Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Agriculture: Biggest Polluter

On February 6, China released a communique reporting results from its first "pollution census" conducted jointly by the Ministries of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, and National Bureau of Statistics. As a number of journalists have reported, the census is the first estimate of emissions that includes agriculture and shows that agriculture creates more pollution than industry. There has been a lot of effort to bring industrial emissions under control in recent years, but agriculture was mostly ignored as a gigantic silent polluter. Environmental protection reports have been saying this for a while, but these are the first statistics showing this.

I pieced together data from different sections of the report to create the chart below showing sources of water pollution, measured by COD (chemical oxygen demand) emissions in metric tons. By this measure, agriculture is the biggest polluter, accounting for 42% of emissions. Processing and manufacturing industries (ag processing, food manufacturing, beverage manufacturing) are listed as major polluting industries as well. Adding these "value-added" industries, agriculture and related processing contributes about half of water pollution emissions. Big industrial polluters are textile and paper industries.

Source: Data from "Communique on First Pollution Census" Feb 6, 2010.

The biggest perpetrator appears to be the livestock industry. The communique reports estimated manure and urine produced by the industry which I have charted along with meat production for reference. Studies I've found in the Chinese literature estimate livestock waste far higher than this.

Source: Data from "Communique on First Pollution Census" Feb 6, 2010 and National Bureau of Statistics.

Is anybody paying attention? Yes! In December, the top leadership stressed the importance of rural environmental protection work for 2010. A big chunk of money for rural environmental protection was announced recently. A set of environmental "problem villages" has been targeted, and a mechanism for giving financial awards for environmental measures was set up a couple of years ago. There are dozens of pilot programs addressing all kinds of environmental problems.

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