June 5, 2006

China says pollution will worsen with economic boom

By Lindsay Beck

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's drive for economic growth is in
direct conflict with efforts to safeguard the environment, the
government warned on Monday, and degradation is worsening
despite official efforts to curb pollution.

A paper released by the cabinet on World Environment Day
came amid rising public concern about smoggy skies and toxic
spills that are poisoning rivers and drinking water, despite
government pledges to clean up in time for the 2008 Olympics.

"The conflict between environment and development is
becoming ever more prominent," the paper said.

The conflict is obvious in urban centres such as Beijing,
where 1,000 new vehicles take to the road each day. To mark
World Environment Day, about 250,000 people pledged to take up
a local initiative to leave their cars at home.

But in the city of more than 16 million, there was little
discernible impact on the capital's smoggy skies and the
evening rush hour was as congested as ever.

Auto emissions would only get worse, the China Daily said
in an editorial, warning that even better fuel standards would
have limited impact in the face of car ownership that is likely
to double in the next decade.

Economic growth was also straining resources, the cabinet
paper warned.

"Relative shortage of resources, fragile ecology and
insufficient environmental capacity are becoming critical
problems hindering China's development."


The ruling Communist Party has promised to balance economic
development with environmental safeguards, after a year in
which sandstorms coated the capital in dust and a chemical
spill poisoned a major river, thrusting its record on pollution
into the global spotlight.

But economic growth has been averaging about 10 percent
annually, far greater than the 7.5 percent growth rates on
which the government's targets for pollution reduction are

"If the economy is growing too rapidly, environmental
resources will be faced with tremendous pressures and therefore
such development is not sustainable," Zhu Guangyao,
vice-minister at the State Environmental Protection
Administration, said.

Considerations of land and other resources would play a
more prominent role in the approval process for large-scale
projects, Zhu told a news conference. Such projects have
sometimes led to riots over environmental pollution in recent

Zhu said implementing central government guidelines would
also be a challenge for local officials, who are accustomed to
being judged on growth above all else and are fearful of the
economic impact of tighter environmental controls.

"Local environmental NGOs do not dare criticize local
governments for their unscientific decisions," Zhu said. "Some
local governments are reluctant to implement or are even
working against environmental laws."

In Shanghai, China's richest city, the local environment
bureau was quoted as saying that companies that pollute would
find it harder to get loans because their green credentials
would be linked to their creditworthiness.

But China's enforcement is still dogged by under-funding
and a lack of resources, a senior SEPA official was quoted as
saying on the ministry's Web site (www.zhb.gov.cn).

"Investment in ecological protection is inadequate," the
official said. "We need to adopt more vigorous measures."

(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard)