Beijing not coming clean on pollution

Pedestrians walk by a Beijing 2008 Olympic games promotion billboard, amid the haze of the city's central business district.

TEXT OF STORY

Tess Vigeland: Here's one organization that decided against ratting out one of its members. An upcoming World Bank report found that pollution in China causes about 750,000 deaths every year.

But don't look for that figure in the final report. The Chinese government has pressured the World Bank to leave it out. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


Sam Eaton: With just over a year to go before Beijing hosts the summer Olympics, China is becoming increasingly sensitive of its environmental track record.

The Chinese media reported air quality in the capital last month was the worst in seven years. And according to figures omitted from an upcoming World Bank report, the issue is a deadly one.

Ted Fishman, author of "China Inc.," says Beijing faces a delicate balancing act on environmental issues.

Ted Fishman: The Chinese government wants to show that it is deeply concerned, but it doesn't want to show that it's completely out of control of the situation.

Fishman says pollution has become the number one flashpoint for civil unrest in China. And according to a story in the Financial Times, Chinese officials didn't want to add fuel to the fire by including geographically specific death figures in the report.

The World Bank says the findings were left out because the Chinese government took issue with the Bank's number crunching. And because it was a joint research project with China, the World Bank says it had no choice in the matter.

Daniel Rosen of the Institute for International Economics says that's unfortunate — especially as other developing nations try to emulate China.

Daniel Rosen: This is a seminal moment for thinking about how we grow our economies, what our priorities are. Why not have the best information possible about what the health effects are?

Rosen says he's analyzed the same numbers the World Bank left out of its report and found them to be statistically credible. He says that's what makes them so dangerous. By showing the human cost of China's unfettered growth, Rosen says the debate shifts to who's responsible.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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