2 Major Air Pollutants Increase in Beijing
April 3, 2013
By Edward Wong
The New York Times
BEIJING — In the first three months of this year, levels of two major air pollutants increased by almost 30 percent here in the Chinese capital, over the same period in 2012, according to a report on Wednesday by a Chinese news organization.
The pollutants — nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter that is between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter, called PM 10 — appeared to have surged sharply in January, showing levels 47 percent higher than the same month last year, according to the report by Beijing News that was translated into English by The Economic Observer. The report cited as its source Chen Tian, the head of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.
A third pollutant, sulfur dioxide, decreased slightly over the same three-month period.
Mr. Chen said the main reason for the increase in two pollutants was high levels of emissions. Citing Mr. Chen, the report said “the emissions created by those living and producing in the city far exceed what the environment can take.”
The report said the environmental bureau had concluded that the increases in the two pollutants had been also partly due to topography and weather conditions. Beijing recently had its highest levels of relative humidity in a decade, and surface wind speeds were the lowest in 10 years, which together resulted in a lower-temperature inversion layer that trapped pollutants, the report said.
Cities in northern China have been grappling this winter with record levels of air pollution, which have stirred fear and anger among many Chinese. In January, the Beijing municipal government recorded jaw-dropping concentrations of particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, called PM 2.5. The highest concentrations were recorded at nearly 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, which was on par with some severely polluted days in industrial London during the mid-20th century.
Beijing resembled an airport smokers’ lounge in mid-January, and some foreigners called the persistent and omnipresent smog an “airpocalypse.”
The Beijing News and Economic Observer quoted Mr. Chen as saying that 60 percent of the increased levels of PM 2.5 were due to the burning of coal and fuel. PM 2.5 is considered more damaging than PM 10, because the smaller particles can penetrate the lungs and embed deeply in tissue.
To prevent cost increases, large state-owned enterprises in the oil and power industries have consistently blocked proposed policies that would cut down the levels of pollutants.
Last Sunday, researchers released data that showed that outdoor air pollution had contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, which was nearly 40 percent of the global total. The data were based on international research done on leading causes of death for the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, which was published in a paper last December in The Lancet, a British medical journal. In China, outdoor air pollution was the fourth-leading risk factor for death, the researchers said.
An official Chinese news report said last week that the cost of environmental degradation in China in 2010 was 1.54 trillion renminbi, about $230 billion, or 3.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. The amount was three times that of 2004.
A Deutsche Bank report from February said that current growth policies would mean a continuing surge in air pollution over the next decade.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 6, 2013
An article on Thursday about a new report showing that in the first three months of this year the levels of two major air pollutants increased by 30 percent in Beijing over the same period in 2012 misstated part of the name of one of the pollutants. It is nitrogen dioxide, not nitrous dioxide.
Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China
April 1, 2013
By Edward Wong
The New York Times
BEIJING — Outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010, nearly 40 percent of the global total, according to a new summary of data from a scientific study on leading causes of death worldwide.
Figured another way, the researchers said, China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population.
The data on which the analysis is based was first presented in the ambitious 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, which was published in December in The Lancet, a British medical journal. The authors decided to break out numbers for specific countries and present the findings at international conferences. The China statistics were offered at a forum in Beijing on Sunday.
“We have been rolling out the India- and China-specific numbers, as they speak more directly to national leaders than regional numbers,” said Robert O’Keefe, the vice president of the Health Effects Institute, a research organization that is helping to present the study. The organization is partly financed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the global motor vehicle industry.
What the researchers called “ambient particulate matter pollution” was the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths in China in 2010, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and smoking. Air pollution ranked seventh on the worldwide list of risk factors, contributing to 3.2 million deaths in 2010.
By comparison with China, India, which also has densely populated cities grappling with similar levels of pollution, had 620,000 premature deaths in 2010 because of outdoor air pollution, the study found. That was deemed to be the sixth most common killer in South Asia.
Calculations of premature deaths because of outdoor air pollution are politically threatening in the eyes of some Chinese officials. According to news reports, Chinese officials cut out sections of a 2007 report called “Cost of Pollution in China” that discussed premature deaths. The report’s authors had concluded that 350,000 to 400,000 people die prematurely in China each year because of outdoor air pollution. The study was done by the World Bank in cooperation with the Chinese State Environmental Protection Administration, the precursor to the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
There have been other estimates of premature deaths because of air pollution. In 2011, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 1.3 million premature deaths in cities worldwide because of outdoor air pollution.
Last month, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, based in Paris, warned that “urban air pollution is set to become the top environmental cause of mortality worldwide by 2050, ahead of dirty water and lack of sanitation.” It estimated that up to 3.6 million people could end up dying prematurely from air pollution each year, mostly in China and India.
There has been growing outrage in Chinese cities over what many say are untenable levels of air pollution. Cities across the north hit record levels in January, and official Chinese newspapers ran front-page articles on the surge — what some foreigners call the “airpocalypse” — despite earlier limits on such discussion by propaganda officials.
In February, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced a timeline for introducing new fuel standards, but state-owned oil and power companies are known to block or ignore environmental policies to save on costs.
A study released on Thursday said the growth rate of disclosure of pollution information in 113 Chinese cities had slowed. The groups doing the study, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, based in Beijing, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Washington, said that “faced with the current situation of severe air, water and soil pollution, we must make changes to pollution source information disclosure so that information is no longer patchy, out of date and difficult to obtain.”
Chinese officials have made some progress in disclosing crucial air pollution statistics. Official news reports have said 74 cities are now required to release data on levels of particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, which penetrate the body’s tissues most deeply. For years, Chinese officials had been collecting the data but refusing to release it, until they came under pressure from Chinese who saw that the United States Embassy in Beijing was measuring the levels hourly and posting the data in a Twitter feed, @BeijingAir.
Last week, an official Chinese news report said the cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product. The estimate, said to be partial, came from a research institute under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and was three times the amount in 2004, in local currency terms. It was unclear to what extent those numbers took into account the costs of health care and premature deaths because of pollution.
Cost of Environmental Damage in China Growing Rapidly Amid Industrialization
March 29, 2013
By Edward Wong
The New York Times
BEIJING — The cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product — three times that in 2004, in local currency terms, an official Chinese news report said this week.
The statistic came from a study by the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning, which is part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The figure of $230 billion, or 1.54 trillion renminbi, is based on costs arising from pollution and damage to the ecosystem, the price that China is paying for its rapid industrialization.
“This cuts to the heart of China’s economic challenge: how to transform from the explosive growth of the past 30 years to the sustainable growth of the next 30 years,” said Alistair Thornton, a China economist at the research firm IHS Global Insight. “Digging a hole and filling it back in again gives you G.D.P. growth. It doesn’t give you economic value. A lot of the activity in China over the last few years has been digging holes to fill them back in again — anything from bailing out failing solar companies to ignoring the ‘externalities’ of economic growth.”
And the costs could be even higher than the ministry’s estimate, he said. The $230 billion figure is incomplete because the researchers did not have a full set of data. Making such calculations is “notoriously difficult,” Mr. Thornton said.
The 2010 figure was reported on Monday by a newspaper associated with the ministry, and so far only partial results of the study are available. In 2006, the ministry began releasing an estimate of the cost of environmental degradation. The ministry has issued statistics only intermittently, though its original goal was to do the calculation — what it called “green G.D.P.” — annually.
The rapidly eroding environment across the country has become an issue of paramount concern to many Chinese. In January, outrage boiled over as air pollution in north China reached record levels, well beyond what Western environmental agencies consider hazardous. The public fury forced propaganda officials to allow official Chinese news organizations to report more candidly on the pollution.
Chinese state-owned enterprises in the oil and power industries have consistently blocked efforts by pro-environment government officials to impose policies that would alleviate the pollution.
There have also been constant concerns over water and soil pollution. The discovery of at least 16,000 dead pigs in rivers that supply drinking water to Shanghai has ignited alarm there. This week, China Central Television reported that farmers in a village in Henan Province were using wastewater from a paper mill to grow wheat. But one farmer said they would not dare to eat the wheat themselves. It is sold outside the village, perhaps ending up in cities, while the farmers grow their own wheat with well water.
The Beijing government on Thursday released details of a three-year plan that is aimed at curbing various forms of pollution, according to a report on Friday in China Daily, an official English-language newspaper. The report quoted Wang Anshun, Beijing’s mayor, as saying that sewage treatment, garbage incineration and forestry development would cost at least $16 billion.
In 2006, the environmental ministry said the cost of environmental degradation in 2004 was more than $62 billion, or 3.05 percent of G.D.P. In 2010, it released partial results for 2008 that totaled about $185 billion, or 3.9 percent of G.D.P. Several foreign scholars have criticized the methods by which Chinese researchers have reached those numbers, saying some crucial measures of environmental degradation are not included in the calculations.
There is consensus now that China’s decades of double-digit economic growth exacted an enormous environmental cost. But growth remains the priority; the Communist Party’s legitimacy is based largely on rapidly expanding the economy, and China officially estimates that its G.D.P., which was $8.3 trillion in 2012, will grow at a rate of 7.5 percent this year and at an average of 7 percent in the five-year plan that runs to 2015. A Deutsche Bank report released last month said the current growth policies would lead to a continuing steep decline of the environment for the next decade, especially given the expected coal consumption and boom in automobile sales.
Patrick Zuo contributed research.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: April 3, 2013
A picture caption on Saturday with an article about the rapidly growing environmental degradation in China that can be traced to its proliferating industrialization misidentified the substance shown spewing from a power plant in east Beijing. It is steam, not smoke.