China’s clean-up campaign shrouded in a smokescreen

Beijing appears to be facing a US$900 billion shortfall as it deals with environmental challenges

Dig deep beneath the surface of the world’s biggest polluter and you will find data deceit shrouding China’s clean-up costs.

Academics have estimated a “shortfall” of “US$900 billion” in Beijing-backed programs to deal with the environmental damage caused by unparalleled industrialization.

In a report for the Ecological Economics journal, lead authors Angel Hsu and Wang Jinnan painted a bleak picture, colored in a lack of transparency.

“We estimate a $900 billion shortfall in China’s pollution clean-up,” Hsu, of the Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and Wang, of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning in Beijing, said.

“[A] lack [of] transparent methods and data have plagued China’s pollution clean-up costs,” they wrote in a commentary published earlier this year and entitled Data and Transparency Key for China’s Pollution Clean-up.

Xu Kaiyang, of the global insights agency SKIM Rotterdam, Zhang Wei, of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, and Yan Chendan, of the World Resources Institute in Washington, also contributed to the analysis.

The findings:

  • The report covered China’s pollution clean-up plans for “air, water and soil.”
  • Calculated costs of repairing the environment were “$1.1 trillion.”
  • In April, data released by TransitionZero revealed that China could save $1.6 trillion by phasing out coal plants with eco-friendly alternatives.
  • China’s new coal power plant capacity in 2020 was more than three times the rest of the world’s output.
  • Including decommissions, China’s coal-fired fleet capacity jumped 29.8 gigawatts last year.
  • The rest of the world reported cuts of 17.2 gigawatts.

Big picture: “In the last few years, China released national cross-sector action plans to address its air, water and soil pollution. These action plans establish targets and timelines for pollution reduction, taking aim at high-polluting sectors,” the study entitled Data and Transparency Key for China’s Pollution Clean-up pointed out.

Opening shot: “In this perspective, we demonstrate the need for transparent, accurate methods and data appraising the financial expenditures and investments required to fund these plans,” it said.

Coal comfort: “There’s a huge economic incentive for China to get off coal. What we found is [that the country] could save $1.6 trillion by doing that,” Matthew Gray, the co-CEO of TransitionZero, said.

Delve deeper: Even now, President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party government appears obsessed with fossil fuels, choking off the nation’s green deal commitments and its “zero-carbon” high-tech ambitions.

Green is the new gold: “We should protect nature and preserve the environment like we protect our eyes. Green mountains are gold mountains, the truth is as simple as that,” Xi said in his address at the Leaders Summit on Climate in April as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency.

China Factor comment: Despite the lofty speeches, it still appears economic growth and energy costs are more important than going green and cleaning up China’s environmental black spots.