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Opinions about the development of the environmental protection industry during the 12th FYP period
In the conference proceedings of the 12th International Environmental Protection Exhibition and Conference which occurred earlier this month, there was included a very nice analysis of China’s 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015) as it relates to the environmental protection industry, written by the China Association of Environmental Protection Industry (CAEPI). It includes some history on the environmental protection industry in China, future trends for development, and most importantly China’s environmental industry development within the context of the 12th Five Year Plan, which is a policy guidance document which sets the goals for the next five years for the country.
6 Main Task Areas for the environment are identified in the analysis. In order, they are:
- Water Pollution Prevention and Treatment
- Air Pollution Prevention and Treatment
- Solid Waste Treatment and Disposal
- Noise and Vibration Control
- Environmental Monitoring
- Environmental Services Industry
You can download both the original Chinese article and my (unofficial) English translation of the document below.
China’s Five Year Plans: Importance and Implementation
China’s Five Year Plans (FYP) are important documents that China uses to direct the overall goals of the governance of the country. They are like blueprints for economic and social growth and industrial planning in key sectors. Although most people refer to the FYPs as a single document, in actually they represent a complex collection of government documents, including previously-implemented development plans and hundreds of policy initiatives, all of which are constantly being revised during the five year circle that they are meant to guide. As a kind of summarizing document, the FYP serves as a overarching vision of the state of the country. Studying the documents relating to the most current FYP is important not only to government officials, legislators, and state-run enterprises; the content of the FYPs will influence the amount of government spending in certain sectors and framing one’s goals within those of the country is prudent for private business, Chinese and international, as well.
The first FYP was made for the period 1953-1957, so 2011 is the first year in the 12th cycle of FYPs. In the previous few months, there was much discussion on the implementation success of the 11th FYP, which will influence the content and implementation techniques for the 12th FYP. Since this blog address environmental issues, I will try to speak about the FYPs’ implementation as they relate to China’s environment.
The implementation of the last year of the 11th FYP (2006-2010), was discussed in depth on March 5, 2011 at the Fourth Session of the Eleventh National People’s Congress and a report (available in English) was prepared by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The summary included six points that were reported on:
- Steady and rapid economic growth was maintained
- The agricultural foundation was consolidated
- Economic restructuring was carried out vigorously
- Significant progress was made in energy conservation and environmental protection and in responding to climate change.
- Reform and opening up were further intensified.
- Efforts to ensure and improve the people s wellbeing were comprehensively strengthened.
Of these six, three are particularly relevant to the environment. The “agricultural foundation” that was consolidated in the second point refers to the three issues of rural areas, agricultural production, and farmers’ livelihoods. Water conservation is a big issue in agriculture. Currently, China not only needs to worry about food production for a rapidly growing urban population, but it also has to think about water conservation practices that will make food production more sustainable with the highest possible efficiency. In 2010, according to the NDRC report, the Central Government successfully formulated and carried out policies to intensify the construction of small and medium-sized water conservancy facilities. In addition, because public works in rural areas is generally also lagging behind urban areas, the living conditions of the rural population was also a big issue in 2010. The NDRC reported stated that in 2010 safe drinking water was provided to an additional 61.9 million rural residents than in 2009.
The second point that is of interest is economic restructuring. This point relates to the industrial and infrastructure plans that support the economic growth policies included in the first point. Low-efficiency “backward” production facilities were targeted for shut-down, including low capacity thermal power plants, steel mills, iron foundries, cement plants, plate glass plants, and paper mills. Shutting down small industries will allow the central government to better regulate contaminant emissions from industry, and to ensure that growth is happening in the most efficient way possible. In addition, this section also reported on massive infrastructural work that China accomplished during this period.
Nationwide, 4,986 kilometers of railway lines were put into operation, raising the total to 91,000; 120,000 kilometers of highways were opened to traffic, raising the total to 3.98 million; 500 kilometers of high-grade inland waterways were opened to navigation, raising the total to 10,000; 125 deepwater seaport berths were put into service, raising the total to 1,774; and 9 new civilian airports were put into service, raising the total to 175. Some 1.66 million kilometers of optical cables were installed, raising the total to 9.95 million kilometers; and 49.24 million broadband Internet access ports were opened up, raising the total to 188 million. We intensified the construction of key energy projects, energy bases, and storage and transportation facilities. Eleven out of 13 large coalmining bases have already reached a production capacity of 100 million tons.
Lastly, the point on environmental protection and energy conservation stated that all targets for energy targets and emissions reductions were met. These included installation of high-efficiency air conditioning units, and promotion of energy-efficient vehicles, and energy-saving light bulbs. The reported stated that through the implementation of 10 major national energy conservation projects, the energy equivalent of 33.1 million tons of standard coal was saved. Resource reuse was demonstrated through mineral recovery bases in urban areas. In 2010, 76.9% of urban sewage was treated, an increase of 1.6 percentage points from the previous year, and 72.5% of urban household waste was safely handled, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from 2009. Energy consumption, chemical oxygen demand, and sulfur dioxide emissions all met or exceeded the goals set by the 11th FYP during the period from 2006-2010. Several specific remediation and reforestation projects were also mentioned, including the grassland remediation, virgin forest protection projects, and remediation of long-time problem areas, such as Dianchi Lake, and Tai Lake. According to the report, implementation had positive results. Lastly in this point, climate change was mentioned. The central government effectively implemented China’s National Climate Change Program. Successes in international exchanges and cooperation for improvement in low-carbon technology was emphasized.
After summarizing the achievements of the 11th FYP and the work accomplished in 2010, there are six problems listed which are designated as “serious conflicts and problems facing domestic development”. The first problem listed is the issues relating to agriculture and rural development. Insufficient farmland and freshwater scarcity, poor water conservancy infrastructure, uncertainties over climate change, and generally low levels of agricultural science and technology will continue to be major constraints to agriculture and rural development that will have to be addressed. Another point within the six problems mentioned is that resource and environmental constraints have intensified. Energy usage and resource consumption is increasing too quickly and the level of major contaminant emission is too high. Energy-intensive and high-pollution industries are continuing to grow too quickly.
From the NDRC document, it is evident that there are possibly a few areas where expertise in sustainable design and green infrastructure will be very important. Civil engineering can be used in overall masterplanning to improve local hydrology in agricultural areas and water quality and supply in urban and rural areas. Energy conservation can be accomplished through applying guidelines such as those suggested by LEED in new buildings and communities. The transfer of these techniques that are more common in the United States and other developed countries to the Chinese environment is an area with an enormous amount of potential to make vast improvements.
Old Summer Palace: Example of Chinese Public Involvement in Environmental Issues
The Old Summer Palace is one of the “must sees” for both Chinese and international visitors to Beijing. Historically, the 860 acres, comprised of the Garden of Perfect Brightness, the Garden of Eternal Spring, and the Elegant Spring Garden has been known as the “Garden of Gardens” in Chinese for its once exquisite collections of stone palaces, landscaping, waterscaping and artwork. After the looting and burning of the site by British and French troops in 1860 during the Opium War however, the ruins of the Old Summer Palace still represent the shame of many Chinese feel from foreign imperialist forces in China’s modern history. The importance of the site is unquestionable, both for international visitors and for Chinese.
Thus, when Chinese environmental activist and visiting professor at Lanzhou University, Zhengchun Zhang posted an open letter was on the Internet in 2005, exposing park officials’ plans to line the gardens’ lake beds with plastic to prevent lakes’ water from being lost through infiltration into the underlying groundwater, a storm of public outrage erupted. Although the plan to seal the lakebed was made in the good interest of the preservation of the Old Summer Palace’s waterfront aesthetics, it was exposed that the plan, which had an estimated cost of 3.6 million US dollars, did not undergo any environmental impact assessment, an approval required by law before any construction begins.
The decision to line the beds of the lakes within the Old Summer Palace with plastic came from the park administration. Beijing is one of the thirstiest cities in the world, with a per capita water resource amount of only one-thirtieth the international average. Falling groundwater levels have also caused surface water to infiltrate more quickly into the ground so that for the lakes such as those in the Old Summer Palace, surface water levels also fall. Because rainwater is also scarce, replenishment of the lake took place artificially, putting extra burden on the city’s already-strained municipal water supply. With no action, the water has to be added into the lakes three times per year; with the planned liners, they only have to be artificially replenished once per year. Preventing loss of water from infiltration to the underlying groundwater would be able to maintain water levels for the flora and fauna dependent on the lakes.
However, opponents of the plan debated fiercely through both online and traditional media outlets. The plan was reminiscent of many other projects to line canals and riverbeds with cement, which began in the 1990’s in Beijing and contributed new ecological challenges. Hard-facing water bodies eliminates interaction between water and the underlying sediment, a crucial part of the ecosystem balance. It also changes the overall hydrology. In summer months, concrete –surfaced lakes heats faster than sediment and accelerates evaporation. The flows between water bodies could also be disrupted, and could change some areas into “dead water”, or even accelerate flow out of the site. Although the plan for the Old Summer Palace called for plastic liners, possible toxic effects of such liners on the ecosystem were not evaluated in any way. Others said that the surface water bodies within the park also constitute historical marsh areas which recharge the areas groundwater levels. Without evaluation, the effects of cutting off such a such of groundwater replenishment were unknown.
Because of the amount of attention the project garnered through online discussion forums and traditional media, the first-ever national level environmental public hearing was called by the National State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA, now the Ministry of Environmental Protection). This was the first time that environmental governance was spurred through pressure from the general public rather than from regulatory officials, and thus, was a milestone in China’s environmental democratization.
As a result, Tsinghua University’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Office was called upon to carry out a public report on the site, which at the time of the public hearing, already neared completion. This report was assembled by a team of university experts and made the following recommendations:
1. The eastern portion of the site should not carry out further sealing using the plastic membrane, and that natural clay material should be used to reduce infiltration.
2. The plastic membrane installed at the mouth of Elegant Spring Garden should be removed and replaced with clay filling and the original sediment of the lake. The banks of the lake should not utilize any sealing membrane.
3. The areas of Eternal Spring Garden lake higher than 40.7 meters should immediately remove the sealant membrane and fill with clay. No sealant membrane should be used on the banks.
4. The installed sealant membrane in Fuhai Lake should be modified. Where gravel has been used as fill, the surface sand should be replaced with natural clay and all the original sediment should be replaced. Other than the area within 10 meters of the dock, the sealant membrane on the revetments of other areas should be removed to ensure adequate infiltration. Additionally, in order to satisfy the ecological needs of the Old Summer Palace park grounds, water usage plans must be made systematically, and the efforts must be made to ensure the quality of the water and prevent contamination
The assessment by Tsinghua University was accepted by SEPA. The report also acknowledged that while these recommendations would likely improve the water shortage situation in the lakes, the impact of the regional hydrology was likely to suffer, and because construction of the sealed lakebeds already neared completion at the time of the report, the true ecological costs of the project could not be assessed.
The expert team from Tsinghua University and general public participants in the hearing mentioned the use of reclaimed wastewater to replenish the lakes. However, like many other water-intensive industries that have been instructed to make use of the city’s reclaimed wastewater resources, it is possible that the limited distribution network and the quality of the reclaimed wastewater may make this difficult presently. In addition, other experts suggested that the sizing and depths of the lakes be adjusted to reflect Beijing’s current water scarcity situation.
Although there may not be one comprehensive answer to the challenges of preserving this historical site, the public hearing held by SEPA at the time fostered the government’s support of public debate on environmental issues. One source reports that in a random sampling of 100 articles returned from a Google search “The Old Summer Palace EIA”, 60 were classified as news articles from major media sources, and 15% were articles from personal blogs or webpages. BBS threads were also an important means of communication, with about half expressing “outrage”, one-sixth supporting the idea of water-tight membranes for conserving water in the lakes, and about 35% expressing neutrality. The second-most supported BBS message on one forum (after one expressing outrage at the membrane itself) was one that expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the construction of the project was begun without any environmental impact assessment.
A report done by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, found that EIAs in China currently do not sufficiently incorporate ecological issues. A personal conversation with a developer based in Beijing, also confirmed that of all the permits required for a new development, the environmental permits are the easiest to secure. The major problems were listed as follows:
Lack of baseline information about ecological subjects;
Inadequate skill sets among environmental assessment practitioners related to impact prediction, mitigation and restoration, and monitoring.
Post-impact monitoring is not strongly emphasized in training programs
Little value of the importance of public participation in assessments and methods to involve communities
Insufficient sharing of best practice models and international experiences among assessment practitioners.
The above are opportunities for improvement, but, the direction is positive. The same report states that a survey of practitioners of EIAs in China revealed that all showed genuine interest in learning how to better predict environmental impacts. In 2002, the Central Government also released a new version of the China Environmental Impact Assessment Law, which, in addition to requiring all renovation and construction projects carry out EIAs, also encourages greater public participation in the “social duty” of environmental protection. The case of the lakebed sealing at the Old Summer Palace Site, is an excellent and positive example of the future of public participation and EIA.
World Water Day 2011
The United Nations General Assembly declared the first World Water Day as March 22, 1993. Eighteen years later March 22 still serves as a day to focus the world’s attention on the under availability of freshwater and the importance of sustainable water management.
Each year a new topic is presented for the world to spotlight. In the past these topics have included women and water in 1995, groundwater in 1998, water and disasters in 2004, water and culture in 2006, water scarcity in 2007, and water quality in 2010. This year the theme is “Water for Cities, Responding to the Urban Challenge.”
Currently, 3.3 billion people live in cities. That number grows by two people every second. This accounts for half of the world’s population. 93% of this urbanization occurs in poor, developing countries. People in underdeveloped urban areas have the least access to freshwater and also pay the highest costs for “clean” water.
Utility companies in urban areas are becoming less able to sustain themselves. It is becoming impossible to extend sewers to slums and current piping infrastructure is already unable to handle waste loads in many areas.
It is for this reason that all infrastructure projects must begin using sustainable designs, especially water and wastewater projects. These measures should include rainwater harvesting, low impact development stormwater design, sustainable blackwater management, and water recycling, reuse, and conservation.
There are five key messages that need promotion regarding urbanization and water services.
- The impact of urbanization on the water sector: as the world’s population grows, especially in informal cities, providing water and wastewater services will become increasingly important.
- The impact of sanitation, pollution and industrialization on the environment needs to be recognized. Two of the UN Millennium Development Goals are “halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” and “by 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.” Utilities and local governments need to push to meet these goals and explore opportunities to reuse urban waste in a way that can have social, economic and environmental benefits.
- World Water Day 2011 is focusing on the importance of non-corrupt, committed government and utility management. Strengthening local governments and improving regulation, professionalism and accountability to customers is vital in advancing water and wastewater services, especially in underdeveloped countries.
- Many counties can simply not afford to keep up with the implementation of new and sustainable infrastructure. New investment opportunities need to be explored, including tariffs, taxes and transfers.
- It needs to be understood that water availability depends on natural resources and in the future these resources are threatened by extreme weather events and a changing climate. It is becoming increasingly important to adapt infrastructure to climate change, to protect the environment when designing new networks and to reuse water to improve quality and quantity.
The growing population in cities creates huge opportunities! Cities are the hub of employment and wealth, as well as creative thinking. This means that hope for development of water and sewage services are greater in urban areas than rural areas which are more spread out and generate less income.
Hopefully, World Water Day 2011 will serve to expand the knowledge about the growing problem of water and urbanization, facilitate policy dialogue and promote discussion about innovative solutions to water and wastewater management issues.
The main event for World Water Day 2011 is being held in Cape Town, South Africa. However, there are SO many events being hosted all around the world. The official World Water Day website has a map and events lists to find and join in on events in your area.
The World Water Day 2011 official website has a huge amount of information on the event and links to materials and reading about water and urbanization. I encourage everyone to take a look and explore online a bit.
Containing the Oil Spill
BP has discontinued their calculations on the amount of oil exiting the well; they have handed this responsibility to the US government. Just yesterday, this taskforce announced that approximately 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil are flowing into the Gulf per day. On May 27, BP had estimated that anywhere between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels of oil were exiting the well per day. A month before that, the estimate was 5,000 barrels per day. The first estimate, given several days after the start of the spill, was a “mere” 1,000 barrels per day. 50 days after the oil spill, one could only hope that this number would start to decrease… not increase…
By studying the estimates given by BP, you will see that an almost perfectly (positive) linear relationship exists between the time that has elapsed and the magnitude of the flowrate. In fact, a 95% correlation exists.*
Last week, a containment cap was placed on the well to control the amount of oil exiting into the Gulf. The cap can capture 11,000 barrels per day. However, a large amount of oil is still escaping. The containment cap was designed to funnel the oil to a ship on the surface. Another containment system, which uses the pipes of a previously failed attempt to control the leak, directs more oil to an extra vessel. An additional method is supposed to be installed by the end of this month. This method is expected to withstand hurricane conditions.
The containment cap was lowered onto the failed blowout prevented (BOP) valve system on the seabed. The cap was placed on the lower marine riser package (LMRP) section of the BOP. On June 1, the damaged pipe which removes oil from the well, known as the riser, was cut near where it reaches the seabed. Undersea robots were used to cut through the riser close to the LMRP. After the riser was removed, the cap was lowered onto the LMRP, enabling the leaking oil to be funneled to the ship on the surface.
It is difficult to determine whether the cap is effectively working, mainly due to the lack of consensus regarding the magnitude of the spill. Currently, the total volume of oil that has escaped the well has been estimated to be anywhere between 20 million to 45 million gallons. The flowrate of oil leaving the well has fluctuated greatly and rapidly evolved – from an initial estimate of 1,000 barrels/day to a present estimate of 27,500 barrels/day.
Officials warned BP that cutting the riser may worsen the leak by 20%. Ira Leifer, an expert part of the government taskforce to determine the flowrate, believes that installing the containment cap has made the leak worse. Leifer claimed that the pipe is fluxing more than it previously did. BP has not made any claims as to whether the leak has worsened – they have merely claimed that their engineers are working to make the containment cap as efficient as possible.
Let’s say that cutting the riser did worsen the leak by 20%. The latest estimate by BP (approximately 27, 500 barrels/day) was released after the riser was cut. So according to officials, the exit rate of oil would have been approximately 4,580 barrels/day less, if the riser was not removed. However, the containment cap is projected to capture 11,000 barrels/day. Thus, the additional oil spewing out of the well from installing the containment cap is an additional sacrifice the Gulf of Mexico has to take.
However, we do not know if cutting the riser actually worsened the leak – just like the exit flowrate, there is no consensus on this matter either. BP has not made any statements on the efficacy of the cap. Some officials, including Leifer, believe that the cap worsened the spill by significantly more than 20%. The one thing that is certain about this oil spill is the amount of uncertainty it has produced. Oh, and of course, the amount of damage that it has caused, and will continue to cause.
Oil Pools near Barataria Bay on the Louisiana Coast
A permanent solution to the leak must be discovered soon. BP is digging two relief wells by the end of August. BP hopes that these wells will provide a permanent solution to the oil spill; again, it is uncertain whether they will be truly successful.
The spill has killed 11 humans; many birds and marine animals have either been severely injured or killed. A third of the federal waters of the Gulf remain closed to fishing. Admiral Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard described the oil spill as “an insidious enemy that’s attacking our shores.” The oil spill has been called the nation’s worst environmental disaster. President Obama has claimed that if Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, worked for him, Hayward would have been fired for his poor handling of the oil spill.
* Calculated by plotting the estimated flowrate versus the number of days elapsed since the spill started. The estimates released on May 27th and June 10th were given as ranges. For the purpose of obtaining a correlation, the values were averaged to obtain an approximate flowrate of 15,500 barrels/day and 27,500 barrels/day respectively.
A Closer Look at Water Rights
Do you own the water coming out of your tap? In Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority opposes gray water reuse and requires users to return used water through the normal treatment pathways. In other words, the Southern Nevada homeowner pays to borrow the water –not to own it.
Whether you own your tap water or not depends on the supplier you receive it from (i.e. public vs. private suppliers). A more interesting question is: Who owns the rain?
Rainwater harvesting allows people to capture and store the rain that falls on their property. By keeping a stock of rainwater around, landowners reduce demand on the public tap and spare potable water from use in non-essential applications.
You may think you own the rain that falls on your property, but in many cases the water actually belongs to someone else with a “senior water right” in your state. “Prior appropriation,” also known as the Colorado Doctrine, appropriates quantities of limited water resources to whoever laid claim to them first.
Most states west of the Mississippi have adopted the prior appropriation system to deal with water allocation (eight states operate exclusively on prior appropriation, the rest use a blend with riparian water rights). Landowners who possess senior water rights granted by the State are given priority access to water before everyone else. Junior water rights holders are allowed access to the same water resources so long as their use does not prevent senior rights holders from getting their share.
Since rainwater may eventually become part of streams, lakes, and groundwater, some states have forbidden rainwater harvesting because the act intercepts water before it can reach those with senior water rights. Until recently, you could face criminal charges for collecting rainwater in Colorado or Utah.
Policies are changing. Until June 2009 it was illegal to collect rainwater in Colorado without a water right. Today, Colorado residents can install rain collectors after obtaining a permit from the Colorado Division of Water Resources. In October, the Washington Department of Ecology clarified that homeowners do not need to obtain water rights to harvest rain, but it also stated that it would review rainwater harvesting’s impact on existing water rights to make a more absolute judgment. Utah followed suit in may this year, making it legal to collect up to 2500 gallons in rain barrels but requiring users to register rain barrels with the Utah Division of Water Resources.
While it is now legal to collect rainwater in Colorado and Utah, the fact that you need a permit to do so suggests that the rain hitting your roof still does not belong to you.
Is it legitimate to promise senior rights holders water that hasn’t yet reached their claimed rivers and streams? Or is this extension of prior appropriation on to private property a breach on others’ property rights? Who has the right to own water? Or should we view water as a shared resource that lies outside the realm of private ownership?
People often advocate graywater reuse or rainwater harvesting without considering the deeper political debate behind water resources. Depending on how you view water and property rights, for instance, rainwater harvesting can be interpreted as theft or it can be interpreted as use of your own naturally supplied water.
We welcome your opinions about water rights. Feel free to comment on this post and let us know what you think!
Sometimes the water rights conflict becomes a state affair. Here are a few historic state battles over prior appropriation:
Wyoming v. Colorado: Wyoming, having claimed rights to the Laramie River before the State of Colorado, sued to prevent Colorado from diverting flow away from Wyoming. The court ruled in favor of Wyoming but granted Colorado a small share of the water in the system.
Arizona v. California: Water from the Colorado River is allocated to states by prior appropriation. Arizona and California have a long history of water conflict around the Colorado. In 1934, Arizona governor Benjamin Moeur sent troops from the state’s National Guard to stop construction of the Parker Dam on the border of Arizona and California. The dam would route part of the Colorado River flow away from Arizona and into Los Angeles.
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- Sherwood Event @ Greenbuild 2012
- SSIR – Bangalore Lakes by Michel St. Pierre
- Michael Thorton: Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship
- Featured Box
- New Bangalore Lakes Project Video
- Opinions about the development of the environmental protection industry during the 12th FYP period
- 12th China International Environmental Protection Exhibition and Conference
- China’s Five Year Plans: Importance and Implementation
- My Research at Tsinghua University
- Old Summer Palace: Example of Chinese Public Involvement in Environmental Issues