In China, Pollution Worsens Despite New Efforts (Updated)

The New York Times reports on the worsening air and water quality in China:

China, the world’s most prodigious emitter of greenhouse gas, continues to suffer the downsides of unbridled economic growth despite a raft of new environmental initiatives.

The quality of air in Chinese cities is increasingly tainted by coal-burning power plants, grit from construction sites and exhaust from millions of new cars squeezing onto crowded roads, according to a government study issued this week. Other newly released figures show a jump in industrial accidents and an epidemic of pollution in waterways.

The report’s most unexpected findings pointed to an increase in inhalable particulates in cities like Beijing, where officials have struggled to improve air quality by shutting down noxious factories and tightening auto emission standards. Despite such efforts, including an ambitious program aimed at reducing the use of coal for home heating, the average concentration of particulates in the capital’s air violated the World Health Organization’s standards more than 80 percent of the time during the last quarter of 2008.

“China is still facing a grave situation in fighting pollution,” Tao Detian, a spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told the official China Daily newspaper.

Update, 03:07 PM PST: Could development actually mean a downturn in environmental pollution? UCLA Economics Professor Matthew Kahn seems to think so. From a guest blogging post at the Christian Science Monitor:

Using Google, I went to the Chinese Environmental Ministry and found this daily data for Chinese major cities measuring ambient pollution. At least in Beijing this hot summer, there have been 0 API days above 150 and 150 is the threshold for “Lightly Polluted”. I encourage you to look at the data for other cities.

I must admit that I have an intellectual stake in this discussion. If you remember reading my 2010 Regional Science and Urban Economics paper on China , Zheng, Liu and I present evidence based on 35 major Chinese cities that several of them (including Beijing) have passed the EKC “turning point” and that we predict that further economic growth will DECREASE their air pollution.

When the media makes a bold claim, I encourage them to present some facts or at least a webpage offering the reader the chance to look up some facts. It appears that the NY Times and the Chinese government have two different sets of facts. Who is telling the truth?