­vel­op­ing na­tions as well. As ex­pected, such a call was ve­he­mently ob­jected by de­vel­op­ing na­tions.

This is be­cause, in terms of per capita emis­sion of green­house gas, the lev­els recorded by de­vel­op­ing coun­tries are much lower.

Not­with­stand­ing, China has taken the de­ci­sion to act on its green­house gas lev­els. It has im­ple­mented a master plan that aims to con­tin­u­ously re­duce emis­sions. Fur­ther­more, China suf­fers a lot from smog and air pol­lu­tion caused by poor en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tices.

We hear of dan­ger­ous air pol­lu­tion in­dices in the na­tion’s ma­jor cities, espe­cially Bei­jing. Apart from the de­ploy­ment of cleaner pro­duc­tion sys­tems in fac­to­ries, China has also em­barked on a pro­gramme to phase out coal in its power gen­er­a­tion sys­tems. But more than that, China has re­cently im­ple­mented car­bon trad­ing as the other in­stru­ment to re­duce green­house gas emis­sions.

This is now im­ple­mented in seven prov­inces. Car­bon trad­ing is some­thing that even the de­vel­oped West strug­gles to put in place. And China has paved the way, which goes to show that China is now tak­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters se­ri­ously.

Apart from the de­ploy­ment of cleaner pro­duc­tion sys­tems in fac­to­ries, China has also em­barked on a pro­gramme to phase out coal in their power gen­er­a­tion sys­tems.

AFP PIC

Peo­ple wear­ing masks at Tianan­men Square in Bei­jing. Car­bon trad­ing is some­thing that even the de­vel­oped West strug­gles to put in place, but China is paving the way.

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