China To Invest $175 Billion in Environmental Clean Up

In the latest mixture of red and green, today China announced it will spend an unprecedented 1.4 trillion yuan ($175 billion)—about 1.5 percent of its GDP—on projects aimed at controlling water pollution, improving air quality in smog-choked cities, disposing of solid waste, and halting soil erosion, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Sewage treatment plants will be built in 10 river valleys, 31 waste facilities will be set up nationwide, and new nuclear safety measures will be taken under the plan. As Xinhua adds, "Official estimates show that the annual output value of China's environmental protection industry will top 880 billion yuan by the end of 2010, with an annual growth rate of 15 percent."The country's latest green announcement comes a day after Chinese officials released a report looking forward to the use of more alternative energies and "clean coal" (see also this week's Time on the latter) and one week after the State Environmental Protection Agency ordered that half of the country's 7,555 chemical plants, many located near heavily populated areas, be altered or relocated because they pose "grave environmental risks." The survey was conducted in the wake of last November's chemical plant explosion in northeast China's Jilin Province, which polluted the Songhua River and threatened the drinking water of millions of residents, becoming an emblem for China's drastic water situation. As the country's leaders have recognized—especially visionaries like environmental minister Pan Yue—environmental protection is not only ecologically necessary as the country's growth speeds along, but is crucial if that growth is to continue.

In sum, it's an impressive investment for the country with 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities. But all that smog—and a continued emphasis on top-down, statist policies versus a sustainable, market-oriented, and innovation-friendly model (see, for instance, Josh Ramo's Beijing Consensus)—can still make it hard to see a tangible end to China's ecological problems, no matter how many yuan are spent.

: : Reuters and Xinhua
Photo of Feng Jie, near the Three Gorges Dam project, by Edward Burtynsky.

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