- Major lake Dianchi still polluted despite billions of investment
- Local authorities slammed for making reserve ‘cement mountain’
- Fifth of China’s vertebrates in danger, official data shows
- China could protect 30% of territory by 2030 – official
KUNMING, China, Oct 18 (Reuters) – China used a five-day United Nations biodiversity conference in Kunming to celebrate its achievements in protecting habitats and improving its environmental record. Despite progress, a rift remains between rhetoric and reality.
During talks to secure a global post-2020 pact to reverse species loss in the capital city of southwest China’s Yunnan province last week, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of a new 1.5 billion yuan ($233 million) biodiversity fund as well as a beefed-up national park scheme.
“China is sticking to an ecology-first path for green development and has already made remarkable achievements,” Vice-Premier Han Zheng said. The government would now put biodiversity at the heart of political and economic decision-making, he said.
Yunnan province itself is promising to reverse damage done to its fragile local ecosystems over the last four decades, starting at Dianchi, a 300-square kilometre freshwater lake – one of China’s biggest – located within a mile of the Kunming conference centre.
A decade of efforts and billions of dollars of spending at Dianchi have already seen the construction of 28 wastewater treatment plants handling more than 2 million tonnes of sewage a day. Wetland parks have been established, and polluted feeder rivers along the lake have been rehabilitated.
But though water quality has been raised from “below grade V”, meaning not even suitable for industrial use, it remains at grade IV – still severely polluted and hazardous to humans. Yunnan province officials could not provide a date for when it would be upgraded further. Scientists said decades of untreated industrial and household waste had ruined the ecosystem.
“Of course our target is to make the water better and better but scientifically speaking, in the short term it is going to be hard to get to grade III,” said Huang Yuhong, vice-principal of a local research institute dedicated to protecting the lake.
China divides water quality into five grades, with grade III suitable for human contact and drinking.
The central government has accused local authorities of failing to develop a “clear understanding of the fragile and sensitive reality” of the local environment.
A central government inspection team said in July that the “ecological space” around Dianchi was being “severely squeezed”. It also accused local real estate developers of turning the protected zone of Changyao Mountain, located on the southeast edge of the lake, into a “cement mountain”.
During a visit to Changyao, Reuters was blocked from taking photographs and forced to leave the area by a group of men who refused to identify themselves.
Real estate construction across the mountain is still ongoing, with cranes…