China has the largest population of any country currently, at a figure of 1.418 billion. As the country with the world’s largest population, China has been the world’s largest emitter of CO2 annually since 2006. Annual CO2 emissions were 10.15 billion tonnes in 2016, with the next largest emitters being the United States and India.
China’s energy consumption in 2016 was 10000 tonnes of standard coal equivalent. 64% of China’s energy consumption was generated using Coal, and even though that percentage of energy has been decreasing since 2011, China’s energy usage has been increasing since 2017, and thus China’s Coal consumption is still steadily increasing. However, even though China is the largest emitter of CO2 in the world, it’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions are still smaller than that of many other large countries like the United States, India, and Russia. Thus, China feels the effect of global warming and its citizens are mostly supportive of implementing policies to mitigate the effects of climate change.
A survey by the China Climate Change Communication program showed that over out of 4025 interviewees, over 79.8% of Chinese citizens felt concerned over climate change, and 94% of interviewees supported the Paris Climate Change agreement. Almost 70% of interviewees also indicated that they were willing to buy environmentally friendly products in order to help prevent climate change. Furthermore, many of these citizens also felt that their actions as individuals were also able to impact climate change, although most still viewed the government as the one most responsible for combating climate change.
The attitude of the Chinese government against Climate Change has also shifted considerably over the years, as it historically believed that climate change should be solved by industrialized and first world countries, but has now started to encourage countries to support the Paris Climate Change agreement, even in the wake of the withdrawal of the United States in 2017.
The purpose of this essay is to analyze the negative effects of pollution on China, as well as to analyze the efforts made by China to combat climate change. This essay will address the research question, being – “To what extent has pollution negatively affected china, and what efforts have been made to combat climate change?”. By examining three factors – Effects of pollution, Carbon Trading, and Renewable Energy, the negative effects of pollution and the efforts made by China will be investigated.
Effects of Pollution
Less than a decade ago, many businesses were still ongoing in many Chinese cities, cities that were engulfed in clouds of pollution. The gray haze could be so dense that buildings and trees would “disappear” in front of people. The Chinese population, of them, had to wear facial masks to avoid directly breathing toxic air. The effects of pollution on the people of China were inevitable. Because of the emissions created from factories, the number of people diagnosed with cancer that plagues the population has increased.
Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer that has affected the population. In 2015, there were more than 4.3 million new cancer cases in the country and more than 2.8 million people died from the disease. According to a report, Cancer statistics in China 2015, published on 25 January 2016 and reported by the American Cancer Society, the largest contributor to avoidable cancer deaths in China is chronic infection, which is estimated to account for 29% of cancer deaths. Chronic infection can be developed from exposure to outdoor air pollution, which pollution in China is considered to be among the worst in the world. Exposure to indoor air pollution through heating and cooking using coal and other biomass fuels, and the contamination of soil and drinking water can also develop chronic infections.
Evidently, the Chinese population is exposed to many environmental carcinogens in the pollution that plagues the air. The source of much of that pollution was easy to narrow down, coal. Since the early 2000s, China’s economy has been growing rapidly, powered largely by coal. The unchecked use of coal on such a huge scale did not take long to generate real problems. In 2005, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s largest CO2 emitter. And in 2008, it was evaluated that 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world were in China, as reported by the World Bank.
China also suffers from other effects of global warming such as sea level rise and glacier retreat. The effects of climate change in China will lead to serious setbacks to healthcare and have the potential to cause large financial impacts. China is already experiencing the effects of Climate change, take for example China has been affected by global warming, observing a ground temperature average increase of almost 0.24 degrees per decade, exceeding the average global ground temperature increase rate. Additionally, sea level rise in China has been increasing at a rate of 3.3mm/s per year from 1980 to 2017.
A former Chinese official also said temperatures are increasing four times quicker in the Tibetan Plateau than anywhere else in the globe. The sea-level rise is particularly alarming as China has a big and densely populated coastline, with many major cities such as Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Shanghai near the coast. A Chinese study has shown that an increase in sea level of one meter would inundate 92,000 square kilometers of the shore of China, thus displacing 67 million individuals.
Ecological disasters related to climate change have also increased the occurrence of climate-related disasters such as drought and floods. These disasters can cause great consequences for productivity when they occur, and create serious repercussions for the natural environment and infrastructure. This poses a threat to millions of lives and can lead to poverty. This can also cause issues for the agricultural industry in China, as the negative effects such as higher temperatures and droughts will prevent the steady production of crops. Agricultural instability will be caused, where there will be lower production and lower quality of crops. Reduced outputs of important crops like wheat, rice, and corn can occur, causing drastic effects on the country’s food source. This can prove destructive as an agriculture industry of a country as big as China would affect the population negatively.
Apart from this, other categories of environmental problems in China are water problems, soil problems, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and mega projects. China has been noted for the frequency, number, extent, and damage of its natural disasters, where some natural disasters in China are closely related to human environmental impacts, especially dust storms, landslides, droughts, and floods. Natural disasters caused by the human environment can also be destructive to the population, causing millions of deaths and dislocations of the population.
Water vapor and smoke rise from a steel plant in northeastern China. The country’s new carbon-trading scheme will cover about 1,700 coal- and natural gas-based power-generating companies in its first phase. Photo: Bloomberg
Carbon emissions trading is a form of emissions trading that specifically targets carbon dioxide (calculated in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent or tCO2e) and it currently constitutes the bulk of emissions trading. This form of permit trading is a common method countries utilize in order to meet their obligations specified by the Kyoto Protocol; namely the reduction of carbon emissions in an attempt to reduce future climate change.
Under Carbon trading, a country or a polluter having more emissions of carbon is able to purchase the right to emit more and the country or entity having fewer emissions sells the right to emit carbon to other countries or entities. The countries or polluting entities emitting more carbon thereby satisfy their carbon emission requirements, and the trading market results in the most cost-effective carbon reduction methods being exploited first. For any given expenditure on carbon reduction, the market mechanism will result in the greatest reduction.
The Chinese national carbon trading scheme is a cap and trade system for carbon dioxide emissions that is set to be implemented by the end of 2017. This emission trading scheme (ETS) creates a carbon market where emitters can buy and sell emission credits. From this scheme, China can limit emissions, but allow economic freedom for emitters to reduce emissions or purchase emission allowances from other emitters. China is currently the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and many major Chinese cities have severe air pollution. With this plan, China will soon be the largest market in carbon trading. The scheme will limit emissions from six of China’s top carbon dioxide emitting industries, including coal-fired power plants, reducing air pollution that could harm the population or influence climate change.
China was able to gain experience in drafting and implementing an ETS plan from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where China was part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). From this experience with carbon markets and lengthy discussions with the next largest carbon market, the European Union (EU), as well as analysis of small-scale pilot markets in major Chinese cities and provinces, China’s national ETS will be the largest of its kind and will help China achieve its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) from the Paris Agreement in 2016.
As a result, with the carbon emissions trading scheme, China will be able to reduce the emissions produced from carbon dioxide emitting industries. This would help China combat climate change, reducing the impact of air pollution from carbon dioxide emissions, which can be harmful to the country as mentioned in Effects of Pollution.
Electricity is essential to the running of any modern civilization, and China is no exception. Most of China’s energy is produced using Coal, with nearly 77% or 907 GW of energy generated using coal, and this means that China contributed nearly 28.8% or 10.4 billion tons of CO2 emissions to the world.
No matter how advanced the technologies used to create “green” infrastructure and machinery like electric vehicles or electrolysis are, the carbon emissions saved by using these kinds of technology will be “wasted” if fossil fuels like coal are still used to generate energy. Thus, the Chinese Government has tried to invest in renewable sources of energy like hydropower, which is currently China’s second-largest source of energy after coal. Hydropower in China had a capacity of over 319 GW in 2015 and was able to generate over 1,126 TWh of energy. This represented an increase of over 147 GW from just 6 years ago in 2009. This shows that Hydropower is clearly on an upward trend in China. However, it isn’t just hydropower that has been on an upwards trend.
As of 2017, energy generated by renewable energy is nearly 35% and is only set to increase as time goes on. Other types of renewable energy are also gaining popularity in China, with China being the largest producer of photovoltaic power, with 43 GW of total installed capacity. It is also cheaper for China to use renewable energies, as it has become the largest world’s largest manufacturer of Photovoltaics in 2015. However, renewable energies like hydropower also pose significant disadvantages to the conventional use of fossil fuels to generate energy, for example, the long transmission lines required to transmit energy from places where it is generated to the population centers of China result in large losses. Furthermore, Hydropower in China has also resulted in the need to flood large areas of farmland and natural habitats, displacing millions of people and wreaking havoc on the environment, for example in the building of the Three Gorges Dam, where construction of dam caused a drop in forested area around the dam from 20% to less than 10%.
Using other forms of renewable energy like solar power also causes problems as the manufacturing of solar panels creates poisonous by-products which Chinese companies often do not dispose of properly, leading to toxic waste often entering the environment. Thus, even though China has tried to combat Climate Change by using renewable energy, it has to ensure that it does so without severely impacting the environment and in a cost-effective manner, or else using renewable energies will ironically create more pollution and lead to more climate change.
In conclusion, China has long been affected by various forms of Climate Change, which has not only affected the environment but also the people of China. This is due in part to the pollution caused by the rapid industrialization of China in the 20th and 21st Centuries, which have led to extremely primitive and toxic forms of energy like coal being used in order to bring down costs and enable the Chinese economy to easily scale to meet demand. However, this overreliance on harmful sources of energy like fossil fuels has resulted in China being plagued by various environmental issues like bad air quality, polluted water sources, and many others. This has resulted in many health issues for Chinese citizens and has also led to ecological disasters like floods and droughts, as well as more noticeable effects like rapid sea level rise.
In 2006, China even became the largest emitter of CO2 in the world, which means that it is basically the largest contributor to climate change. In Order to combat this, the Chinese government has taken measures like switching to renewable energy and implementing Carbon Taxes to try to reduce pollution and carbon emissions in order to combat Climate Change, a far cry from its stance just 6 years ago when Chinese officials were rejecting the idea of taking the lead on Climate Change. Thus, even though China is still a large contributor to Climate Change and pollution, it is taking steps in the right direction to reduce emissions and pollution and should be able to become a much “greener” and environmentally friendly country if it continues on the right path.