Emission targets set to clean up rural China
China's rapid industrial growth over the last generation has come at a cost. Air pollution causes an estimated 400,000 deaths a year along with 75 million asthma attacks.
This year the Chinese government announced an ambitious programme to cut the country's pollution, embarking on a programme beginning in 2011 until 2015. It came on the back of a double digit drop in emissions from 2006 to 2010. However, criticism from environmentalists claimed the country had omitted figures from the rural population. It is estimated half of China's total emissions stems from its agricultural economy. Leaving the rural impact on emissions could have drastically reduced its figures.
Now, the Chinese government has announced it is setting targets to reduce emissions in rural areas.
The vice-minister for Environmental Protection Li Ganjie told China Daily, "Pollution from agricultural sources already contributes to more than half of the country's total emissions. It is high time that we addressed these problems."
Li estimates 100 billion yuan is needed from the government's central budget to clean up 200,000 heavily polluted villages, ten times more than the money allocated this year and next to improve the rural environment.
The main issues the government wants to focus on are protecting freshwater sources and the impact of air pollution caused by coal-fired plants. The over-use of fertilizers pollutes groundwater and rivers which ends up in the food chain or in drinking water. About 65 % of the 47 million tons of fertilizers and pesticides used every year are swept off by rainfall and end up in rivers and lakes, or in underground water, according to Li. Meanwhile carbon emissions from coal-fired plants cause sickness and disease in villages.
Although the need to tackle the problem has been highlighted, a solution has not yet been agreed. More than 60% of China's billion strong population lives in rural areas. Often some of the poorest communities in the world, the impact of environmental pollution is compounded by a lack of access to welfare and medical services. 2008's earthquake in the Sichuan Province only exacerbated the issue.
NGO's on the ground often lead public awareness campaigns to tackle pollution but restrictions in place by the Chinese Government make it difficult for them to lobby for changes and laws to be put in place.
Over the next five years, Li says there will be an increase in the numbers of environmental personnel at grassroots level, which aims to alleviate the problem.