Environmental problems in China

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Coal factory, China. Used with permission from the photographer [www.iamtonyang.com]
© Tony Yang

Local problems leading to global disasters?

For centuries, China has been the most populous nation on Earth. Today, its population's impact on the environment is evident even in the most remote areas.
But with an unprecedented economic boom, these effects are taking very serious proportions. While individual use of resources remains low, the cumulative impact of steady growth in the consumption of over a billion people is tremendous.
This is felt far beyond China’s borders. Logging, fishing and hunting to meet demands of the Chinese market pose threats to biodiversity as far away as Africa. It is estimated that by 2025 the nation will be the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases.
 / ©: WWF
What is WWF doing about the problems?
© WWF

Habitat and biodiversity loss

Ill-planned hydrological engineering projects, which interrupt the natural flow of rivers, and conversion of wetlands for agriculture and unsuitable construction and infrastructure projects in the flood plain have destroyed ecosystems and driven species out of their natural homes.

For example, habitat loss has left pandas clinging for survival, as large areas of natural forest have been cleared for agriculture, timber and fuelwood.

Of all the species listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as critically endangered, one quarter is found in China. The indiscriminate and excessive hunting of wildlife continues to be extremely serious, and has so far resisted repeated attempts at control.

Air pollution

Respiratory and heart diseases related to air pollution are the leading cause of death in China.

While some progress has been achieved in improving energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions reduction, 75% of energy production is still dependent on coal. Meanwhile, demand for automobiles is growing fast. Various studies estimate pollution costs the Chinese economy about 7-10% of GDP each year.

Water pollution

Decades of waste poured from factories and cities into China's rivers have turned many of them into open sewers. About 40% of the water in the country's river systems has a quality index of 3 or worse, meaning that it is unfit for human consumption.

The water quality of major lakes (including reservoirs) and urban lakes is also relatively poor, with many suffering algal blooms and eutrophication.

China produces a new coal-fired power station every week, and will be the world’s biggest emitter of carbon-dioxide by 2030.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson

Desertification and erosion

Desertification has already swept over almost 30% of China’s land. Every year, this area increases by about 2,460 km2. In Inner Mongolia, residents have been forced to abandon their villages because the desertification of land is so severe.
While the desert expands, the soil disappears - up to 5 billion tonnes of it is lost every year through erosion. The nutrients lost are the equivalent of 40 million tonnes of fertilizer, which in turn equals the amount of chemical fertilizer used annually by Chinese agriculture.

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