Polluter China Plans Big Expansion of Aviation Sector

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - China is planning to build 48 new airports in the next five years, at a time when the world's most populous country already accounts for some of the biggest increases in emissions of pollutants.

Predicting a near-doubling in the number of commercial aircraft flying its skies by 2010 and a 14 percent annual increase in passenger and cargo traffic, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said this week the number of Chinese airports would rise within five years to 190 from 142, and to 220 by 2020.

A CAAC senior official, Zhao Hongyuan, told China Daily that $17.4 billion had been earmarked for the expansion from now until 2010, compared to just under $15 billion over the last 15-year period.

China's commercial aircraft fleet will grow from its current size of 863 to 1,580 in 2010, and reach some 4,000 by 2020, he said.

Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou airports, the key international hubs, are being upgraded while another five cities will become regional hubs.

Beijing Capital International Airport, the busiest in Asia based on aircraft traffic, has seen major growth in passenger numbers, from 27 million in 2002 to 41 million last year, climbing from 26th in world rankings to 14th.

It is being further expanded in time for the 2008 Olympic Games with the aid of the biggest loan ever made to an Asian client by the European Union's investment bank. When completed, it will boast the world's largest airport terminal, according to its British architect, outdoing the current largest, which is in Hong Kong.

The airport expansion program is in line with China's galloping economic growth - 10.2 in the first quarter of 2006.

The announcement comes at a time of renewed focus on China's contribution to the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants dubbed "greenhouse gases."

The aviation sector is regarded as a major contributor. For example, British authorities say air travel in that country accounts for 15 percent of CO2 emissions, and they predict this will grow by two-thirds by 2050, mostly because of rising passenger numbers and cheaper flights.

"Aviation is especially polluting because planes burn vast amounts of kerosene fuel at high altitudes," Britain's Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research said last year.

Already the second-largest polluter, after the U.S., China increased its greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent between 1992 and 2002, the World Bank said this week. China currently generates 80 percent of its energy from coal-fired power plants.

Releasing its annual report called the Little Green Data Book, the World Bank said global greenhouse gas emissions rose by 15 percent over that decade. From 2000 to 2002, global CO2 emissions increased by 2.5 percent annually, with low- and middle-income countries accounting for about two-thirds of that increase.

The report showed that China and India were producing an ever-greater share of the emissions and said that "this trend will likely continue as economic activity grows."

"This reality shows us that we need to find creative ways to engage all major economies of the world to solve a global problem such as climate change," said Steen Jorgensen, the bank's acting vice president for sustainable development.

Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, industrialized nations are required to cut their emission of pollutants such as CO2 by specified amounts.

But China and India were not expected to cut emissions, because they are considered developing nations. This was despite their sizeable contributions to the global total - according to 1994 figures the U.S. accounted for 24 percent of total emissions, China 14.6 percent and India 4.5 percent.

The exemption for China and India was one of the main reasons cited by President Bush for rejecting the Kyoto treaty. He also said it would harm the U.S. economy and American workers.

China and India, along with the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Australia - the only industrialized country apart from the U.S. to have rejected Kyoto -- recently teamed up in a new Asia-Pacific initiative aimed at finding technological solutions to reducing greenhouse gases while meeting the energy needs of the partner nations.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow