Choke Point: China
The burgeoning confrontation between energy and water creates a choke point that poses fundamental global challenges. Underlying China’s advance to international economic prominence, like a tectonic fault line, lies an increasingly fierce competition for water. According to Chinese authorities and government reports, China’s massive economic growth is outpacing its freshwater supply. Water scarcity limits energy development, and the growing demand for nuclear energy, biofuels, and natural gas is straining fresh water supplies. Such complex connections between energy and water are poorly understood and under-reported, but the stakes for countries like China, India, and the United States are sky-high. The water-energy choke point could endanger economic growth, food production, and even political stability.
As part of a rich collection of original research, the China Environment Forum (CEF) and Circle of Blue produced 16 multimedia stories (see links below) that illustrate the intensifying confrontation between energy demand and freshwater supply. Choke Point: China delves into the water-energy nexus in China, combining world-class expertise, networks, and reporting forms to bring Choke Point stories to key decision-makers, the public, and the media. Choke Point: China is not a narrative of doom and gloom, and these Choke Point narratives reinforce achievements on a range of water conservation and efficiency measures.
In May of 2012, the Circle of Blue team returned to China for a second round of research on the water energy confrontation. Read their blog posts (below) from a farm in Heilongjiang Province, the streets of lush Changsha, and beyond.
Choke Point: China is a joint Circle of Blue and the China Environment Forum project. The first two years of this research and reporting project were made possible by Energy Foundation and additional support from Vermont Law School, USAID, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Blue Moon Fund and the Alpern Foundation.
Choke Point: China Part II, which begins launching stories in October 2012, is being supported by Skoll Global Threats Fund, with additional support from Vermont Law School and USAID.
BLOG POSTS CHRONICLING CIRCLE OF BLUE'S CHOKE POINT: CHINA II RESEARCH
- Keith Schneider Posts Update from the Fields of Shenyang, June 12, 2012
- Nadya Ivanovna Researches Water Patterns in Gansu and Hunan, June 8, 2012
- Keith Schneider Describes History of YouYi Farm, Heilongjiang Province, June 5, 2012
SIXTEEN STORIES CHRONICLING CHOKE POINT: CHINA I
- Double Choke Point: Demand for Energy Tests Water Supply and Economic Stability in China and the U.S.
The cords of energy demand and water supply are tightening around the world’s two largest economies.
- Infographic: Map of Pollution Levels in China’s Major River Basins
The seven major river basins, as a whole, have had steady improvements in water quality over the past decade. Click through the interactive infographic below to view China’s seven major river basins and how the water quality of each river has changed over the past decade.
- China’s Other Looming Choke Point: Food Production
Chinese farm officials and academic authorities in Beijing are becoming increasingly concerned that China does not have enough water, good land, and energy to sustain its agricultural prowess.
- Choke Point: China—Confronting Water Scarcity and Energy Demand in the World’s Largest Country
Underlying China’s new standing in the world is an increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress. Simply put, according to Chinese authorities and government reports, China’s demand for energy, particularly for coal, is outpacing its freshwater supply.
- China Responds to Explosive Growth, Pollution, and Water Scarcity in Latest Five-Year Plan
China has set a path over the next five years to reduce consumption of the two most important resources that power its economy— coal and water. The country plans to rein in water use and introduces new energy intensity reduction targets in pursuit of more sustainable economic growth, according to the draft proposal of the 12th Five-Year Plan, the master economic blueprint that will chart China’s development through 2015.
- Q&A: Ma Jun on China’s Economic Development and Water Resources
Ma Jun—China’s leading water activist—tells Circle of Blue that China is still on the track of a highly energy- and resource-intensive model, with the need to de-couple economic growth from the expansion of resource consumption.
- Circle of Blue’s China Tour Finds Strong Reception for Water-Energy Choke Point Warning
Since mid-February, in probing weekly reports from our Choke Point: China series, Circle of Blue and the China Environment have for the first time revealed the increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China’s progress. In late March, the two organizations arrived in Beijing for the start of a 16-day trip that took three COB reporters and two CEF researchers to Beijing and Shanghai in eastern China and then to Chengdu and Yinchuan, in the nation’s south and west.
- Memo to Hu and Obama: Water and Energy Choke Points Merit Time at the China-U.S. Summit
Washington’s foreign policy community is all aflutter anticipating the meaning and outcome of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s three-day summit with U.S. President Barack Obama, which starts today. But while the two heads of state focus on resolving what pries them apart, both nations share a dangerous confrontation within their borders over energy demand and water supply—offering a matchless opportunity for new kinds of cooperation on policy, technology, business, and trade.
- Rains Bring Relief For Six-Month China Drought, But Chronic Water Problems Loom Heavy rainfall began in China last Friday, easing the effects of a prolonged drought that has been ongoing in the nation’s central and eastern regions since January. Though this spring’s dry spell has affected 35 million people across five provinces in the Yangtze River Basin—leaving 3.5 million with limited access to drinking water—analysts predict limited impact on national food production, consumer prices, and power output.
Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue
Diversification of Energy Runs the Gamut from Stemming to Worsening China’s Energy-Water Choke Points
- Burst of New Dams in Southwest China Produces Power and Public Ire
Even in China, where power plants, coal mines, water-transport networks, and other big tools of industrialization are built at astonishing scale and with surprising speed, the hydropower dam construction program in Sichuan, Yunnan, Tibet, and other southwest provinces has no equal in China, or anywhere else for that matter.
- New Wind and Solar Sectors Won’t Solve China’s Water Scarcity
Prompted by a national decision in 2005 to diversify the nation’s energy production portfolio, and to do so with the goal of reducing water consumption and climate-changing carbon emissions, Gansu and its desert neighbors are pursuing clean energy development with a ferocity unrivaled now in the world.
- Water Needs Curtail China’s Coal Gasification For Fuel, Yet Conversion To Chemicals Pushes Ahead
Though coal-to-liquids has been suspended due to water scarcity, the process uses 50 percent less water per unit of end product compared with coal-to-chemicals processes which have been given the go-ahead in hopes of slowing petroleum imports.
Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue
Water on the Move—Transfers, Trading and Recycling
- A Dry and Anxious North Awaits China’s Giant, Unproven Water Transport Scheme
Taken together, the three lines of the South-North Water Transfer Project are an audacious strategy to solve a commanding threat to China’s modernization: the increasingly dire confrontation between rising energy demand in a nation that is steadily getting drier.
- Water Rights Transfers and High-Tech Power Plants Hold off Energy-Water Clash in Northern China: An ambitious water conservation and transfer program, started in 2003, is helping Ningxia hold off the looming confrontation between its scarce water reserves and growing coal-based industrial sector
- Bohai Sea Pipeline Could Open China’s Northern Coal Fields: China is considering a proposal for a transcontinental pipeline from the Bohai Sea in China’s east that could draw more than 340,000 cubic meters (90 million gallons) of seawater a day into a complex of coastal desalination plants, and then pump this water 1,400 meters uphill for more than 600 kilometers (nearly 400 miles) to Xilinhot, where it will be used for coal mining operations.
- Off the Deep End — Beijing’s Water Demand Outpaces Supply Despite Conservation, Recycling, and Imports: Beijing is at the bull’s-eye of a potentially ruinous collision between accelerating growth and scarce freshwater reserves that is unfolding in China’s dry and resource-rich northern provinces. Beijing’s municipal government, though, is acting with authority and some speed to avoid a water crisis. The city is relocating thirsty industries to the coast, regulating water prices, cutting back on irrigated farmland, and setting nationally significant standards for retrofitting sewage treatment systems to recycle wastewater.
Choke Point: China Videos
- Choke Point: China Part I
- Choke Point: China Part II