October 31, 2020

The industrial reconversion of China, pending task of the biggest polluter

The industrial reconversion of China, pending task of the biggest polluter



China, the most polluting country in the world, attends the Climate Summit (COP24) held in Poland with the medal of being also the largest investor in renewable energies, although with pending tasks: the reconversion of its heavy industry, responsible for the of its harmful emissions.

According to the Global Carbon Project pollution observatory, China leads the dismal world payroll of more polluting countries, with 10,151 million tons of carbon emitted in 2016, which accounted for almost a third of the total.

However, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs of China (IPE, by its English acronym), Ma Jun, believes that this figure will not continue to grow indefinitely and that the peak of emissions from the Asian country will arrive sooner than expected .

"China's coal consumption has stagnated since 2013, more or less," Ma tells Efe, "before that, consumption had tripled in the previous twelve years."

"In 2018, China has launched a three-year plan to try to win the battle for a blue sky by the end of 2020. To achieve this, it continues to strive to control the consumption of coal and try to restructure heavy industry, which requires a lot of energy," says the expert, who will travel to Poland for the climate summit.

For Ma, industries such as textiles, chemistry, steel or cement – of the most polluting – still depend today on excessively inefficient coal, and its connection to the electric grid would increase efficiency while cutting pollution .

But at the moment the volume of energy generated by renewables in China (around 62% is still dependent on coal, according to data from the Chinese Academy of Engineering for 2017) is not enough to feed the insatiable energy appetite of Chinese heavy industries.

In the civil section, the bans on the use of coal as a heating fuel and its replacement by gas, and the clear commitment to electric vehicles both in public and private transport have meant an improvement in the Chinese skies, in addition to a decrease in the daily noise pollution.

In addition, China has launched this year a new "superministry" of Ecology and Environment, which has buried the very limited Department of Environmental Protection, with duplicated powers with the ministries of Land and National Resources, Water Resources and Agriculture, among others .

Among the most important challenges of the new ministry is to control the melting of its glaciers, which represent the water source of some 1,800 million people in the region.

On November 20, the environmental organization Greenpeace warned that one fifth of these glaciers has already disappeared, and urged the country to take urgent measures to prevent melting.

"Unless drastic measures are taken to reduce the speed of the temperature increase, it is expected that by the end of the century approximately two thirds of the glaciers in the high mountains of Asia will disappear," Greenpeace said at the time.

The open environmental fronts of the Chinese Executive are countless: the contamination of their soil, their air and water, the massive plantation of trees to stop desertification in the north and west of the country or the management of their waste, a topic that began to attack precisely a year ago.

Despite its limited disposal capacity, since the 1980s, China had become the world's largest landfill and annually imported thousands of tons of "foreign garbage" (solid waste).

At the end of 2017 the Chinese government put in place a law to prohibit the import of waste such as household plastics or unsorted paper and next year will expand the number of materials.

With recycling plants desiring material, the Executive has put the focus in recent months on another outstanding issue: social awareness of the need to recycle domestic resources, with numerous plans in favor of recycling.

And it leads worldwide in other fields: at present, China is the largest investor and producer of renewable energy and, according to the International Energy Agency, in the next five years, 36 and 40% of the global growth of solar energy and wind (respectively) will come from the Asian country.

The forecasts of the International Energy Agency add that, if the trend continues, China will produce 55% of its energy from renewable sources by 2040.

Meanwhile, in the street, the fundamental debate is waged between those who bet for a development at any price and those who look more for the environment, although among the Chinese consulted pollution seems to be a lesser evil and prefer to have a full pocket instead of clean lungs.

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