Friday, December 14, 2007

Dry times ahead for China

One could say that China's main problem is its deplorable environmental record, which is reflected by the extinction of endemic species and the dark 'honor' of having 2 out of the 10 most polluted cities in the world (and probably many more on the way) within its territory. But those problems are not that big compared with what China will be facing in its future.

According to an interesting article published by The Globe and Mail, the Chinese government just realized that the country will be running out of fresh water supplies by 2030. Major contributors to this potential catastrophe will be the population size (expected to reach 1.3 billion people by then), global warming, and the lack of strict regulations to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and discharge of waste in rivers and other fresh water sources. As a result of the drought, China might reduce its crop production capacity, which will in turn lead to scarcity of food, death of cattle, famine, diseases, etc.

It is a very frightening panorama, indeed. In fact, China is just experiencing a taste of how bad that can be, as some western and south portions of the country have been suffering of chronic droughts for some time now. The government is realizing that the threat is for real, and if the country doesn't change its attitude towards environmental issues to assure a sustainable growth, then the consequences will be bitter. Not only they will lose the economic growth that China and the world boast about, but they will also be prone to never get it back.

By now, the Chinese are looking at short-term solutions, and they will use part of their massive foreign exchange reserves to purchase food from other countries for the areas affected by the current drought. But that sort of solution will not be enough to face the scarcity problems in the long run. If I was to give the Chinese authorities some suggestions, I would encourage them to stop utilizing excuses to not comply with the Kyoto protocol, or the new agreement that is being negotiated in Bali (if it ever gets through). Then, they should monitor the industrial activity throughout the country, to make sure that companies are working on the greenest standards possible, as most countries do, and apply severe punishments to companies that systematically break such standards. It will take some time, but the drought in 2030 is not impossible to revert.

Of course, I don't expect the Chinese authorities to take those words from me. But they have been warned now, and the future of millions of people depend on their capacity and will to manage sustainability from now on.

With some information from The Globe and Mail.


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