Energy consumption and environmental problems in China
The progress towards a market economy has made China into the fastest growth-rate producing country in the world. However, this process accompanies the radical transformation of the natural environment. Environmental pollution that results mainly from burning crude oil by-products, damages the quality of the waters, the air, as well as people's health to such extent that will ultimately affect the whole economic transformation process severely. Since China is one of the most populous countries in the world, the impact of its economic growth on the ecological equilibrium is already an urgent global issue. At the same time, short-term economic gains are ostensibly more important for China than the prevention of the looming environmental catastrophe.
According to a WTO report, out of the 20 most polluted cities in the world, 16 are found in China. Huge amounts of carbon dioxide and carbon particles pass into the air from burning coal and crude oil, while chemical plants emit sulphur dioxide and other hazardous substances too. Acid rain falls over 30 per cent of the country whose territory is equal to the size of a continent. The magnitude of contamination in the main Chinese rivers is on the rise too. Ninety per cent of city waters are heavily polluted and are not fit for human consumption without purification. Deaths stemming from illnesses related to air- and water pollution have become a major concern. In order to reduce pollution in the capital, the Beijing city council ordered the conversion of public transport vehicles to use gas fuel. (Currently Beijing has the largest number of gas-fuelled buses in the world: 1700.)
In East Asia - excepting Japan - China is responsible for 53 per cent of the energy consumption. In 2001, China consumed 9.8 per cent of the world's energy supplies and in keeping with current trends this would increase to above 14 per cent by 2025. While household consumption has increased considerably too, this dwarfs the demands of industry.
China is the second largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world behind the USA. Its present 12.7 per cent share will reach 18 per cent by 2025. The government is the biggest investor in the transport infrastructure. However, the measures designed to reduce emission from the transport sector have not been effective hitherto. The number of automobiles is rising sharply and the delivery industry is expanding by 7 per cent annually. This immense expansion is not accompanied by technical development, the efficacy of fuel-consumption is not improving and thus, the carbon dioxide emission of the transport sector is rising significantly.
The intensity of energy consumption, too, has remained low in China. This is indicated by the fact that energy consumption has increased more than the population and economic growth would justify.
China did not join the Kyoto Treaty, i.e. it did not consent to the compulsory incremental reduction of carbon dioxide emission. While in terms of energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission China is the second in the world behind the United States - owing to the enormity of the population - the quantity per capita is still lower than the world average. The government is trying to reduce the domestic manufacture of energy-demanding products and is encouraging their imports instead.
With the assistance of the UN and the USA, China is preparing a long-term strategy designed to increase energy resources and reduce environmental pollution. In the next decades, hydro-energy will be one of the most important renewable sources of energy. They are constructing gigantic hydroelectric plants and dams to fend off the regular devastating floods especially on the River Yang-Tse. However, it is a paradox of the situation that the constructions in themselves cause real environmental catastrophes.
At present, China's nuclear-based energy production is not significant: it is less than one per cent of the country's energy production. According to plans, it will be about four per cent by 2025.
Several factors will influence future energy consumption and the state of the environment, including population- and economic growth, the transformation of the industrial infrastructure, technological modernisation and the change in the utilisation of energy resources. Today, China is a developing country at the stage of intensive industrialisation. The expansion of the economy, population growth and the quest for a better consumer standard will increase energy consumption, as well as escalate environmental pollution, despite a more efficient utilisation of energy.
In 1998, the State Environment Protection Office was created to formulate an environment protection- and regulation policy. However, despite the efforts of the government, the magnitude of environmental pollution remained high. With the help of a law on cleaner energy production endorsed in 2002, the Chinese government wants to reduce the almost unbearable environmental pollution in China's ten largest cities. The utmost priority of China at the start of the 21st century is to develop technology, which does not devastate the environment.
Concerns about the environment and environmental protection are becoming increasingly important for Chinese society. Protests and demonstrations - unimaginable earlier - are being staged against some especially hazardous investments. On December 6, 2005, the police shot twenty people during protest demonstrations against the construction of a power station in the Province of Kuantung.
All things considered, short-term gains seem to be more important for China than the prevention of an environmental catastrophe in the future. However, current trends could bring about a negative balance for China in the long term, since - due to the destruction of the environment - it will have to pay more for economic growth than its worth.