The Rupp Report: Asia Is Getting Cleaner

Water is becoming more and more a precious raw material — and drinkable water, even more precious. Water sustains people, animals and everything in the natural world. Decades ago, the Western world finally started to recognize that clean water is one of the cornerstones of every prosperous society. Unfortunately, the Eastern world hasn’t been prepared to do the same — so far.
Smog In Beijing
But it is not only water pollution, also the pollution of the air has become an important problem, mainly in Southeast Asia. Everybody knows the problems — for example, when big cities have to stop all traffic and forbid people to go outdoors due to dangerous smog in the air, such as happened during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.
Today, one could be cynical in saying that thanks to the air pollution, the people and, moreover, the governments are more conscious of all kinds of pollution. And the textile industry in general and the finishing industry in particular produce an important share of polluted water, especially in the powerhouse of textile production, China. In the last few weeks, smog has virtually wrapped Beijing and some parts of Northern China, which forced the inhabitants to stay home. Even Prime Minister Li Keqiang is concerned about the ongoing pollution and the environmental problems. In his opening speech at the National People’s Congress held earlier this month, he also mentioned the fight against pollution.
To Walk The Talk
Indeed, all kinds of pollution are among the biggest problems around the world. However, China is not only debating about the environmental problems, as the Rupp Report already mentioned before. The current Five Year Plan (2011 – 2015) calls for China to invest more than 5 trillion yuan (US$817 billion) in environmental protection. Wu Xiaoqing, vice minister of environmental protection, said during the National People’s Congress that “the investment comes from various sources such as the government, financial institutions and enterprises and also includes social capital. China has been increasing its spending on environmental protection steadily, with an investment of 602.6 billion yuan in 2011, 825.3 billion yuan in 2012 and an estimated sum of 1 trillion yuan in 2013. The government’s investment in this area will increase substantially in 2014 with the introduction of a water pollution prevention and control action plan this year.”
Severe Water Problems
China’s air pollution is on the front pages everywhere, but its water pollution is just as serious. “China’s ministry of environmental protection estimates that one-fifth of the country’s rivers are toxic, while two-fifths are classified as seriously polluted,” reports Luna Lin in a recent chinadialogue blog. Frequent textile industry travelers to China can fully confirm that report. There are a lot of companies that don’t care about the environment. “In 2012 more than half of China’s cities had a water quality that was considered to be ‘poor’ or ‘very poor.’ [Some weeks ago,] the ministry of environmental protection announced a trillion-yuan (US$163 billion) plan to start dealing with this urgent issue.” Lin stated.
Zhai Qing, deputy minister of environmental protection, said at a press conference that “the action plan, which is currently being drafted, is focusing on curbing water pollution in the worst affected areas and preventing future pollution of the better conserved waters.” The plan proposes reducing industrial wastewater discharge, and improving municipal sewage management and rural polluted water treatment.
Extraordinary Open Words
Zhai was even more open when he said that “the situation of China’s water environment is still very grim.” He cited typical water quality indicators including the country’s annual chemical oxygen demand (COD) and ammonia nitrogen emissions volumes. “The current annual volumes of the two emissions stand at 24 million metric tons and 2.45 million metric tons,” he said. China Business News reports that China must reduce its yearly COD and ammonia nitrogen emissions volumes by 30 to 50 percent in order to achieve any significant water quality improvement.
In this context, another Chinese institution made a comment: According to Lin, Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs — a green nongovernmental organization based in Beijing, said that “China’s wastewater discharge has far exceeded the nation’s environmental bearing capacity and hence the incoming action plan is very necessary.” And indeed it is.
For years, the West has been shaking fingers at the Eastern Hemisphere for being an environment contaminator. However, if one checks the figures from organizations such as the World Health Organization, it can be seen that the biggest polluters — apart from China — are still located in the West. However, a clean environment is first of all, a question of educating the population in general, and young people in particular. It shouldn’t be forgotten that it took the West a long time, too, to recognize that environmental consciousness is not only a “green matter,” but also a prerequisite to survival.
In a world of consumers who are more aware about environmental issues, all these actions are not only favorable to the environment and its people. On top of that — and this can underline the statement that economy and ecology can go together — these actions build a better climate for negotiations between Chinese producers and Western buyers regarding laments about “dirty apparel.” This dialogue is what is very much needed, considering the recent problems in Bangladesh and the turmoil in the social media around the world.
March 25, 2014