China has the largest population in recent history, with their population and industrialization process rapidly growing. According to Statista, China’s population is estimated around 1.3 to 1.4 million people with their estimated GDP at around 11 billion dollars (Jaaskelainen, Statista). China is on track to become the next superpower in the world. However with the journey of becoming a superpower in today’s world, there comes a numerous amounts of side effects that impact the global stage and the country itself.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), China has a massive carbon footprint as one half of the world’s coal supply is consumed in China annually and an estimated 25 percent of climate pollution originates from China (EDF). Around 2006/2007, China overtook the United States of America as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (Brad & Friedman, 2018). In addition since 2000, China’s emission is greater than the United States of America and Canada combined in pure emissions alone (Rogers & Evans, 2011). As seen in figure 1., China emitted 6,800 million tonnes of carbon dioxide alone in 2008 and in 2009, 7,700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, a change of 7.5 percent from 2008 to 2009. In addition in Figure 1., in 2009 China’s per capita emissions of carbon dioxide was 5.83 tonnes per person. Along with carbon dioxide, China is a larger emitter of black carbon and methane, which are also greenhouse gases and assist in global warming (Kan, 2011). China cannot rely on solely coal for energy production and consumption, that is why China has become the largest importer of oil (Rose, 2016).
In 2015 alone, China imported 6.71 million barrels of oil in a spark transition to get away from coal consumption and production (Rose, 2016). However, China still remains as the largest coal producer and consumer in the world despite the backlashes of coal combustion (Webster, 2017). In 2013, China experienced a decline in coal consumption but rebounded and increased right away after 2016 (Ye & Lu, 2018). Although China has made a movement to reduce coal production and consumption, it is still not enough as their energy consumption and production must keep up with the growing population and industrialization. According to the BelferCenter, a large percentage of energy consumption in China are in industries such as “steel, cement, and petrochemicals” (Tan & Lee, 2017). “70 percent of the country’s energy consumption is comprised of the industrial sector alone” (Tan & Lee, 2017). Transportation is a sector that will likely rapidly grow in China as China becomes the largest automobile market in the world and as its infrastructure and mobility increase throughout china. As of now China’s transportation sector consumes only around 6 percent of the country’s energy consumption which will grow and rival the United States of America in the coming years, which is estimated around 20 percent (Tan & Lee, 2017). Thus, an accurate prediction would be that China’s transportation sector’s energy consumption will soon be increasing at a greater rate than the industrial sector in the future (Tan & Lee, 2017). As seen in Figure2., China’s industrial and transportation sector devours approximately ¾ of the country’s energy consumption, while residential, other energy industries and other add up to around 25 percent. Thus, China is more centered on sustainable industry as their first priority compared to their household and residential efficiency (Williams, 2015). China’s problems from accelerated growth in population and industry/economy can be clearly seen and is displayed as a danger zone in the future if the problems are not addressed and mitigated. The effects from pollution in China can impact the people’s health and the environment around them. Air, water and land pollution are the main sources that are harmful and toxic to the people’s health and environment.
Impacts on China
China and its government are in motion to mitigate and help address the problems of climate change; however, the focus is very limited when it comes to climate-related health impacts and problems caused by pollutants and climate change (Kan, 2011). Air and water pollution are the two main categories that produce the highest levels of health risks and hazards for the Chinese people. The major health risks and hazards from contaminated water sources will be discussed below in the water pollution section. Death from severe and intense weather events, differences in air and water quality and differences in ecology of infectious diseases are some evidence that climate change has already impacted human health in China, directly and indirectly (Zhang et al. 2010). In large cities of China such as Beijing and Shanghai, heat wave and other severe and intense weather conditions have been correlated to increased health hazards and risks (Kan, 2011). Among the people, the elderly are especially vulnerable to increased health hazards, risks and death during severe and intense temperatures, which is mainly connected to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. (Kan, 2011). But in consideration, there is little to no data and information in China on potential modifiers of the climate-related health impacts and effects, like: “preexisting health conditions and demographics of the population” (Kan, 2011).
Improved living conditions can also aid in health impacts from severe and intense weather events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods (Kan, 2011). Thus, suggestions were made that adaptations to climate change could lead to reduction in health hazards and risks imposed on the Chinese people, such as: “increased use of air conditioners, larger living spaces, increased urban green space, higher levels of heat awareness, implementation of a heat warning system issued by local meteorological stations” (Tan et al. 2007). Alongside rising temperatures in Chinese cities, evidence was found that significant risks of ozone and air pollution impact and affect citizens of those cities (Zhang et al. 2006). Furthermore, research in China has found that climate change can impact climate-sensitive viral and infectious diseases transported by animals or vectors including: “schistosomiasis, Japanese encephalitis, Dengue fever, malaria, and Angiostrongylus cantonensis infection” (Kan, 2011). The impact of climate change can be seen in a case like schistosomiasis, a vector-borne disease that has been brought up in controversial debates and topics (Kan, 2011). Research has also found that Oncomelania hupensis may expand its ranges, spreading to the remote northern regions of China due to increasing winter temperatures from global warming unlike before (Zhou et al., 2010). Figure 3., shows the traditional, modern, and emerging environment risk factors, major health effects, and population at risk/affected in China. As seen in figure 3., traditionally indoor air pollution can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, acute lower respiratory infection and lung cancer that affects almost all of rural residents and over a 1/3 of urban residents. Modern outdoor air pollution can cause the same health hazards as the traditionally indoor air pollution and affects almost all of urban residents and rural residents that live near industrial complexes.
A new emerging threat is the international transport of persistent chemical containments that can cause cardio-respiratory diseases caused from particulate matter and ozone and also neurological damage from mercury exposure that affects countries near China such as: South Korea, Japan and the United States of America. Finally, the last emerging environmental risk factor is climate change that can cause major health effects such as widespread deaths due to flooding, droughts, heat waves and much more that will impact a diverse portion of China especially those near coastal communities, water-scare regions and urban populations and as well as the entire human population in the long run. Therefore, there is enough current evidence from research and studies to conclude that Chinese people are impacted by climate-related health hazards. Thus, there are current research and studies that focus on climate-related health factors in China. However, more research and studies are required in China and across the globe to better aid our future generations on climate change and sustainability.
Air pollution is one of the biggest concerns in China as urban populations and industries continue to grow. As seen in the above component of Human Health, air pollution affects and impacts every ordinary Chinese citizen’s day of life. One health hazard that is still prevalent in China is caused by burning solid fuels for energy consumption like: electricity, heating, hot water and transportation (Zhang et al., 2010). Majority of all rural residents in China still use solid fuels such as solid biomass as a main source of energy production, via burning of solid fuels (Zhang et al., 2010). In addition, China’s natural coal supply contains one of the most largest degrees of other toxic contaminants and elements such as: arsenic and fluorine, which are extremely dangerous to the human body (Zhang et al., 2010). Due to these toxic elements and components, an estimated of 300,000 citizens in Southwestern China showed signs of aresenicosis and an estimated of ten million citizens showed signs of dental and skeletal fluorosis in Guizhou Province (Zhang & Smith, 2007).
Outdoor air pollution is another significant importance in air pollution in China, where the outdoor air pollution is mainly produced by coal combustion from residential and industrial sectors, transportation sector, chemical gases exposed to the atmosphere from industries, burning of agricultural waste and air particulate matter from construction sites such as roads, highways and buildings (Zhang et al., 2010). Another important factor in outdoor air pollution in China comes from its natural deposits of coal, which contains high levels of sulfur; thus when the coal is burned for energy consumption byproducts are made such as sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which all supply the production of sulfuric acid rain and sulfurous smog (Zhang et al., 2010).
Hence, China must take action in reducing greenhouse gases such as methane, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases to name a few. In addition to its record holder of largest consumer and producer of coal, China is also the third largest consumer of natural gas and the third largest purchaser of liquified natural gas (Chinapower, 2018). As seen in figure 5., in 2016 China reached a new low for coal consumption since the 1990s at a level of 62 percent. This figure 5., breaks down the energy consumption of China throughout the past two decades. In 2016, since 62 percent of the energy consumption came from coal, the other three categories combined to 38 percent, with 18.3 percent, 6.4 percent, 13.3 percent from crude oil, natural gas, and renewables respectively. China continues to improve its air quality and reduce its air pollution, however it is not easy for a massive country like China to quickly move off of coal consumption. Therefore, China must continue its green path towards renewable energy and urban sustainability for the future generations.
China has one of the most polluted bodies of water in the entire world, from contaminated drinking water to the sanitation of the contaminated drinking water. Thus, China has a water problem, specifically water scarcity. In addition to the water scarcity, the distribution of the water supply in China is unevenly distributed throughout the whole country. Therefore as the water supplies in China reach lower and lower, the citizens of China have no choice but to utilize the contaminated water supplies causing more health hazards and risks to all its citizens. Figure 4., shows the water quality classifications among bodies of water throughout China. As one can see there are plenty of water sources that are unsafe for any use, whether it be drinking, cooking, bathing, and etc. There is also a large amount of water sources that are deemed safe for agricultural and industrial usage but not as a drinking source. There is only a small fraction of water sources that are deemed completely safe for drinking. Hence, there is in a sense a “competition” for the water supply as all sectors of China fight to utilize the rising shortage of water. Majority of the useful lakes and rivers in China are deemed unsafe for drinking and are heavily polluted due to agricultural and industrial usage (Hsu, 2014).
Rural regions that are near industrial and agricultural complexes are in significant risk of water pollution as rural China experiences one of the worst water pollution in the entire country (Zhang et al. 2010). The rural regions were left behind in the development of sanitation and water services as China developed more and more in the later 1980s to the early 1990s (Zhang et al. 2010). In addition, chemical wastes has become one of the biggest issues in water pollution in China, as industries continue to grow and evolve as the country continues to develop. Illegal dumping of chemical, agricultural and urban waste has lead to the heavily and severely polluted waterways of China (Hsu, 2014). With the continued usage of unprotected and untreated water sources, citizens of China are at a higher risk of health hazards and risks. For example a recent research in epidemiological studies showed that drinking unprotected and untreated water contaminated with nitrate, nitrite and chromium provided a huge health risk such as: stomach, liver, esophageal and colorectal cancer (Zhang et al. 2010). These contaminants are all usually found in the illegal dumping of industrial, agricultural and urban waste into the water sources. Furthermore, some farmers in northern China had to rely on unprotected and untreated wastewater as their water supply for irrigation on agricultural lands, which lead to the contamination of crops and goods through heavy metals such as: cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and much more (Zhang et al., 2010). China’s usage of unprotected and untreated water sources over the past decades have finally caught up to the population of China, where the water resources are polluted by agricultural mismanagement such as: runoff from fertilizers, pesticides and animal waste (Hsu, 2014). China must take action to clean their water and air resources and limit the amount of pollution consciously added to the water supply.
China has made a bold statement to the world when it comes to renewable energy and international commitment. As seen in figure 6., China has made pledges to reduce pollution and to help fight climate change at the global stage. China has signed the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, which targets carbon intensity reduction of 40 percent to 45 percent below 2005 levels and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of energy supply to 15 percent by the target date of 2020. China has also signed the 2016 Paris Agreement, which targets carbon intensity reduction of 60 percent to 65 percent below 2005 levels and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of energy supply to 20 percent by the target date of 2030. Another target for the 2016 Paris Agreement is to stabilize the global temperature increase under two degrees Celsius.
China is also the leading the charge when it comes to renewable energy as the Chinese government invests heavily on solar, wind, hydropower and nuclear as part of their renewable energy commitment. Wind and Solar farms can be found all over China such as the Gansu Wind Farm, the biggest wind turbine farm on Earth, and the green panda solar farm and the largest floating solar farm in the world. China has also pledged to increase its renewable energy source by 2020, including: “340 GW of hydropower, 210 GW of wind and 110 GW of solar” (Chinapower, 2018). China will continue to produce and manufacture parts needed for renewable energy in an effort to make renewable energy cheaper and more efficient by the time the country switches off of coal and fully into sustainable green energy. Other countries should follow suit to fight global emissions and walk towards the green path of urban sustainability.
Government and Policy Reform
China has produced a number of programs to aid in climate change and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The National Improved Stoves Program was launched in the 1980s (Smith & Deyun, 2010). This program installed over 200 million improves stoves since the early 1980s, which aids to reduce global emissions (Smith & Deyun, 2010). This program was centered around biomass fuel efficiency to help rural communities and to expand the availability of fuel to small villages, towns and communities (Smith & Deyun, 2010). This program also aims to protect forests as rural villagers now have a better efficient cooking system, reducing the amount of biomass fuel burned- trees (Smith & Deyun, 2010). Another significance of the program was to install efficient chimneys in kitchens and cooking areas as this greatly reduced household smoke exposures (Smith & Deyun, 2010). This program has helped the rural side of China catch up to the urban side of China.
The 13th Five-Year Plan is a framework for China during the 2016-2020 years that aims to increase environmental protection and energy efficiency by targeting industry efficiencies, water and energy consumption and as well as reducing global carbon emissions (LSE). This targets and goals are followed by five critical doctrines: “innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development” (LSE). Renewable energy is also a big part of the 13th Five-Year Plan as nuclear energy increases by 16.5 percent by the year 2020 (Chinapower, 2018). China also has numerous amounts of environmental programs such as relationships with REDD+, Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, and LULUCF, Land Use Land-Use Change and Forestry. In addition, there are other government programs and committees such as: Nationally Determine Contribution of China (NDC) and the carbon emission trading system (ETS) now placed in China.
China faces a large sum of problems dealing with climate change and pollution. However, China has the resources and manpower to legislate and reform new policies and regulation that uphold the international standard worldwide. The people of China suffer already from the unregulated and poor management of its resources throughout decades of China. If China continues this path without any action or mitigation, the people of China will continue to suffer. More research and studies should be conducted over short-term and long-term to analyze the climate-related health impacts and environmental impacts that will directly and indirectly affect and impact the people of China and those around China. China will continue to grow whether it be industrially, economically, population-wise or urbanization. Thus, China must take more action now than before to mitigate the future problems of climate change that will continue to rise globally. China must continue their green path towards renewable energy to the final stage of urban sustainability.
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