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Time to take stock

By Fu Jing | China Daily | Updated: 2011-06-01 08:25

Time to take stock

Ensconced in my office in Brussels, I must admit I was a bit perplexed when asked to write a piece on the transformation of the environment and energy sectors over the past 30 years in China. Much as I hate to admit it, the first memories that come to my mind are not happy ones, but those tinged with sadness and bitterness.

A lot of water has flown under the economic bridge in the last 30 years. But the agony and angst that I witnessed over the years also offer vital lessons for the future as China embarks on its quest to build a sustainable, clean, green future.

They say all good things begin with bad ones. China's green journey also had to witness several ecological disasters. Some of them were uncontrollable natural disasters, but many were avoidable man-made mishaps that led to huge losses of lives and property. What I have realized is that despite the giant strides China has made to date, the nation is still vulnerable and it is time to act quickly lest we face bigger disasters that are irreversible.

Nothing riles me more than my memories of the fate of Zhao Xiuhua. Now aged 38, Zhao, who hails from Tongjiang county in Sichuan province, can never forget the summer of 2007 when a devastating flash flood from a reservoir snuffed out the lives of her husband and two children. I can still remember the angst and anguish in her words when I caught up with her four years ago. "I lost my family, my home has become debris, and I have no hope for life," Zhao said.

Sharing a similar plight is 57-year-old Chen Yulin and his wife from Northwest China's Gansu province. One night in July 2008, after nine months of dry weather without a drop of rain, the clouds erupted with thunder and lightning, lashing the impoverished province with torrential rains. The torrential downpour was just as vicious as the scorching drought. The rain and rocks battered the couple's shabby four-room dwelling, situated on the foot of a steep slope, but luckily they managed to survive. "Climate change shortened the rain season and we got one year's rain all in one night. It was horrific," he says.

Even as I muse over the two incidents I cannot help think of the situation in China now as most parts of the nation are reeling from a severe drought. In less than two months, the rainy season will start and it will again be a season of despair and fright.

Apart from floods and droughts, sandstorms, rampant pollution, chemical leaks, ecological disasters, retreat of glaciers, rising sea levels, global warming and endangered species have always grabbed headlines. "Grave" and its synonymous expressions often remind us of the need to protect our environment.

I believe that the door of opportunity is still open. China has been on a learning curve and has already started to take firm measures to protect the environment and improve energy efficiency. New concepts such as cleaner production in manufacturing, circular economy, emissions trade, low-carbon growth and green life are slowly gaining ground. For skeptics like me it offers a ray of hope for a clean, green future.

Fu Jing is the chief correspondent of China Daily in Brussels.

(China Daily 06/01/2011 page53)

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