China Pollution

China’s pollution woes fuelled by corruption — Gwyn Morgan

(November 18, 2013) China’s “basic dictatorship” system — controversially praised by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as some sort of green action plan model — has created an environmental crisis for China, says former SNC-Lavalin chairman Gwyn Morgan.

By Lisa Peryman for Probe International

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s controversial choice of China as the political administration he admires the most outside of Canada — owing to what he sees as a “basic dictatorship” system that allows it to rapidly shift to a greener economy — is, says  Gwyn Morgan in his recent column for the Globe and Mail, “astounding on many levels.”

This is so due to the extent of China’s environmental problems and its record of persecuting its environmental critics, says Morgan, the former chairman of SNC-Lavalin.

Mr. Trudeau’s comments were made in the same week Chinese state media reported that an eight-year-old girl was the youngest person ever to be diagnosed with lung cancer.  A recent report by the state-owned People’s Daily claimed that more people die from lung cancer each year in China than from any other type of cancer. China’s propensity to add coal plants, and dirty coal plants, to its power base is part of the problem.

Meanwhile, China’s air pollution is horrendous – bus drivers got lost on their regular routes in the northern city of Harbin last month when visibility was reduced to a few metres due to particulates in the air – but water pollution manages to surpass even its choking skyways as the nation’s number one environmental challenge. Ninety percent of the country’s groundwater is polluted, and 25% of China’s major river systems are so filthy they cannot even be used for industry or agriculture.

Although “rapid industrial growth in developing countries is inevitably hard on the environment,” notes Morgan, “China’s ‘basic dictatorship’ administration that Mr. Trudeau admires has made the problem much worse than it should have been.”

While corruption within the top ranks of the Communist Party is legendary, says Morgan, most decisions about industrial development, are made at the regional level. “As a senior Chinese banker told me during a business trip to the country, ‘China is mostly run by the mayors,’” said Morgan.

Those “mayors” − provincial and county Communist Party secretaries – have become wealthy by ignoring environmental edicts issued in Beijing. Although the central government has tightened stack-gas cleanup requirements for new coal-fired power plants, many of the new coal plants that come on line (one every week) are no cleaner than the old ones because local officials took bribes to look the other way. “Worse are the factories that contaminate farmland and pollute water supplies as corrupt local officials collude with unscrupulous businessmen to avoid Beijing’s rules.”

Morgan warns that if the new leadership does not attack the “culture of official corruption and dysfunction that fuels it” and cannot stop regional officials from enriching themselves by ignoring environmental laws, “little progress will be made.” It can’t happen soon enough, says Morgan, because “China’s environmental crisis is nearing the point of no return” and could ultimately destabilize the country and threaten Communist Party rule.

[Related: See Ningbo’s people power halts petrochemical plant expansion – for now].

Read the original version of Gwyn Morgan’s opinion piece at the publisher’s website here.

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