For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
There has been some surprising good news out of China. As you probably know, China's super-speed growth has produced super-high levels of pollution. Indeed, Beijing's poor air quality has popularized the word "air-pocalypse". There are days when you can barely see more than a few feet in front of you. It got so bad that the U.S. embassy in Beijing posted a real-time measure of air quality on its website; Chinese officials, of course, have disputed the American data as propaganda.
So people, mostly Chinese people, have asked for an accurate reading of pollution levels in China. In recent years, environmental groups have pressured Beijing to release official data on air pollution. But the government, notorious for being tight-lipped, secretive and unresponsive, had declined. In fact, few people actually believed that Beijing would ever accede to their demands.
Well, guess what? Beijing has ordered 15,000 factories to report details about their emissions: in public, and in real-time. The decree also calls for details on the release of pollutants like wastewater and heavy metals. This is a real first in China – an unprecedented mandate for transparency.
By Bruce Campbell, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Campbell is the director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, based in Copenhagen. The views expressed are the writers’ own.
Few people expected much concrete progress ahead of the ongoing international climate change talks taking place in Warsaw. Sadly, it seems the doubters were right to be skeptical as negotiators have failed to tackle one of the biggest climate challenges: changing agriculture technologies, practices and policies to make sure the world can feed itself.
When Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest tropical storms ever recorded – slammed into the Philippines, the world was given a brutal reminder about the need for urgent action, an urgency given a tearful face when the head of the Philippine delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made an impassioned plea for action.
Haiyan devastated central Philippines, a mostly agricultural region. But while images of the damage focused on flattened urban areas, the storm also crushed farms and plantations that produce rice, sugar, coconuts, and other key crops. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated that the typhoon, which struck at the beginning of the rice-planting season, destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of the country’s most important staple.
By Jessica Gutteridge
Editor’s note: Jessica Gutteridge is an associate producer with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. The views expressed are her own.
Millions of people across the Middle East and Europe turned back their clocks last weekend, and many Americans will follow suit when Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday.
As winter approaches and the days grow shorter, the idea of darker evenings can be depressing. But before complaining too loudly, imagine if you couldn’t feel the sun on your face for half of the year. That’s how it is for the Norwegian town of Rjukan, where residents have had to get used to long, dark winters. Nestled in a valley of the Gaustatoppen Mountains, the town is shielded from direct sunlight for 5 to 6 months of the year. Or at least it has been until later this week.
For more What in the World watch Sundays at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
China has brought us a new English word: "Airpocalypse."
The northeastern city of Harbin was paralyzed last week by terrible smog and air pollution. Visibility was down to just a few meters. Highways and schools were closed, the airport was shut down. Pedestrians could barely get around. The images are a vivid reminder of the impacts of industrial growth, especially when powered by dirty fuels like coal, which accelerates not only pollution but also climate change.
The latest report from the United Nation’s scientific panel says it is “extremely likely” – more than a 95 percent probability – that human activity was the dominant cause of the temperature increases of the last few decades. Another study, published in Nature, showed that we are on track to reach unprecedented highs of temperature by 2047. Findings showed the coldest year in the future would be warmer than the hottest year of the past.
So, if the science is not really in dispute, why is it so difficult for us to actually do something about it? There’s a clever explanation. To understand it, we need to tell you about one more study. This one is a game –but one played with real money.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is Director of Global Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
After a remarkable run of economic expansion that has lifted tens of millions out of poverty, the Chinese public is waking up to the side effects of progress. True, much of the growing middle class is pleased to have achieved some degree of material comfort. But that same middle class is increasingly asking tough questions about the costs of economic growth and the fairness of the system that produced it. And the record setting levels of pollution this week in the northeastern city of Harbin, where schools and the airport have been shut, will only intensify scrutiny of President Xi Jinping’s government in the run up to next month’s meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee.
Harbin, a city of 11 million people, was essentially closed Monday and Tuesday as thick smog raised concentrations of PM2.5, the most dangerous airborne particles for health, to more than 30 times the level considered safe by the World Health Organization. Air pollution tends to be worse in the winter, and many now fear a repeat of last January’s “airpocalypse,” which brought impenetrable smog and record breaking toxicity levels to Beijing and other major cities.
And air pollution wasn’t the only thing on Chinese minds this year – water pollution generated some grisly headlines throughout the country – and around the world – as thousands of pig carcasses floated down the Huangpu River, through the center of Shanghai, threatening the city’s water supply. Factor in the fact that China has had more than its share of highly publicized food safety issues, including Chinese food producers implicated in scandals involving poisonous infant formula, toxic rice and rat meat disguised as mutton, and it is easy to see why public concern is growing.
By Michael Barr and Joy Y. Zhang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Barr is lecturer in International Politics at Newcastle University. Joy Zhang is lecturer in Sociology at the University of Kent. They are the authors of Green Politics in China: Environmental Governance and State-Society Relations. The views expressed are their own.
Recent images of top golfers and spectators donning protective masks at the LPGA in Beijing has once again raised questions about air quality in China. During the event, pollution reached “hazardous” levels, as determined by the U.S. Embassy and Beijing's own air quality monitors. Such a reading carries the warning that all people should avoid outdoor exertion and that the elderly, children and those with respiratory or heart disease should remain completely indoors.
There is no doubt that China has paid a heavy environmental price for its rapid development. One study determined that in four cities alone (Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi'an, Beijing) in 2012 over 8,500 people died prematurely because of pollution. The report also indicated that those cities suffered a combined economic loss of $1.09 billion.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, as well as the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, there seemed a glimmer of hope that air quality would improve. But one of the sad facts of the LPGA tournament is that beneath the headlines of big name athletes struggling to breathe, there lies over 20 million people who live in Beijing every day and have to endure the suffocating side effects of rapid industrialization, including a heavy reliance on coal power, and a dramatic increase in car ownership.
By Michael Brune, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club. The views expressed are his own.
Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced the first-ever standards to protect Americans from the climate-disrupting carbon pollution pumped out of new power plants. One week later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that we need that action – and more – if we are going to curb the pollution that is making our kids sick and fueling the extreme weather that’s resulting in record temperatures, record storms, record droughts, and record wildfires.
The U.N. established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 to collect and disseminate the current best science from around the globe on climate disruption. Since then, it has issued four critically important reports that have helped us understand just how serious the threat of the climate crisis is. And, on Friday, the release of data from the fifth report made it clear that this threat is now a dangerous new reality.
There’s a lot of information in the report, and so far, we’ve just seen a “summary for policymakers.” But what has been released is eye opening about our need to act and act now. As Secretary of State John Kerry said: “If this isn’t an alarm bell, then I don’t know what one is.”
By Junjie Zhang, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Junjie Zhang is a senior advisor at Asia Society and assistant professor of Environmental Economics in the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The announcement at this month’s G20 summit that the U.S. and China plan to form a contact group to tackle the rapidly rising use of a key ozone-depleting chemical came on the heels of a June summit in which Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping agreed to work together to reduce the consumption and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
That agreement was itself followed by a report submitted by the U.S.-China Climate Change Working Group in July to the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue proposing five new action initiatives involving transportation; smart grids; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; energy efficiency; and data transparency.
Taken together, these developments have raised hopes that the so-called Group of Two is finally getting serious about climate change and low carbon development. But are they really?
"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Today, more than 50 percent the world's population lives in cities. By 2030, 60 percent will be urban...70 percent by 2050. China alone is planning to move a quarter of a billion people from rural to urban areas by 2025. But this isn't a phenomenon happening just in emerging markets or developing countries. Even in a country like the United States that is already 80 percent or so urban, people are still moving to the cities – at a rate of more than 1 percent each year.
What does it all mean? Fareed speaks with Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley from the Brookings Institution, who co-wrote “The Metropolitan Revolution," Leigh Gallagher, an assistant managing editor at Fortune, and Joel Kotkin, a distinguished fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and the author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.
The Obama administration is stepping up its game in dealing with climate change. In his June 19 speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, President Barack Obama said that “the effort to slow climate change requires bold action.” On Tuesday, in a speech at Georgetown University, Obama called for the United States to “lead the world in a coordinated assault on a changing climate.” And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will issue regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.
Such moves echo widespread public concern about global warming outside the United States, according to a recent poll of 39 countries by the Pew Research Center. But they do not reflect the priorities of the American people, who are, on a per capita basis, among the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Nor do they reflect the concerns of the Chinese, whose country is the world’s most significant source of carbon dioxide, methane and other emissions.
By Global Public Square staff
China's rivers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First they found thousands of dead pigs in one river. Then they found hundreds of dead ducks in another. And now, entire rivers are going missing. Thousands of them in fact. A new survey has found that China has 28,000 fewer rivers than previously thought. They've been built-upon, overused, and drying up. The study comes from no less an authority than China's Ministry of Water Resources and the National Bureau of Statistics.
Something else has also gone missing in China: clean air. A study out last week shows how air pollution in China led to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. A separate study by China's Academy of Environmental Planning found that in the same year, 2010, environmental degradation cost the country $230 billion dollars.
By Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is United Arab Emirates special envoy for energy and climate change and CEO of Masdar, an Abu Dhabi-based renewable energy initiative. The views expressed are his own.
Four months ago today, U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for five states and the District of Columbia over the approach of Hurricane Sandy. The super storm was a reminder that climate change is blind to faith, socio-economic status and geography. It also underscored that supplying cheap, sustainable energy and mitigating climate change is not a challenge for future generations – it is our challenge today.
And energy-rich nations have a shared responsibility to do more. After all, they have the financial and technical ability, as well as decades of expertise, to create the necessary growth of a new energy industry balanced by renewable sources of power.