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Can Zibo really turn green?

An east China city's hopes for clear water and blue skies have been shattered by companies that continually flout environmental regulations. Lu

Dongting reports from Shandong province.

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Chang Benfeng, Wang Bingwen and Zhou Jingxin live in a residential compound in the town of Zhongbu, near the city of Zibo in east China's Shandong province. They showed me the buildings where they live and the pollution they have endured in recent years. Chang placed a magnet on the ground, and demonstrated how it instantly attracted a layer of iron particles, of which a new layer falls from the sky every day. Over the northern and eastern walls of the compound, trucks laden with iron ore and coal rumbled back and forth, stirring up a "black snow" of dust and iron particles.

The compound consists of 29 buildings constructed by Shengli Oilfield for workers at Zibo's iron and steel operation. It was designed to be an orderly, close-knit and green community. and the 900 residents used to describe it as something of a utopia. But all that was to change in 2004, when Jinling Iron set up shop next door.

Song Xichen, deputy general manager of Shengli Iron and Steel, explained that since 2003 the price of iron ore has rocketed from 240 yuan (US$32) a tonne to about 1,240 yuan (US$164) today. This led Jinling Iron to ignore environmental concerns and set up Iron Eagle: a huge iron smelting operation next door to the residential compound. Dust from the stockyard and the trucks, soot from the chimneys and non-stop noise from loaders and bulldozers began to torment the residents.

Soon they had had enough. They complained to the authorities about this "environmental calamity" and addressed the firm directly on a number of occasions, but there was little improvement. They also tried to sue the company, but both the local and city courts found reasons not to hear the case.

On November 24, 2005, Zibo’s environment authorities informed Iron Eagle that they were in breach of the Environmental Protection Law and the Environmental Impact Assessment Law, and announced that the firm was responsible for "relatively prominent environmental problems." It was fined for environmental damage, and swift changes were demanded. But a year and a half later, there still have been no real improvements.

Zibo is currently turning itself into an "ecological city." Its action plan, dubbed "clear water and blue skies," is in its final year and is crucial to its goal of becoming a "national model environmental city." It would be reasonable, then, to expect the city to clean up its air and carry out environmental impact assessments in its development and planning. But public complaints say that chimneys continue to belch fumes all over the city. I spent an afternoon investigating, and found that in the fields surrounding the city there were unlicensed smelters every few kilometres, the majority of which were built in the last two years. And more are still being built, polluting the air and taking up space on fertile fields.

I obtained a copy of a Zibo government statement about the firms blamed for the city missing its environmental targets, published on April 19this year. It included a list of companies that failed to carry out environmental protection measures, including Iron Eagle and some 20 others. The notice demanded they meet environmental protection standards by the end of May. Another 263 firms, many either in Zibo’s ceramics industry or the iron and steel sector, were also required to reduce dust, soot and sulphur dioxide emissions by October 31.

But the month of May has already passed, and have those firms cleaned up their act? According to Zibo’s environmental authorities, they have not. The head of Zibo Environmental Bureau’s complaints department, Wang Deshi, made this clear: “We didn’t approve any of these firms when they started up, nor would we have been able to. With the state so concerned with environmental protection at the moment, I doubt they would have been approved at provincial or national level either.”

Standing in front of the notice board at the Zibo Environmental Bureau, local residents still want to know why these firms can keep on polluting, despite failing in their environmental responsibilities. When will Zibo’s dreams of clear water and blue skies come true?

Homepage photo by  © Rob Welham 

Dongting Lu is a Beijing-based reporter.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

没有出路

我想,至少现在还看不到蓝天碧水实现的可能,官商勾结正不亦乐乎,不断权钱之间的纽带关系,环境的治理就很难取得实质性的成果。

No way out

I think that at least now there is no possibility to have clear blue sky and clean water, because business people are colluding tightly with officials, and there is a strong connection between the people in power and those with wealth.

Thus it is difficult for environmental efforts to yield substantial results

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

钢铁的产能扩张

中国这几年钢铁产能大幅度扩张,2006年一跃从钢铁产品净进口变为钢铁产品净出口,全年净出口粗钢3473万吨,净出口量为国内增加钢产量的53%。2006年中国钢材进口同比下降28.3%,出口同比上升110%,成为世界钢铁出口大国。而仅2007年上半年就已经净出口粗钢3093万吨,比2006年上半年又增长179.7%。由于国际钢材价格指数涨幅高于国内钢材价格,大部分的新增钢产量都由出口需求拉动。全国2007年上半年比2006年同期新增钢产量3777万吨,几乎和钢铁净出口一样。和钢铁一样同样产能急剧扩张的还有有色金属和水泥,出口需求也占了相当部分。这几个行业已经成为国家节能减排目标完成的重点和难点。国家今年以来已经几次下调和取消钢铁等高耗能行业的出口退税,但效果仍然不明显,这些行业累积的投资过热正在释放过剩产能。而事实上,中国钢材进出口每吨价差高达523美元,进口高技术高附加值钢材而出口低端低附加值的钢材,意味着中国出口越多,承受的代价越大,增加了我国节能降耗目标实现的难度,国内资源,能源、运力、环境等也难以为继。

在这种新的大炼钢铁的冲动下,淄博的遭遇恐怕只是中国众多城市的一个缩影。这些手续不齐的钢铁企业匆忙上马,正是因为背后巨大经济利益的驱动导致的投资过热,因为晚一天开工就少一天利润。至于这样的好日子还有多久,他们估计已经无暇顾及了,就更不愿意去办环保手续了。但是地方政府在这里面扮演了什么样的角色,这些企业怎么得到允许开工建设的,值得好好追究。同年初被环保总局区域限批的唐山一样,当地政府才是这些企业的后台。而当地政府还在口口声声建设创建“国家环保模范城市”,实在是讽刺!如果这些情况的不到扭转,不管中央怎么样调整政策,最后都不会有什么效果,中国节能减排也只是句空口号!
王韬 Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Iron & Steel production expands in China

In 2006, China turned from a net iron and steel importer into net exporter, by exporting 34.73 million tons of raw steel.

Mostly encouraged by the higher price growth in international market, China increases its iron and steel output.

Production of nonferrous metals and cement in China are also on a big rise.

All these are the key industries which China requires to increase their energy efficiency. But the introduction of measures such as lifting the drawback of exports by high-energy-consuming industries hasn't yet yielded effects.

Zibo is just a typical example among many other cities in China to show this situation.

Huge economic gains are the major impetus for investors to pour huge money into building iron and steel companies.

It is worth doing investigation to find out how the permission is given to build these iron and steel companies, and which kind of roles the local governments have played in this regard.

It is ironic that local governments announce that they are aiming to become green examples for other cities to following, meanwhile they are supporting the construction of high-energy-consuming sectors like iron and steel companies. Wang Tao from Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

见怪不怪

在中国,巨型石化工业座落的城市拼命想将自己打造成一个旅游城市,例如东北某省会;也有旅游城市拼命想上马巨型石化工业,例如东南某鲁迅执教过的城市。淄博在钢铁工业的GDP和旅游城市的名声之间摇摆不定,最后胜利的,往往是既成事实的钢铁工业。
钱钟书先生说围墙里面人想冲出去,外面想冲进来。用来这些城市也是颇为贴切的。

Facing the uncanny with no fears

In China, those giant petrol chemical industries are located in city, and desperately to construct themselves into tourism city. For instance, certain provincial capital in North-East region; there is also certain tourism city desperately to involve in petrol chemical industry, for example the city in South-East region, where the famous Chinese author Lu Xun had taught. The reputation of Zibo oscillates in between steel industry and tourism city, the winner is usually the steel industry which has been successfully developed. As quoted from Qian Zhongshu in one of his publication, those in the surrounded city wish to dash out, whereas those are staying outside wish to dash in. It’s sounds appropriate by using such description for these cities.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

媒体向前走

中外对话总是在这个言论和体制受到局限的环境中不断让我们看到新鲜的迈进,吕洞庭加油,再接再厉!

Forward, Media

In this regime of restricted voices, it is Chinadialogue who's been showing us new developments all the time. Go, Dongting!Keep up the good momentum!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

地方政企勾结是祸根

" 没有任何环保手续的前提下,还有什么理由继续污染下去?" 难道有环评,就有理由继续污染?严重同意评论2,地方政企勾结,不顾百姓死活,也是腐败的一种,因为地方政府的根本出发点不是造福当地百姓,而是追求自己的政绩=GDP。

The local government colludes with business is a cause of disaster

“why can these firms keep on polluting despite failing in their environmental responsibilities?” Has environmental responsibilities, has the reason to continue to pollute? I seriously agree with comments 2: the local government, colluding with business, does not attend to the common people----this also is the corruption. However the primary aim of local government is not to benefit local residents, but to pursue their achievements.