East Asia’s Approach to EU-style Environmental Protection

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East Asia’s Approach to EU-style Environmental Protection

                                                                                                 Polluted river bank with so many plastics / Photo by Publicdomainpictures.net

 

The European Environment Agency just published a report that clearly indicates that most bodies of water among EU member states — rivers, tributaries, lakes, groundwater and coastal waters — fall short of the EU’s water quality standards. As such, the agency is beseeching EU governments to step up and protect water habitats and their respective species, and to do so, the agency recommends that states reroute rivers, channels, and tributaries; expand hydropower dams and similar structures, reinforcing them if need be; and expand the chemical contamination efforts in response to fertilizer run-off, reclaiming land in the process when necessary.

In Asia, there are fewer such measures and bureaus established to catch and address issues like these, and that leads to further degradation of ecosystems before these kinds of concerns are handled appropriately in some cases. On the other hand, there are many countries on the Asian continent that have shown renewed or emboldened commitments to environmental protection of all kinds in recent years, which suggests that some of the trade agreements and treaties in place between countries might ultimately end up serving that purpose. The benefits in Europe are pretty clear to see. This is not to suggest that Europe has any less ecological damage but that the EU handles said damage particularly efficiently in cases like these.

This is why it’s good for Asia as a whole that China and South Korea have recently announced the establishment of a brand new environmental collaboration hub. It’s expected to be a cooperation center that will facilitate data and technology exchanges between the two nations. The agreement has been official since last year when both governments’ environmental ministers signed what is now termed the China-Korea Environmental Cooperation Plan. That plan dictates a five-year route to collaborative solutions for environmental problems that both countries have acknowledged relative to their soils, waters, air and general waste. The facility will be based in Beijing at the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Studies and is expected to consist of both labs and office space. Completion is anticipated for October 2019.

At present, there’s already reason for optimism in Europe. “With healthy freshwater ecosystems essential for our health and well-being, our economy and our wildlife, today’s findings on the worrying state of Europe’s rivers, lakes, and coasts should serve as a serious wake up call to EU and Member State decision makers,” said Sergiy Moroz, the European Environmental Bureau’s senior policy officer for water and biodiversity. “Back in 2000, EU countries agreed on a groundbreaking, ambitious and necessary law to protect and restore our precious freshwater, now they must use the current evaluation of the law to urgently improve its implementation in order to bring our water environment back to health.”

A study was recently conducted, and its findings prompted the EEB to take these measures. The study found only 40 percent of rivers, lakes and other such bodies of water were up to EU par, and only 38 percent proved satisfactory by the chemical pollution standards. Aquifers and other groundwater bodies, on the other hand, had a much more inspired showing across the subcontinent as 74 percent of them were rated at or above par for chemical pollution with 89 percent of them proving satisfactory across the board. The study, mind you, looked at 130,000 bodies of water throughout Europe, which took five years (2010 to 2015).

 

 

That report indicated that groundwater sites were primarily polluted by nitrates from the aforementioned fertilizer run-off, hazardous chemical pollution, and salt intrusion. These problems originated, according to the study, with agricultural sites, waste storage, industrial sites and mining areas. Among the most common pollutants found, though, was mercury, which can come from many sources, including coal combustion, mining in general and several other industrial operations. That said, surface water was more commonly polluted by nutrient enrichment operations by way of agriculture, habitat degradation, and poorly managed wastewater treatment.

The study found water quality standards to be lowest in Central European states like Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Germany. These constituted a region in which over 90 percent of all water bodies were found to be subpar on average. It was the antithesis, in fact, of the Scandinavian region where several of Europe’s cleanest bodies of water were found among states like Finland and Sweden. England specifically showed results that were more akin to those of Central Europe; it had many bodies of water that were found to be of subpar quality. On the other hand, Great Britain was somewhat redeemed by the bodies of water in Scotland whose qualities were closer to the standards of Scandinavia.

These water quality standards were agreed upon 18 years ago via the EU’s Water Framework Directive, which is aimed at restoring and safeguarding freshwater habitats throughout the subcontinent. The analogous challenges faced in East Asia that China and South Korea hope to similarly handle concern the Yangtze River, the Bohai Sea and numerous groundwaters throughout agricultural and urban areas in both countries.

 

                                                                                                 Polluted Yangtze River in China / Photo by Shutterstock

 

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