China ‘gets’ pollution

I was impressed by the attitude towards sustainability in China that I saw in the documentary series design: e2 (episode 5, “China: from red to green”). Then again, I also been absolutely non-plussed about some of the actions taken there, such as painting a mountain green:

Chinese green mountain

Opinions differ as to whether it was related to feng-shui or a seriously mis-understood memo. Either way, I hope they come up with some name for the birth defects coming from all that paint when it ran off the mountain.

So the news today is that Beijing has found a brilliant mid-point between Command and Control and market-based solutions to pollution in China.

BEIJING, July 6 (Reuters) – In the latest government initiative to improve China’s grim environmental record, the central bank on Friday instructed banks to stop lending to projects that cause heavy pollution and waste energy.

The People’s Bank of China urged banks to realise the “importance and urgency” of using financial services to promote green development.

In a statement on its Web site, it instructed banks to call in existing loans, and to extend no new credit, to projects deemed undesirable by the government; it also told banks to lend less to sectors where there is overcapacity.

Beijing has also gone for a little command and control:

No new industrial projects will be approved in several cities and industrial parks along four major river systems to prevent them from being further contaminated.

Six cities, two counties and five industrial zones were indicted by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) for their role in polluting the Yangtze, Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe rivers.

Of course, Beijing has to work at this. Rioting and collective petitioning has, according the head of SEPA, been steadily increasing in response to environmental degradation and pollution. They’ve also been busted trying to fudge pollution and mortality numbers, internationally.

I view it as two things. I think Beijing has become quite progressive on issues like sustainability and the environment. At the same time they are as paranoid as ever about bad news – but then they wouldn’t be alone in that. They got hassled for trying to lean on the World Bank; the US leant on the WHO during the SARS outbreak. So it goes – we don’t like bad things said about us.

Meanwhile, it must be remembered that China is moving towards cleaning up China, but Chinese companies are going after resources (and polluting) in South America and Africa.

All of which is to say that, along most dimensions (including aggressive targeting of defence spending), China rolls like the rest of us, and has for a long time. This new move with loans however could teach most of the rest of a us a lesson.


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