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Dear EarthTalk: has China been making any progress reducing its output of global warming gases, and/or in tackling other environmental problems?

Dear EarthTalk: Has China been making any progress reducing its output of global warming global warming, the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution.  gases, and/or in tackling other environmental problems?--Bill W., Saugus, MA

Decades of rapid-fire development and lack of government oversight has meant that China now faces some serious environmental challenges. According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 research by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (Dutch: Milieu en Natuur Planbureau) is a Dutch research institute that advises the Dutch government on environmental policy issues. , China surpassed the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases in 2006--and hasn't looked back. (While the Chinese emit some eight percent more carbon dioxide carbon dioxide, chemical compound, CO2, a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is about one and one-half times as dense as air under ordinary conditions of temperature and pressure.  than their American counterparts, the U.S. still leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions per capita [Latin, By the heads or polls.] A term used in the Descent and Distribution of the estate of one who dies without a will. It means to share and share alike according to the number of individuals. , due to its significantly smaller population size and higher standard of living.)

Beyond its contribution to global warming, China is also a world leader in other forms of pollution, given its huge population and its ambition to become the next international economic superpower. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), current levels of air pollution in China far exceed international environmental standards. A recent analysis found, for example, that the air in some four dozen Chinese cities contained as much as seven times as much particulate pollution--which can get lodged in human lungs and cause a wide range of health problems--as deemed safe by WHO.

But critics say blaming China for its rampant pollution is unfair, given all the manufacturing the world's developed countries outsource to Chinese companies Chinese owned companies can be defined as enterprises within mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and the Republic of China (Taiwan):
  • List of companies in the People's Republic of China
  • List of companies in Hong Kong
  • List of companies in Macau
. Qin Gang, China's foreign ministry spokesman, refers to China as the "world's factory" and says: "A lot of what you use, wear and eat is produced in China ... "On the one hand, you increase production in China; on the other hand you criticize China on the emission reduction issue." Yang Ailun of Greenpeace China agrees: "All the West has done is export a great slice of its carbon footprint A carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service.  to China and make China the world's factory."

Despite its efforts to go green, China still depends on coal--the dirtiest of all the fossil fuels--for some two-thirds of its energy needs. Chinese officials have strenuously opposed the binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions set by developing countries, arguing that already industrialized in·dus·tri·al·ize  
v. in·dus·tri·al·ized, in·dus·tri·al·iz·ing, in·dus·tri·al·iz·es
1. To develop industry in (a country or society, for example).

 nations are to blame for most of the emissions already in the atmosphere.

According to Isabel Hilton, a journalist with the UK's Guardian, industrialized countries should feel an obligation to shoulder at least some of the burden of helping China become a greener nation. "This means drastically reducing our own emissions and helping China with the finance and technology required to move to a sustainable, low-carbon economic system."

There is progress afoot: Meetings between top Chinese and U.S. officials earlier this year led to the creation of a joint research center to address issues related to clean energy, with each country contributing $15 million to pay for initial research efforts.

CONTACTS: Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency,; World Health Organization,; Greenpeace China,
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Publication:EarthTalk: Questions & Answers About Our Environment. A Weekly Column
Date:Aug 30, 2009
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