x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

China's toxic legacy

China's government is beginning to acknowledge some urgent environmental problems that were ignored as the country built up its industry. It's about time.

Coal dust in some Chinese cities is so choking that roads are lined with waist-high obsidian-coloured filth. In Beijing, leaving home without a surgical mask can be considered hazardous. And according to the World Bank, 16 of the planet's most polluted cities are, you guessed it, in China.

Rapid industrialisation catapulted China's economy into overdrive, but the gains came at the expense of the natural environment. Chinese leaders, more focused on growth, have rarely acknowledged the downside to their "economic miracle".

Yet that may be changing. Like a breath of fresh air, Chinese leaders have conceded that "toxic and hazardous chemical pollution has caused many environmental disasters, cutting off drinking water supplies, and even leading to severe health and social problems such as 'cancer villages'." Cancer clusters - cities built around toxic waste sites with elevated levels of cancer - have never before received official recognition.

The world will have to wait and see if China's environmental revolution is upon us. Ma Jun, a leading environmentalists, told The Telegraph that it is possible. "The recognition of the existence of problems is the very first step and the precondition for us to really start solving these problems," he said.

China is changing, and if Mr Ma is correct, hopefully for the greener.