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ENVIRONMENT

By Yang Rui and Teng Jing Xuan / Mar 15, 2019 07:34 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

China’s environment ministry has issued a ban on the pesticides lindane and endosulfan, substances known to pose health risks to humans.

The decision, made jointly with 10 other government departments and published this week, is intended to improve China’s compliance with the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty on pollutants. China formally joined the Stockholm Convention in 2004.

Lindane and endosulfan, which are frequently used to treat crops and parasites on humans and animals, are classified under the Stockholm Convention as “persistent organic pollutants” (POPs) that stay in the environment for an exceptionally long time.

China is also restricting the use of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and similar substance perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), which used to be the main ingredient of 3M’s fabric treatment Scotchgard. These two substances are also considered POPs under the Stockholm Convention, and may now only be used in the limited number of applications allowed by the convention, including airplane hydraulic fluid and photo imaging.

After the U.S. and Europe began restricting the use of PFOA and PFOS in the early 2000s, production of the compounds shifted to Asia, while the compounds themselves have been detected at high levels in soil and rivers in parts of China, multiple researchers told Caixin last year.

The ban takes effect on March 26.

Related: Tackling China’s Soil Pollution May Be Harder Than Fighting PM2.5

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ENVIRONMENT

By Zhao Runhua / Mar 14, 2019 11:37 AM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Slowly but surely, Hainan is getting rid of fossil fuel cars. And it’s beginning with government vehicles.

The tropical island province had been discussing the move since last year.

Now, a formal proposal has passed to start phasing out fossil-fuel cars used by government and Communist Party departments, local newspaper Hainan Daily reported.

Starting from this year, such agencies can only select new energy vehicles when purchasing new cars or replacing existing ones. This does not include vehicles used for special purposes that have no clean-energy alternatives, the proposal explained.

By 2020, at least 10% of the total vehicles owned by government and Party departments should be new energy models. The figure should reach 70% in 2025, and 100% by 2028.

The province said it will ban selling fossil-fuel vehicles to all residents in 2030.

Related: Quick Take: Hainan Wants Fossil-Fuel Cars to Go the Way of Dinosaurs

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By Olivia Ryan / Mar 12, 2019 05:46 PM / Environment

Xingtai, Hebei. Photo: VCG

Xingtai, Hebei. Photo: VCG

Beijing and Tianjin may run into problems with their water supply in the future, warned one CPPCC delegate at this week's annual meeting. 

The South-to-North Water Diversion project has provided northern cities with additional water since the early 2014, but Beijing has become over-reliant on good-quality water from the south. There is also an increasing need and demand for water in the receiving areas. 

A chief engineer and professor, Zhong Zhiyu, also warned that it is hard to guarantee the supply of water, as the Danjiangkou Reservoir in central China may experience drier year.

Water supply is a huge problem for Beijing, which is exacerbated by dry winters and a growing population. It is over-reliant on the diverted water from the south, Zhong says, and more needs to be done to prevent any serious shortages in the future.

Related: Chart: China’s Glaciers Supply Water to Billions. They’re Vanishing

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By Shen Fan, Qi Xiaomei, Zhao Runhua and Zhou Tailai / Mar 08, 2019 04:51 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

We usually don’t see it, or even think about it. But China’s soil pollution is in fact “very severe,” said Li Wei, director of the State Council’s Development Research Center, during a discussion at China’s CPPCC.

It could take longer – and require greater investment – for China to solve its soil-pollution issues than its air-pollution problems, Li said.

Pollution caused by pesticides and fertilizers in China’s soil is among the worst in the world, according to Li. He demonstrated his point with a case from Shandong province – a major agricultural and trading hub for North China – in which local farmers refused to consume the same ginger they were selling, for fear of toxicity caused by polluted soil.

Rampant water and soil pollution could eventually prevent Chinese agricultural products from qualifying for sale on international markets, he added. Li proposed that the State Council study the uses of pesticides and fertilizers, and spend two to three years working toward practical solutions.

But pesticides and fertilizers aren’t the only causes of China’s soil pollution. Soils are also polluted by industrial chemicals such as cadmium, a toxic heavy metal often used for making batteries, which can cause diseases when it seeps into rice through the soil. From 2016 to 2018, Quzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province reported seven instances of cadmium-polluted rice. 

Related: China Comes to Grips with Poisons Underfoot


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By Zhou Tailai and Zhao Runhua / Mar 05, 2019 04:47 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Beijing might be active in advocating anti-climate-change policies, but some local governments are going the opposite way, according to Tang Junjie, chief engineer at a leading state-owned cold chain company, who spoke as a delegate to the CPPCC. 

According to Tang, many local governments are suppressing the use of liquid ammonia, an energy-efficient refrigerant which would cause less environmental damage. Due to some recent safety accidents caused by improper storage and ammonia's flammable nature, many local governments are reluctant to issue approval of ammonia usage.

According to Tang, this is forcing companies to use Freon, a refrigerant that greatly exacerbates ozone depletion and accelerates global warming.

Tang believes this could hurt China’s credibility as a member of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The delegate proposed to clarify industry standards regarding the uses of ammonia, and to regulate local industry supervision.

Related: China's Carbon Footprint Swells to Record Size

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By Wang Jiawen and Tang Ziyi / Mar 04, 2019 04:17 PM / Environment

Wu Weiren. Photo: VCG

Wu Weiren. Photo: VCG

It looks like China hopes to follow up on the success of Chang'e 4, the spacecraft that made history when it landed on the far side of the moon last month.

China now plans to land a rover to Mars next year, the next step in its ambitious plan to become a major space power.

China will send a rover to Mars to orbit, land and conduct astronomical observations, Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar exploration program, said on Sunday before the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

China plans to become a space power by 2030. Other projects in the works include building a reusable launcher and a permanently manned space station.

Related: Five Things to Know About China’s Bid to Land on the Far Side of the Moon

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By Zhao Runhua / Feb 26, 2019 04:06 PM / Environment

A county in southwest China has suspended its shale gas exploration after three earthquakes occurred within two days, which locals have angrily attributed to the mining activity.

The earthquakes — in Rong county, Sichuan province — occurred less than five hours apart, with magnitudes of 4.7, 4.3, and 4.9, respectively, according to China’s earthquake monitoring platform, CENC. Though this pales in comparison to powerful quakes like the 8.0 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan in 2008 that killed 69,227, two residents were killed and 10,911 rooms were reportedly damaged.

Anxious residents angrily blamed the gas mining. The local government has since suspended all shale gas extraction until an undisclosed date for what it called “safety" considerations.

Last October, the same Rong county government responded to citizens' similar concerns — expressed online and on the streets — and said further research was needed. No major earthquakes were reported last year, according to CENC.

Rong county is adjacent to the notorious Himalaya earthquake-prone area where tectonic plates move, but is also in one of China’s largest areas of shale gas reserves.

Data showed that the quakes occurred around five kilometers below the surface, but some experts pointed out that Rong’s shales reserves are mostly at shallower depths, which they said may mean the quakes were simply natural occurrences.

Related: Gallery: Help Rushes In After Strong Earthquake Shakes Sichuan City

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By Han Wei / Feb 26, 2019 02:35 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The world’s second and third largest issuers of environmentally friendly “green bonds” are moving hand in hand to unify market standards for the financial instrument.

Officials from China and European countries — as well as those from Japan, Canada and India — are scheduled to meet in Brussels on March 21 to discuss efforts to unify definitions and standards for the fledgling green finance market, according to Sean Kidney, CEO of non-governmental organization the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), which focuses on promoting investment in projects that contribute to addressing climate change.

Green bonds are fixed-income financial instruments targeted in some way toward climate and environmental projects.

A total of $167 billion-worth of such bonds was issued in 2018, according to CBI. However, global standards for their investment and supervision are essentially non-existent, and each country follows its own rules.

Related: For Bond Investors in China, It’s Not Easy Buying Green

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By Bloomberg / Feb 22, 2019 11:46 AM / Environment

Photo: Bloomberg

Photo: Bloomberg

China is developing a non-lethal weapon system based on microwave radar technology, Global Times reported, citing an interview with the project’s chief engineer, surnamed Su.

The weapon shoots millimeter microwaves at targets to inflict pain under their skin, said Su, who is also a senior engineer from the Beijing Institute of Radio Measurement affiliated with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation. The microwaves can be aimed at specific body parts or sweep a wider area.

Tests have so far shown that the weapon left no permanent injuries or long-term physical effects, the Communist Party publication said. China’s police and the coast guard are potential buyers of the system, it added.

Related: Former Top General Jailed for Life on Corruption Charges

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By Noelle Mateer / Feb 15, 2019 03:15 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 40 kg (88 pounds) of illegal rhino horns worth HK$8 million ($1 million), Reuters reported Friday.

It’s the latest seizure in Hong Kong’s push to stop the rising trafficking of endangered species through its territory, Reuters said.

Hong Kong is a major hub for illegal wildlife trafficking due to its proximity to major markets for endangered species products and fairly relaxed enforcement – but that enforcement has been picking up. Last month, Hong Kong Customs confiscated over 1,000 ivory tusks and a record volume of pangolin scales when it busted a major smuggling ring from Africa.

The rhino horn traffickers were en route to Vietnam from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Beijing sparked controversy in October when it announced that it would legalize the use of tiger and rhinoceros parts for scientific and medical purposes. It shelved the plan in response to public outcry over its potential harm to endangered wildlife.

Related: Rhino-Horn Trade Revives, Thanks to Social Media

 

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By Flynn Murphy / Feb 13, 2019 04:45 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Researchers in China and the U.S. have designed a machine to diagnose sick people based on their doctors’ notes — with an accuracy that rivals its human counterparts.

They say the system, a type of neural network, could help physicians make differential diagnoses — or decide between two or more diseases with similar symptoms — as well as prioritize patients for treatment in emergency rooms.

It has learned to read electronic health records and extract a patient’s symptoms, history, and test results to make diagnoses, say the researchers, who trained it using data from half a million children that visited a Guangzhou pediatric hospital over 18 months to July 2017.

The research team, led by Kang Zhang of the University of California San Diego, published its work this week in Nature Medicine.

They pitted the system against 20 physicians on a random sample of 12,000 patient records from a second Guangzhou hospital. It rivaled doctors with many years of training in accuracy, but its performance depended on the disease.

It was better at spotting respiratory disease than were doctors with 25 years’ experience, and excellent at identifying potentially deadly bacterial meningitis, a brain infection, but poorer than human physicians at identifying encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain.

“This result suggests that this AI model may potentially assist junior physicians in diagnoses but may not necessarily outperform experienced physicians,” the researchers wrote.

It could also be used as a triaging tool at hospitals to ensure “physicians’ time is dedicated to the patients with the highest and/or most urgent needs,” as well as to reduce waiting times.

And it could help doctors make better differential diagnoses, because physicians tend to be biased towards diagnosing diseases they have seen regularly or recently, the researchers wrote.

Related: Beijing Hospital Exec Fakes Dementia to Cheat Insurance System

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By Bloomberg / Feb 12, 2019 09:52 AM / Environment

He Jiankui speaking in Hong Kong on Nov. 28. Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

He Jiankui speaking in Hong Kong on Nov. 28. Photographer: Anthony Kwan/Bloomberg

Stanford University is probing the involvement of the school’s faculty members with the Chinese scientist who’s drawn international condemnation for creating the world’s first gene-edited babies.

Since He Jiankui’s claim in November that twin girls had been born with DNA altered to make them resistant to HIV, multiple Stanford faculty members have said that the Chinese researcher spoke with them about the possibility of genetically modifying human embryos and implanting them in women.

He’s work, which used the Crispr gene-editing technology to modify DNA in the embryos, has sparked debate within the scientific community on the boundaries of genetic engineering. A Chinese government probe last month found he violated laws and signaled he may face a criminal investigation.

Related: Found: CCTV's Glowing 2017 Coverage of Gene-Editing Pariah He Jiankui

“We routinely look into concerns that are brought to our attention involving Stanford, and we have a review underway of the circumstances around Dr. He’s interactions with researchers at the university,” Stanford spokesman E.J. Miranda said via email.

He conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford. His former adviser, Stephen Quake, had said he was in contact with He recently, as have bioethicist William Hurlbut and Matthew Porteus, a pioneer in the field of gene editing. Both Hurlbut and Porteus have said that they discouraged such an experiment, and signaled their disapproval.

Hurlbut and Porteus declined to comment.

Stanford declined to elaborate on specifics of its probe. Hurlbut referred questions about the review to Stanford’s public relations office while Porteus and Quake couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

At least one other U.S. researcher’s relationship with He is also under scrutiny. Michael Deem, who appears as an author on several papers with He and was He’s adviser, is under investigation by Rice University in Houston.

A Chinese government investigation last month determined that He did edit the genes of two baby girls who were born, and another pregnancy resulting from He’s work is also underway. He’s work has not been confirmed by independent scientists or peer review.

The scientist’s employment and research activities were terminated by the Southern University of Science and Technology after the Chinese probe.

Stanford’s review was first reported by the MIT Technology Review.

Related: Letter: How China’s Penchant for Eugenics Led to CRISPR Babies

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By Gao Baiyu / Feb 04, 2019 04:44 PM / Environment

Police investigate the explosion in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, on Nov. 28, 2018.

Police investigate the explosion in Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, on Nov. 28, 2018.

Staff at a Hebei chemical plant where an explosion killed 24 and injured 21 have been accused of hiding evidence and misleading investigators.

Poor maintenance contributed to a vinyl chloride leak that caused the deadly blast at a Hebei Shenghua chemical plant in November, investigators said in a provincial government report (link in Chinese) published online Sunday.

The report, released by Hebei’s Department of Emergency Management, said closed circuit television footage showed a plant manager watching videos on his phone near the site of the leak just two hours before the explosion. But it said there was no obvious sign of a problem until around 5 minutes before the blast.

In the aftermath of the blast, Shenghua employees had told Caixin reporters that their plant was not responsible (link in Chinese), and even suggested that a neighboring energy company may have caused the explosion.

Police have detained 12 staff, including the firm's Communist Party chief and its general manager. The provincial government has recommended that Zhangjiakou city's Bureau of Emergency Management revoke the company’s license, and called for a penalty of 9.49 million yuan ($1.41 million) to be levied on the company — 5 million for the explosion, and 4.49 million for hiding evidence and misleading authorities.

The explosion caused an estimated 41.48 million yuan in damage.

Hebei Shenghua Chemical Industry Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of state-owned chemical giant China National Chemical Corp. Ltd. (ChemChina), has more than 1,300 employees. Three ChemChina officials were also reprimanded, the report said.

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By Noelle Mateer / Feb 01, 2019 03:50 PM / Environment

The far side of the moon, as seen by Chang'e-4. Photo: IC

The far side of the moon, as seen by Chang'e-4. Photo: IC

Parts of the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing record-breaking low temperatures this week.

But Earth isn’t the only place making headlines for being so cold lately.

China’s lunar probe Chang’e-4 has woken up from a two-week hibernation on the far side of the moon – and it’s colder than scientists had predicted.

The probe reported nighttime temperatures that were much colder than expected: as low as minus 190 degrees Celsius, the China National Space Administration (SNSA) said Thursday.

The temperature was lower than conditions reported by U.S. missions to the near side of the moon, according to Chang’e-4 mission director Zhang He, speaking with China’s state-owned news agency Xinhua.

China became the first nation to land a spacecraft on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3.

Related: Five Things to Know About China’s Bid to Land on the Far Side of the Moon


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By Zhou Tailai and Ren Qiuyu / Jan 22, 2019 05:16 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Beijing will focus on maintaining the PM2.5 concentration average reached last year rather than reduce the target this year, the Ministry of Environment and Ecology announced on Monday.

China’s capital surpassed its target last year when the average PM2.5 concentration dropped to 51 micrograms per cubic meter, said Liu Bingjiang, director of the ministry’s Department of Atmospheric Environment.

Beijing’s efforts to control of the tiny but hazardous particles that create its infamous smog have had some success. The city has converted 1.1 million households from using coal to natural gas for heating, as well as moved “scattered and dirty” enterprises out of the city center.

Liu said that mobile sources – such as cars and trucks – accounted for 45% of PM2.5 emissions. In order to further the decline, Beijing will focus on “mobile and living sources.” However, Liu added, unfavorable weather conditions could cause the average concentration to rise.

Related: Amid Tightened Pollution Controls, Smog Still Subject to Changing Winds

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By Tao Ziwei, Luo Guoping and Tang Ziyi / Jan 21, 2019 12:35 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

A city in China’s Northern Shaanxi province will halt parts of its coal production that account for 4% of China’s total national steam coal supply, a local energy administration announced Tuesday.

Steam coal is used for both power and heat – and the city of Yulin will halt production of an estimated 150 million tons of it by Chinese New Year.

The halt comes after a coal mine collapsed in the city on Jan. 12, killing 21 people. The reason for the collapse is still under investigation.

The purchase price of coal per ton at mines in Yulin increased by 50 to 70 yuan ($7.37-$10) after the incident, according to industry consulting company Fenwei Energy.

Related: What Caused China’s Coal Crunch?

 


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By Runhua Zhao / Jan 15, 2019 12:44 PM / Environment

China’s moon explorer Chang’e-4 sent back a photo on Tuesday – and it’s of a plant.

The picture is of a sprouting cotton plant in a part of the spacecraft sectioned off for experiments, CCTV reported

This is Chang’e-4's first biological experiment on the surface of the moon, but the explorer has also brought potato seeds and fruit-fly eggs, so it shouldn’t be its last.

A Chang'e-5 explorer is also expected to land on the moon by late 2019.

China also plans to launch Mars missions in 2020, China's State Council Information Office said this Monday

Related: China Makes Historic Touchdown on Moon’s Far Side

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By Zhao Runhua / Jan 08, 2019 03:06 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Update: 8:25 p.m.

Huawei has denied reports that it is working with Yuan Longping to cultivate rice. 

It did not say whether rotating chairman Hu Houkun had misspoke or was misquoted in earlier Chinese media reports.

-----------

Original report: 3:06 p.m.

Huawei is bringing the internet of things (IoT) to … rice.

The company has been working with Yuan Longping, China’s “Father of Hybrid Rice,” since August 2018, rotating chairman Hu Houkun announced Monday.

The telecoms giant is offering digital assistance to a project that aims to solve widespread soil salination problems by increasing certain rice varieties’ salt tolerance, Hu said. Huawei is lending meteorological equipment and underground monitoring devices, and its big data centers will tailor agricultural plans.

The partnership aims to cultivate 16 million acres of arable land out of 247 million acres of salinized land.

If all goes to plan, the new arable soil could increase rice supplies by 30 billion kilograms per year, which could potentially feed 80 million people, Yuan said, according to Chinese media.

An initial project is in trial operation in China’s eastern Shandong province.

See more of our Huawei coverage here


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By Li Yi / Jan 04, 2019 10:11 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Although the economy seems foggy, at least the air cleared up in 2018.

The Beijing Municipal Ecological Environmental Bureau on Friday released statistics (link in Chinese) on the capital’s overall air quality. The figures show that the average concentration of PM2.5 in Beijing last year was 12.1% less than it was in 2017.

The average concentration of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and PM10 also all dropped in 2018 compared with 2017, down 25.0%, 8.7% and 7.1% respectively.

The release also suggests that the occurrence of heavy pollution saw a significant drop in 2018. Last year was the first time since 2013 that there was no heavy pollution lasting three days or more in a row, and no heavy PM2.5 pollution for 195 consecutive days.

March and November were the most polluted months of the year. The northeastern part of the city had the best air, whereas the southwestern area was the most polluted.

Heavy pollution in 2018 was noted on 15 days in Beijing. In 2013, it occurred on 58 days (link in Chinese).

Related: Chart of the Day: Beijing’s Air Pollution Level Dips to New Low

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By Charlotte Yang / Dec 27, 2018 05:56 PM / Environment

Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

Chinese authorities announced Thursday that 917 people were punished after a two-month round of inspections for failing to implement environmental protection regulations or for related violations.

Members of local party committees and local governments as well as employees of state-owned enterprises were among those punished, according to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.

The ministry said it had conducted inspections in seven provinces including Tianjin, Shanxi and Hunan in April and May last year. Of the violations they found, around half were related to local officials not implementing rules or performing required inspections, while around a third were related to new decisions that went against laws and regulations.

The city of Dalian in Liaoning province, for example, was found to have illegally reclaimed 2436 hectares (6019.5 acres) of land 2011 to March 2017, including some projects that did not even have the approval of local officials, the ministry said.

The ministry said most of the 917 were faced “party disciplinary actions,”and some were being further investigated.

To tackle heavy pollution, China’s central government has stepped up surprise inspections to monitor local governments’ compliance with central policies.

Related: China Isn't Relaxing Its War on Smog, Environment Ministry Says

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