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We've all seen the length to which China has gone in order to burnish its environmental credentials ahead of the Olympics. Whether it be building sparkling new sustainable facilities for the Games or "forcing" good weather through unconventional means, China has been doing its utmost to ensure it not be perceived as eco-insensitive. The big question, however, remains: Will it stay green?
ES&T;'s Naomi Lubick ponders this very question in a recent story tracing China's progress-to-date and examining its future ambitions. While China may have already surpassed the U.S. in becoming the world's greatest emitter of carbon dioxide, what Lubick sees certainly portends well for the country's future.
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First, the less encouraging news: China's energy use and water degradation have surged over the past decade as the country's economy has ballooned, and the number of cars on the road has reached record levels. A leap in cement production accompanied the country's construction boom, translating into the emission of 950 million tons of CO2 in 2007 alone. Forcing clean air in the capital has also required some drastic steps: taking 1 million cars off the roads and artificially stimulating rain.
On a positive note, the Chinese government, realizing that its continued growth will depend on maintaining a stable environment, has pushed ahead with several ambitious new initiatives, including a 5-year plan (2006-2010) to reduce its carbon footprint by 20% through a mix of renewable sources -- with a heavy emphasis on solar and wind.
China has brought in officials from the EPA to help it craft new environmental legislation and has put a premium on developing stricter regulations -- though the central government's ability to enforce its decisions at the local level could cause some problems. In general, Lubick says the Chinese government has become much more practical about environmental protection and has taken several simple, though momentous, steps toward resolving many long-standing issues.
More importantly, the Chinese people and local governments are now asking that the central government do more to protect the nation's fragile environment. And who can ignore that kind of pressure?