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China: Navigation Improvement Project Keeps Environmental Protection in Mind

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Reuse of the dredged sediments

The setting sun paints the sky and sea in red and orange. Tiny pieces of broken seashells glitter in the vast sandy beach.  This is the location of the Putou Operation Area of the Meizhou Bay Port. This 1,200-square-meters land has been filled with dredged sediments from the Meizhou Bay Navigation Improvement Project, and six berths for ships will be built here.

Supported by a $50 million loan from the World Bank, the project seeks to widen and deepen 21.5 kilometers of the existing main channel through dredging and rock blasting. Managing the disposal of large amounts of dredged sediments and debris was a challenge.

“The traditional way is to dump it into the ocean.  But it would cause pollution of the ocean. So we used the dredged sediments to backfill the land area behind the port, and turned the waste into something useful,” said Chen Jianxin, a division chief from the project management office.

Reusing the dredged sediments, estimated at 16 million cubic meters, could save up to RMB100 million ($15 million), said Zhao Xiangchao, manager of the Putou Operation Area.

Mitigating the environmental impact

The dredging of the navigation channel has major environmental impacts on bottom-dwelling organisms such as worms, clams, crabs and lobsters, and aquatic habitats, coastal mudflats, water quality and marine hydrodynamics. In addition to mitigation measures, an ecological compensation plan has been carefully designed, which includes a fish reproduction and release program, and a habitats restoration program for planting mangroves.

In the fish reproduction and release program, five fast-growing native fish and shrimp species with high economic value have been selected and bred in a hatchery under the supervision of the Fujian Fisheries Research Institute. These are released in batches during a five-year period.

The fourth release event took place on August 11, 2017 on the coast of Quanzhou. A researcher from the fishery institute conducted a sample count of the tiny shrimps brought in from the hatchery before these were loaded onto fishing boats and released into the sea.  About 150 million baby shrimps was released that day, and researchers will monitor and carry out follow-up surveys to assess the effects of the program later.

The program is welcomed by the local fishing communities. An increase in fishery resources leads to more catches and therefore more income. A fisherwoman who joined the release work said there are now more fishes than before.

The 950-year-old Luoyang Bridge in Quanzhou is the first stone bay bridge built in China, and is one of the country’s four most famous ancient bridges. Near the bridge are large areas of lush green mangroves.  A few egrets can be seen resting or searching for food among the trees. These mangroves are part of the Quanzhou Bay Estuary Wetland Nature Reserve.

“Under the project, we have planted 558 mu (372,000 square meters) of mangroves inside our reserve,” said Lai Xingkai, an engineer from the reserve.

Mangroves play an important role in coastal protection.  Lai listed their three major benefits: they can improve water quality, reduce pollution and eutrophication (over-enrichment of water by nutrients), and prevent red tides; they can reduce waves and strengthen dikes; and they provide a home to birds and coastal animals.

“Our workers are all hired from the nearby villages, and familiar with local conditions. We have more than 40 regular workers to maintain the mangroves,” Lai said.

Chen Chunfang, a local resident in the Zeng’an Village, looks after the mangroves as a part-time job. Every day, she would drive around the mangroves and stop any activity that may be harmful to the trees.  “With the mangroves, the environment has become so much better, and there are so many birds now, particularly in the morning,” said Chen.

Close attention has been paid to the protection of the environment during the project’s implementation, with more than RMB30 million ($4.55 million) invested in environmental measures. Engineering design was optimized to reduce the disposal area; special staff were assigned to supervise environmental compliance of contractors; related training courses were organized; intensive environmental quality and impact monitoring was conducted; and independent environmental consultants were engaged to assess the implementation of the environmental management plans and provide technical guidance and support.

Improving connectivity and creating jobs

Located between Quanzhou and Putian in the middle of the coast of Fujian Province, the Meizhou Bay Port is a major bulk port, handling approximately 40 million tons of freight in 2010 at 46 berths spread over four port areas. The main commodities handled are crude oil, building materials, coal and oil products, as well as iron ore, grain, and timber. It is also the closest port to some of the inland provinces.

Upon completion of the project in 2019, the main navigation channel will be upgraded to a 300,000 DWT (deadweight tonnage) standard that will allow for unidirectional tide-independent navigation of Q-MAX LNG (liquefied natural gas) ships, as well as unidirectional tide-dependent navigation of bulk cargo ships up to 400,000 DWT, the world’s largest bulk vessels.

The development of the Meizhou Bay Port will reduce the land transport distance and improve transport connectivity between the land-locked provinces of western Fujian, Jiangxi and Hunan and the ports and cities of the more dynamic coastal region, thus boosting the growth of the underdeveloped inland regions.

Domestic and international shipping companies, as well as the nearby industries that are heavy users of the port such as petrochemicals, power generation, timber processing and grain milling will directly benefit from improved navigation conditions.

Sinochem Quanzhou Petrochemical Co. operates five berths for import and export of crude oil and petroleum products.  Zhang Huaiguo, a manager from the company’s storage and transportation department, expects the project to reduce ships’ waiting time outside the port.

CNOOC Fujian LNG Co runs an LNG (liquefied natural gas) port. The current capacity of the navigation channel only allows 66,000 cubic meter LNG tankers. “Growing demand for LNG in the domestic market requires larger tankers, for example, 217,000 cubic meter Q-Flex tankers. Larger tankers would reduce transportation costs substantially,” said Xu Guoyang, a manager of the company’s production and operation department.

Xu’s words were also echoed by Yang Jin, a deputy engineering manager of the Luoyu Port, a large iron ore port under construction. “Ships of the future will be larger, because larger ships are more environment-friendly and cost-effective,” said Yang.

The port and associated industries have employed more than 30,000 people, with additional jobs provided by the upstream and downstream industries spawned by petrochemical and energy industries, benefiting the local communities.

Sharing knowledge and strengthening capacities

“The involvement of the World Bank has brought us international experience and best practices,” said Yu Junqi, a deputy director of the project management office. “The project has provided opportunities for knowledge sharing with peers in and outside China, by organizing study tours to major international ports such as Hamburg, Rotterdam and Esbjerg, and inviting experts from Germany and Singapore to give training and technical assistance. This has helped strengthen the capacities of the port authority,” he said.

Contributing to the Belt and Road Initiative

By 2020, the Meizhou Bay Port is expected to increase the number of productive berths from 50 to 90 with handling capacity reaching 200 million tons, and have the channel capacity for the world’s largest bulk carriers to enter. The port authority is also developing several logistics parks and a bulk goods trading platform, and seeking partnerships with other domestic and international sea ports, committed to play a greater role for the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative, according to its director Li Qing.

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Green Planet

2021 will be defined by the more long-term crisis facing humanity: Climate change

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Rather than low-tech and often unworkable solutions (reduced or no travel, mass vegan diets) governments are increasingly embracing technology to help us understand and influence the climate – rather than merely respond to it. This should become the norm for public authorities across the world.

China’s weather modification programme, for example, could be a lifeline for workable solutions to climate change globally. The technique, known as cloud-seeding, uses silver iodide and liquid nitrogen to thicken water droplets in the cloud, leading to increased rain or snowfall. 

The technology has been used to prevent droughts and regulate weather before major events, like in the run up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The Chinese cabinet has announced that its weather modification programme will cover half the country by 2025, with the aim to revitalize rural regions, restore ecosystems, minimize losses from natural disasters and redistribute water throughout the country.  

And China’s ambitious ‘Sky River’ programme could eventually divert 5 billion cubic meters of water annually across regions, which could protect millions of people from the effects of drought and water scarcity. 

Although critics have, without evidence, described these projects as ‘weaponization of the weather’, the humanitarian and development potential is huge. 

Necessity is the mother of invention, and this is truer than ever with regards to the climate. The world faces a climate-change induced water crisis, with 1.5 billion people affected globally. 

The UN predicts that at the current water usage levels, water scarcity could displace 700 million people by 2030. 

Carbon emissions are unlikely to be eliminated in high growth economies in regions like Asia, meaning that the world must develop a way to manage emissions’ effects on the climate. 

Whilst it is true that the basic solutions of eating less meat, cycling to work and cutting back on international flights can help to curb our carbon output in the long-run, it does nothing to help those who suffer from flooding or water scarcity today. 

Ultimately, technology is an essential part of the solution.

Big Tech is leading the charge in tackling climate change through the use of Big Data and machine learning. In November 2019, a group of data scientists published a paper entitled ‘Tackling Climate Change with Machine Learning’. The paper laid out 13 different applications of using machine learning to tackle the impacts of climate change. One such application was using machine-learning to predict extreme weather events. 

Such an application is already being put into action. For example, Bangladesh is one of the most flood-prone countries in the world; approximately 5 million people were negatively affected by flooding last year alone. In order to help combat this, Google teamed up with the Bangladesh Water Development Board and the Access to Information (a2i) Programme to develop a flood notification app that is approximately 90% accurate

The app, which is enabled by AI flooding simulation, provides the population with timely, updated, and critical information that can help users make informed decisions on the safety of their families and friends. 

The same technology has been used in both India and South Africa, and has the potential to save thousands of lives and livelihoods. It is these sorts of innovations that we must rely on to help those who are most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. 

It is not only cloud-seeding and weather prediction technologies that will provide humanity with a route out of its biggest existential threat. Breakthrough battery technology, green hydrogen, 5G-based smart grids and carbon-negative factories are set to become commonplace in our fight against rising CO2 levels. 

As a global society, we must set our political divisions and some critics’ technophobia aside, and step forward in a spirit of international collaboration.

Similarly to how the pandemic showed the need for united global action, climate change will do the same. And just as technology and science was a key part in how the pandemic was brought under control, climate change can only be addressed through tech-based solutions.

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The solution to marine plastic pollution is plural, and plastic offsetting is one of them

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Due to growing concerns around environmental protection, businesses, individuals and governments have been looking for solutions that can be largely implemented to close the tap on plastic pollution.

In the last five years, businesses have strengthened their Sustainability Approach to acknowledge the need to take responsibility for their plastic production and consumption.

If targets have been defined and strong policies followed them to ensure high recycling rates of plastic products, a problem remains. What is the solution for low-value non-recyclable plastics?

This is where plastic offsetting enters the scene. As a derivative of the Carbon Offsetting concept, where trees are planted or protected to capture CO2 emissions, Plastic offsetting also known as Plastic Neutralization, enables companies to take responsibility for their plastic footprint.

Put simply, neutralizing means funding the collection and treatment of plastic, equivalent to the plastic impact of the business. Therefore, giving it the opportunity to compensate for every ton of plastic it has produced by ensuring there is one ton less in the environment.

From linear to Circular Economy Itis also a breakthrough in our traditional model of production, the linear economy. By extending the producer responsibility (EPR), this concept allow to build the bridge that lead to the ideal model, the circular economy, where no waste remains.

This innovative solution brings with it diverse positive impact. To the environment, by protecting ecosystems from plastic pollution, reducing landfilling and CO2 emissions. A strong social impact, by local communities by empowering local communities with work and better incomes. But also businesses, by becoming more sustainable with the reduction of the plastic footprint and a strengthen corporate social responsibility.

TONTOTON, a Vietnamese company, based in Ho Chi Minh City has succeed to connect all stakeholders to create a new market for low-value non-recyclable post-consumer plastic, on the scheme of circular economy.

TONTOTON Plastic Neutralization Program

Following the idea that the informal sector achieve to collect and recycle large amount of plastic in poor waste management areas, Barak Ekshtein, director of TONTOTON decided to look closer to the problem. In fact, a study shows that ‘97% of plastic bottles were collected by informal waste pickers.

The problem therefore does not lie in the logistics but in the price. By giving a market price to non-recyclable plastic, it allows waste collectors to collect and treat waste and thus avoid plastic pollution.

TONTOTON currently works in Southern Vietnamese Islands, Hon Son and Phu Quoc, and has already few tons of low-value plastic waste. To do so, it collaborates with local waste-pickers and thus provide them better incomes. The program focuses on preventing ocean plastic by following the Ocean Bound Plastic Certification. Their activities are audited by a 3rd party control body, the internationally recognized company, Control Union.

To treat the waste, TONTOTON partners with a certified cement plant, through co-processing, to valorize waste as an alternative energy and raw material. “Our system can solve two issues. Plastic is made of fossil fuels and contains more energy than coal. Thus we can replace industrial coal consumption with non-recyclable plastic waste. The plastic will not end up in landfill or oceans, therefore reduce levels of coal consumption and thus also CO2 emissions.”, says Barak Ekshtein.

Businesses engaged in their program can claim plastic neutrality on the amount of plastic neutralized to share their sustainability efforts. Moreover, indicate it on their neutralized product by bearing the “Plastic Neutral Product” label.

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Green Planet

Climate Change in Vanuatu: Problems Ensue

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Authors: Harsh Mahaseth and Shubham Sharma*

Vanuatu announced its intention to seek legal action against corporations and governments who have benefited from products which had caused climate change. Minister Regebvanu, in the 2018 Climate Vulnerable Summit sought to explore legal actions against companies, financial institutions and governments liable for the damages caused to Vanuatu due to climate change, either by direct to indirect actions of the said parties. Vanuatu, like other small island nations, is seeking damage claims against carbon emitters who have contributed to climate change and benefited from it. Vanuatu seeks to claim reparations for damage caused by events related to climate change such as the 2015 cyclone which wiped out an estimated 64 per cent of Vanuatu’s GDP.

A case of action against global polluters isn’t novel. Climate Change litigation has its precedence, with over 1300 cases having been filed across 28 countries, where various public and private entities have petitioned the Courts for environmental action or relief. The source of the litigation comes for various multilateral treaties, such as the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment, Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and others treaties combating pollution.

For Vanuatu, one of the major obstacle, other than the likely opposition from powerful States, includes finding a suitable forum; identifying relevant substantive obligations and various challenges relating to attribution, causation and evidence before they are able to make successful climate litigation before an international body such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), scholars have argued that a path for successful litigation exists through Article 36, paragraph 2 of the ICJ Statute, where by accepting compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJa case for prevention obligations under the lex special is of the UNFCCC, human rights law or customary international law.

Strategic Public Climate Litigation, an injunctive relief solution where the aim is to influence public policy or policy decisions primarily through the attainment of injunctive relief by asserting governmental failure to account for GHG emissions associated with public projects and cases of judicial review of public regulatory action (or inaction) on climate change, has already achieved some degree of success. An example would be the Australian Conservation Foundation et al. v. Minister for Planning where there were concerns with regards to GHG emissions of a new coal mine which lead a tribunal to determine the lasting significant environmental effects of the coal mine in the future would be against the objective of the act which is to “maintenance of ecological processes” and the “future interest of all Victorians.” Another example is that of the State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation, where an injunction was sought to compel the Dutch government to reduce GHG emissions, the supreme court of appeals, upheld this view and ordered the Dutch government to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by the end of 2020, compared with 1990 level.

The second option for Vanuatu is to cast a wide net of a variety of legal theories, such as domestic tort law against carbon majors similar to the petition brought before the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, which investigate the responsibility of 47 investor-owned carbon majors for human rights violations due to climate change. For this approach, the initial challenge Vanuatu faces is the lack of a national human rights institution who can bring rights violations caused by climate change. However, the lack of a human rights institution can be mitigated by Vanuatu’s independent judicial system, as it is competent to address claims for damage caused by climate change by the polluters. The major hurdle Vanuatu faces is establishing the causation between the defendants’ conduct and its result, which is to say whether the action of the defendant lead to or contributed to the disaster, and secondly, the ability to certain specific damage sorted by Vanuatu on the other, especially in cases of non-economic loss and damage.

The recent surge in climate change litigation bodes well for Vanuatu, as the establishing precedence only strengthens their claim for damages. However, Vanuatu still faces major obstacles. Firstly, a lack of an international body to address the issue. Even if a case is brought before the ICJ, it can only be against a Member State. Thus, action against private entities cannot be brought before the ICJ. Secondly, identifying the rights violated and then assessing and assigning the damage liability to individuals, entities and governments. Thirdly, if Vanuatu pursues action in domestic courts, there are issues relating to the appearance of the party to the summons and the ability of Vanuatu to enforce the judgment. As the primary means of compliance for offenders in the international area are sanctions, Vanuatu without support from larger nations wouldn’t be able to handout sanctions to force compliance. There are many problems that Vanuatu faces but they cannot sit still now, and it is time to act and make the polluters liable.

* Shubham Sharma is a graduate from NALSAR University of Law. He has worked on several research projects relating to human rights, juvenile justice, and climate change.

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