Environmental protection to become big business in China

Business related to environmental protection is likely to become a pillar of the Chinese economy in the future as the silver lining of the serious pollution that plagues the country is that cleaning it up also presents great opportunities to make money, experts said.

“The total investment in air, water and soil pollution is expected to exceed 6 trillion yuan (US$965 billion) in the next few years,” said Mao Rubo, a former director of the National People’s Congress’s environmental and resources protection committee during the recent Chinese Listed Companies Summit.

There are currently 77 listed Chinese companies in the environment-related industry, including 22 that are worth more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.6 billion).

Huang Xiaoxiang, vice chairman of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, which organized an annual summit on Dec. 27, said the rapid growth of the Chinese economy has also resulted in worsening pollution and related problems.

Mao said air pollution in China has exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment by 50%-100%, with the regions of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei seeing the worst pollution.

Chai Fahe, deputy head of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, says the lack of overall planning in economic development, the rapid growth of vehicle ownership and a surge in industrial production and capacity combined with insufficient monitoring and regulation has led to serious air pollution.

Fu Tao, director of the Environmental Protection Industry Research Center at the Tsinghua University, said China’s water pollution may even be more serious than its air pollution.

Shanghai’s China Business News noted that China recorded an average annual increase of 2.1 billion tons of wastewater between 2001 and 2012, with the total sewage reaching 68.5 billion tons at the end of the 12-year period.

Ministry of Environmental Protection data also showed that 92.2% of the increase stemmed from urban areas.

With the government expected to unveil action plans to deal with air, water and soil pollution and the ongoing legislative review of an air pollution law and subsequent environment taxes and stricter standards, Mao said the environmental sector is set to see rapid growth as a result.

Data published during the summit reflected that incomes in the environmental sector doubled between 2004 and 2007, touching 3 trillion yuan (US$480 billion), with 3.2 million people and 23,000 companies working in the sector.

Mao further forecast that the sector will double in size during the 13th Five-Year Plan period by 2020, but said the government needs to tighten supervision, in order to force businesses to take up responsibility for reducing pollution.

On the other hand, deputy environmental protection minister Wu Xiaoqing pointed out during the summit that several local governments have begun employing third party services in handling work in environment-related areas, and that his ministry is drafting regulations for hiring private services for jobs, such as sewage treatment.

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