MAC/20: Mines and Communities

China's water squeeze worsens as wetlands shrink 9 pct

Published by MAC on 2014-01-18
Source: Reuters
Coal continues to exact a heavy price on China ... with regard to both water and air.

"Nearly 70 percent of China's energy production depends on water-intensive coal power. Despite pursuing alternatives, its coal use is expected to grow between 2 and 3 percent a year for the next five years"

China's water squeeze worsens as wetlands shrink 9 pct


13 January 2014

Beijing - China's wetlands have shrunk nearly 9 percent since 2003, forestry officials said on Monday, aggravating water scarcity in a country where food production, energy output and industrial activity are already under pressure from water shortages.

China has more than a fifth of the world's population but only 6 percent of its freshwater resources, and large swathes of the nation, especially in the north, face severe water distress.

Since 2003, wetlands sprawling across 340,000 sq. km. - an area larger than the Netherlands - have disappeared, officials of China's State Forestry Administration (SFA) told reporters.

"The investigation shows that China is facing various problems with wetlands protections," Zhang Yongli, vice director of the forestry body, told a news conference, adding that loopholes in protection laws imperil the shrinking wetlands.

The lost wetland areas have been converted to agricultural lands, swallowed by large infrastructure projects or degraded by climate change, the forestry administration said.

Wetlands lost to infrastructure projects have increased tenfold since the government's last survey in 2003, Zhang added.

Water has emerged as a major issue in China. Its scarcity endangers economic growth and social stability, and China has set aside $660 billion for projects to boost supply this decade.

Wetlands store a large amount of China's freshwater resources, and receding wetlands will leave less water available in the long term, Debra Tan, director of Hong Kong-based non-profit China Water Risk, told Reuters.

"This will add to the pressure and increase competition for water going forward," she said. "China will be looking to grow more food, and more food in wetlands, as urbanisation continues."

Nearly 70 percent of China's energy production depends on water-intensive coal power. Despite pursuing alternatives, its coal use is expected to grow between 2 and 3 percent a year for the next five years, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian said.

A study by the World Resources Institute last October showed 51 percent of planned coal-power plants in China were in regions with severe water shortages, potentially pitting energy production against agriculture and basic needs for clean water.

Although 9 billion yuan ($1.5 bln) was earmarked to protect wetlands during 2005 to 2010, just 38 percent of those funds were actually allocated, said forestry official Zhang.

For 2011 to 2015, China plans to use 12.9 billion yuan to protect its wetlands. (Reporting by Stian Reklev and Kathy Chen; Additional reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Beijing's mayor urges "all-out effort" to curb air pollution


16 January 2014

Beijing - Beijing's mayor pledged on Thursday to cut coal use by 2.6 million tonnes and set aside 15 billion yuan ($2.4 billion) to improve air quality this year as part of the city's "all-out effort" to tackle air pollution, state news agency Xinhua said.

The announcement by Wang Anshun came as the capital was blanketed in its worst smog in months. An index measuring PM2.5 particles, especially bad for health, reached 500 in much of the capital in the early hours.

A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.
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Coal-burning boilers inside Beijing's fifth ring road - covering the built-up area of the city - will be eliminated and measures taken against coal burning in the capital's periphery, Xinhua quoted Wang as saying.

The city also aims to ban all heavily polluting vehicles this year, cut new car registrations and promote new energy vehicles, Wang said.

Beijing reported 58 days of serious pollution last year, or one every six to seven days on average, Xinhua quoted Zhang Dawei, director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center, as saying.

Separately, Xinhua said China had shut down 8,347 heavily polluting companies last year in northern Hebei province, which has the worst air in the country, as the government moves to tackle a problem that has been a source of discontent.

Local authorities will block new projects and punish officials in regions where pollution is severe due to lax enforcement, Xinhua cited Yang Zhiming, deputy director of the Hebei provincial bureau of environmental protection, as saying.

High pollution levels have sparked widespread public anger and officials concerned about social unrest have responded by implementing tougher policies.

Hebei, the country's biggest steel producer, is home to as many as seven of its 10 most polluted cities, Xinhua said, citing statistics published monthly by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Pollution in Hebei often spreads to neighboring Beijing and Tianjin.

Some small high-polluting plants are being relocated to remote areas to avoid oversight, Xinhua quoted Yang as saying. He said the government would "beef up the industrial crackdown".

China has drawn up dozens of laws and guidelines to improve the environment but has struggled to enforce them in the face of powerful enterprises.

On Wednesday, China's commercial capital, Shanghai, introduced emergency measures, allowing it to shut schools and order cars off the road in case of severe smog.

Hebei plans to slash crude steel output by 15 million tonnes in 2014 and cut coal consumption by the same amount as part of anti-pollution measures.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Alison Williams)

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