Tag Archives: Tianjin

Clean Air And Safety First At War Parade

THE CELEBRATION IN in Beijing on September 3rd to mark the 70th anniversary of the ending of World War Two in Asia will be a breath of fresh air.

Heavy industry, power plants and construction sites in the capital, along with more in Hebei, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shandong and Henan, are being shut down or curtailed between August 28th and September 4th to make the air less polluted. Some 10,000 factories and 9,000 construction sites will be affected, state media say.  The goal is to cut pollution on the day by 40% in the capital and 30% in the surrounding region.

The measures are similar to those taken during the 2008 Olympic Games and last year’s the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings so that visitors wouldn’t have to breathe in the filthy atmosphere residents have to suffer the rest of the year. The tail end of the Athletics World Championships due to start in Beijing on August 22nd and run until September 6th will also get some benefit from this year’s effort.

One difference this time is that Beijing authorities have also ordered a complete halt to production at explosives plants and the sealing under guard of all toxic chemicals in the city. In the wake of the Tianjin disaster, Beijing wouldn’t want the 70th-anniversary parade going off with the wrong sort of bang.

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Tianjin Blasts: Shaking Up Environmental Disaster Denial

THE CITY OF Tianjin is facing an environmental disaster of unknown proportions following the double explosion at the Ruihai International Logistics warehouse on Wednesday. The presence of sodium cyanide, which combines with water to form deadly hydrogen cyanide gas, has been acknowledged along with calcium carbide, potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate — all industrial chemicals whose impact on the population of the northeastern port city may be felt through illness and shortened lives for generations to come.

For the leadership, failure to deal with the aftermath of this tragedy that has cost at least 112 lives with hundreds more injured could be just as toxic. At risk is public trust in the Party to look after the people.

Industrial accidents are commonplace in China, even in large cities. Yet the power of the second blast in particular and the amount of dramatic video footage seen on social media before the inevitable media clampdown puts this one into a class of its own.

By way of comparison, the Jilin chemical plant explosion in 2005, one of China’s worst comparable man-made disasters, killed six and the injuries were in the dozens. However, pollution of the Songhua River was severe. Harbin, 400 kilometers downstream, had to cut off the public water supply to avoid poisoning its residents. Environment agency minister Xie Zhenhua was eventually sacked.

The initial official response to Jilin was to cover it up. That has been the go-to response for authorities to any environmental disaster until the evidence can no longer be ignored. Officials did not admit to the Bohai Bay oil spill in 2011 until a month after it had happened.

A nationwide check ordered on dangerous chemicals and explosives following the Tianjin blasts and a blanket order to officials to enforce safety regulations seems like bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Even worse will be if authorities react in their customary way and pursue a carefully managed information blackout.

Signs are not encouraging. Social media accounts and websites are already being closed down; state media is starting to craft a narrative around the laxness of businesses and workers that officials will address.

Even in these early days a finger is being pointed at Ruihai for keeping inadequate records of what was on site, following inadequate storage procedures or turning a blind eye to what safety regulations there are. Regulations keeping public transport and housing at a specific distance from dangerous industrial sites were ignored or flouted by officials.

The first-responder firefighters were ill-informed, inadequately trained and equipped, or all three. Suggestions that attempts to put out an initial fire with water inadvertently caused the chemical reactions that produced the subsequent blasts seem well founded, though, again, this Bystander cautions against early judgments on limited information. Whatever the circumstances turn out to have been, firefighters have paid a heavy toll in human life.

Assurances by officials that air and water quality levels in Tianjin are safe have been met with incredulity by residents. The 3-kilometre evacuation zone imposed on Friday will have done nothing to diminish concerns, any more than the earlier shutting off sewers to stop discharge into Bohai Bay. Many residents already know the water they drink and the air their breathe are polluted enough.

China has long disregarded environmental and public health whenever untrammelled economic development was at risk. Pockets of populations with abnormally high cancer rates in some of the most polluted areas bear silent testimony to that. The Party has seen the delivery of ever higher living standards to the broad population as the basis of its claim to a monopoly on political power.

For most Chinese, higher living standards increasingly include quality of life, not merely the quantity of material well-being — simple things like clean air and water and neighbourhoods that don’t explode.

This Bystander would like to think that the legacy of the Tianjin disaster would be that it was the one that caused that penny to drop for the authorities. That is likely wishful thinking. Scapegoats will again be found; rescue efforts will be lionized; online critics will be silenced. The policy and institutional reforms needed to ensure there is no repeat will not be carried out with the same vigour.


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Shenzhen Joins Pilot For China’s Carbon Trading Market

Shenzhen has been added to the list of provinces and municipalities that will pilot China’s proposed carbon trading market. That takes the initial set to seven. The participation of Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hubei and Guangdong has been known since the summer. An official with the National Development and Reform Commission confirmed the go-ahead with the pilot scheme to Xinhua, but otherwise details remain sketchy. Central government has still to set overall carbon discharge reduction targets, which are a prerequisite for establishing the national carbon trading market that has been pencilled in for a 2015 launch.

By then, China’s goal is to have cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 17% from 2010 levels, according to a white paper on climate change issued this week ahead of the UN’s forthcoming climate change talks in Durban in South Africa. A reduction of that magnitude will be a tough ask given the pace of the economy’s growth. The pilot carbon-trading scheme is expected to start in 2013.

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When Beijing Betters London And Shanghai LA

A McKinsey Global Institute ranking of the world's top 50 cities by GDP in 2005

By 2025, Shanghai and Beijing will have higher GDPs than Los Angeles and London, a further sign of the world’s eastwards economic shift. The prediction comes from the McKinsey Global Institute, the economic research arm of McKinsey & Co., the international consultancy firm, which has been working on mapping the changing economic power of the world’s metropolitan areas, and is recirculating some work on this it first released in March. Shanghai is already among the world’s top 50 cities ranked by GDP, but as well a Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Foshan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan and Xian will all join it by 2025, McKinsey predicts. European cities will be most numerous among the dropouts, but another will be Taipei.

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Some China Cities Slowly Getting Greener

Urbanization and industrialization is a filthy business. Industry pollutes. More of it just pollutes more. As nation after nation has gone through the industrialization phase of rapid development, each has had to trade-off the benefits of growth and their environmental costs. China is no exception, but it puts great store on being green. We are directed to a new article published by McKinsey & Co., the firm of management consultants, which asks the question, how green are China’s cities. Its answer? The country’s push for sustainable urban development shows mixed results. As a whole, China’s cities don’t meet global benchmarks for sustainability, but things are getting better and there are examples of successes for the laggards to follow.

The article is based on a paper first published last year by a joint team from the firm, Tsinghua University and New York’s Columbia University. Its Urban Sustainability Index uses data from 2004-2008 and covers 112 cities in China. It groups 18 indicators in to five categories, from the provision of basic needs such as clean water to political and policy commitment to sustainability.

The commonalities among the successful cities were “an unwavering focus on industrial restructuring, designing sensible transit systems and green space, pushing improvements through standards, monitoring and pricing, and exploring ways to make industries more resource efficient.” As might be expected, the successes also “displayed a clear, long-standing commitment to achieving their sustainable ‘vision”… “engineered a large degree of cooperation among relevant departments, for instance between those responsible for environmental protection and urban planning”…and “maintained commitment to their overall goals through several changes in leadership”.

The greenest cities do well across all these measures. Some examples: Tianjin has been consolidating heavy industry away from urban centers, a taking advantage of the moves to make fewer but larger new plants more energy efficient. Shenyang has now got almost all its heavy industry out of its center and is redeveloping the brownfields left behind as residential districts. Qingdao, arguably China’s greenest city, has pushed redevelopment projects to follow mass transit routes, increasing bus ridership at the expense of more heavily polluting private vehicles. Kunming is a pioneer in giving buses priority on roads. Nanning has developed  three greenbelts along the Yongjiang river as part of the creation of urban woodlands and green areas to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Shandong province officials publicly identified the region’s 1,000 biggest polluters and set aggressive waste reduction targets for each of them.

We don’t underestimate the difficulty of implementing green policies, especially in a country where they require considerable coordination between often competing bureaucracies and in which the yardsticks of success against which local officials are measured (and promoted) have been ones of economic growth. Improving the quality of urban life is an objective of the new five-year plan and a high policy priority for the leadership. Gains are being made. The overwhelming majority of the 18 indicators in the Urban Sustainability Index show improvement during the study period. Yet the relatively limited amount of success stories so far among 112 cities also tells its own story.

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Amid Finger Pointing, Tianjin Climate Meeting Makes Scant Progress

The climate talks in Tianjin have ended. They have done little to smooth the path to the Cancun session of the U.N.Framework Convention on Climate Change that opens at the end of next month save on the creation of the $100 billion fund rich countries agreed at the Copenhagen round of talks to provide poor countries to help deal with the impact of climate change.

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The ambition of the Tianjin meeting was always limited: to create a checklist of not what would be done at Cancun, but what might be done. Even that was barely achieved. “This week has got us closer to a structured set of decisions that can be agreed in Cancun. Governments addressed what is doable in Cancun, and what may have to be left to later,” the U.N.’s Christiana Figueres (right, pictured at the meeting’s opening) said in her end-of-meeting statement (video, speaking notes), a less-than-ringing endorsement of success. The European Commission’s Jurgen Lefevere was closer to the mark when he called the outcome “very patchy”.

The biggest of the leave-to-latter issues is the deadlock between the world’s two biggest energy consumers and polluters, China and the U.S. with the U.S. saying that China won’t agree to global binding, verifiable emissions curbs and China saying the U.S. and developed economies have to commit first to doing much more than the developing nations as they polluted first. Both Beijing and Washington accuse the other of trying to subvert the U.N. process in their separate ways.

There was some tetchiness between the two countries’ officials throughout the Tianjin meeting, as noted in Xinhua’s report. Having been blamed for the failure the Copenhagen meeting, Beijing is getting its share of finger-pointing in this time. The risk for a binding global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012 is that climate change becomes another bickering bilateral dispute between Washington and Beijing.

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Beijing Tries Setting The Climate Change Rules In Tianjin

Beijing misplayed the game at the Copenhagen round of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change last year and got the blame, unfairly or not, for the deadlock. It came with its best and final offer, which is not the way to arrive at any U.N.-sponsored gabfest. It then expected the developed nations and the U.S. in particular to make concessions on greenhouse gas emissions while saying that it had done about all it could. Cue the developed nations to be shocked, shocked by the intransigence of the developing nations of which China was seen as the champion, and to make their excuses and leave. A legal binding comprehensive global agreement, or anything close to it, to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, receded into the background leaving only a last minute back-room stitch-up between the U.S., and the developing countries that matter in all this, China (now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases), Brazil, South Africa and India, that in essence said every country will say what it can do on climate change, and leave it at that: no further negotiation, nothing legally binding, no global agreement and not much say for Europe or the other developing nations outside the dirty big four.

The current meeting that China is hosting in Tianjin ahead of the follow up talks to Copenhagen, due to be held in Cancun towards the end of this year, is an attempt by Beijing to show itself to be a more adept international player. The agenda seeks to tie down industrialized nations post-Kyoto commitments on cutting down emissions and to rough out a script for the Cancun meeting. Beijing still wants an outcome that will let it stick with its existing — and quite ambitious goals on energy conservation — and not crimp its future growth rates. The long-term outlook for China’s economy is to slow over the next two decades from the double digit growth it has seen over the past two; and that has political implications of its own inside the country. But it doesn’t want to be bound to those goals, while still not being so within a global agreement, and especially one that reined in the U.S.. Plus Beijing wants to grab global leadership in energy-efficient technologies, and send a message to recalcitrant provinces and municipalities within China who are not embracing to the full the central government’s drive to cut pollution. All in all, not an easy trick to pull off so how much better it is to be helping make the rules.

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