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News digest

August 22nd -29th

In our weekly news digest, chinadialogue selects stories on China and the environment from Chinese-language sources over the past 7 days.
Renewables generate a quarter of China's energy
Renewable energy accounted for nearly a quarter of China's power generation last year, though wind and solar farms with 39 billion kilowatt-hours of capacity sat idle, according to a report released by China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) on August 23.

Hydropower was the biggest contributor among major renewable energy sources, accounting for about one-fifth of China's electricity in 2015. Another 3.3% of the nation's power came from wind farms, 0.7% from solar farms, and 0.9% from biomass power plants.

China has used generous incentives to build up renewable energy sources like solar and wind, as part of an effort to clean up the country's air and reduce its dependence on coal. But plant builders eager to receive financial incentives rushed into projects that eventually were undermined by difficulties in connecting to the national grid, Caixin reported.

The report said that idle solar and wind farms could​, if active,​ produce enough power to generate 0.7% of China's energy needs last year, or 5.6 trillion kilowatt-hours.

China has set ambitious targets for the development of renewables, asking provinces to increase​ their share of ​non-hydro renewables to an average of 9% of energy output by 2020.
Study: smog warming up Chinese cities
A new study published in the journal Nature Communications confirmed that haze​ ​contributes to the urban heat island (UHI) effect, a process whereby city centres tend to be significantly warmer than surrounding rural areas.

Scientists have always suspected that aerosol particles, or haze, play​s​ a role in amplifying UHI, said Li Xuhui, one of the report’s co-authors. Now, the​re is evidence that in China, haze is a significant driver of UHI, increasing night time temperatures in semi-arid cities by around 0.7 degree Celsius, the paper reported.

Based on satellite observations and urban climate model calculations, the study found that the more humid cities, such as those along China’s east coast, see much less UHI from haze, because arid cities have more large aerosol particles from road dust and coal combustion that create a thick haze layer.
Chinese environment probe snares 2,000 officials
A large-scale environmental inspection in China has resulted in more than 2,000 officials from Chinese government departments being punished for malpractices, Beijing Youth Daily reported.

Last month, inspectors from Beijing were sent to eight provinces and autonomous regions to review the work of local governments. The inspection has sent more than 100 people into police custody for harming or polluting the environment and it is estimated that fines in the eight regions will surpass 100 million yuan (US$15 million).

According to Beijing Youth Daily, this round of inspection​s​ particularly targeted government and party officials at the municipal and provincial level, marking a shift from previous enterprise-focused inspections.

Apart from working directly with the officials, inspectors also received leads on hotlines and email. So far more than 100,000 complaints have been registered, about 2,400 in Henan Province alone.

The top-down environmental inspection is expected to extend to all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities over the next two years.
 
NGO accuses garbage plant for falsifying environmental impact evaluation
A Chinese NGO has accused a recently opened garbage incineration plant in Tianjin of falsifying parts of an environmental impact evaluation, Legal Daily reported.

Based on independent investigations, the Friends of Nature (FON) claimed that the environment impact evaluation was hasty and insufficient, and failed to consult residents from neighbouring Hebei Province who live within a short radius of the plant.

For example, no counts of dioxin (a toxic chemical) were included in the publicly available environmental impact evaluation, despite the Environment Protection Bureau of Tianjin Municipality explicitly requesting them.

FON also claimed that an evaluation of the plant’s health risks was entirely missing, despite the fact that the plant is in the vicinity of a kindergarten and a primary school. Some children in the neighbouring villages have developed skin rashes after the plant started operating, said FON citing the local residents.

The environment group demands that operations at the plant be halted immediately.
Chinese restaurant owner arrested for lacing chilli oil with poppy
A restaurant owner in western China has been arrested for adding parts of the poppy plant, from which opium is made, to his food, according to the Chengdu Commercial Daily.

Market supervision and food safety authorities in Chengdu, Sichuan province, launched an investigation into a popular hotpot restaurant last month after receiving a tip-off from a customer.

Authorities found substances suspected to be poppy shells – the bud of the plant in which poppy seeds are found – in a pot of home-made chilli oil in Xueshan Fast Food Restaurant. Test results showed that the chilli oil, which was added to cold dishes and noodles, contained addictive components including opiates.

Authorities have long tried to curb the use of poppy shells, which have been a popular “shadow” ingredient for hotpot restaurants in China since the 1990s, but many restaurants continue to use them secretly. The restaurant owner confessed he added the poppy shells to make his dishes taste and look better.
Group lauds success with air pollution
Effective pollution controls adopted in 161 major Chinese cities have greatly improved air quality, Clean Air Asia said.

In an annual report on China’s air pollution control work, the Manila-based green organisation claims that overall air quality in the 161 cities surveyed has improved, with northern China remaining the most polluted region, according to 21st Century Business Herald.

Overall, the 74 major cities saw the level of main pollutants falling steadily, with average levels of PM2.5 and sulphur dioxide dropping 14% and 22%, respectively. While the average PM2.5 level in these cities in 2015 was still 50% higher than is allowed by national standards, the levels of several pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, are within China’s Class II national air quality standard, said the report.
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