Climate change heat reaches the bylanes of China | world | Hindustan Times
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Climate change heat reaches the bylanes of China

China and India, the world’s top and fourth-largest emitter of man-made greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere, recently inked a new climate change deal, reports Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Nov 02, 2009 21:07 IST
Reshma Patil

In the centuries-old alleys or hutongs of Beijing, climate change is coming home before electricity.

China and India, the world’s top and fourth-largest emitter of man-made greenhouse gases that heat the atmosphere, recently inked a new climate change deal. As India’s environment ministry keenly studies the outcome of China’s anti-pollution efforts, it’s important to note that China’s battle can’t afford to stop with stricter emission standards for factories, fuel, automobiles and high-rises.

In Beijing, the action against climate change is slowly reaching the micro level, to homes as cramped as Mumbai’s chawls where residents risk being poisoned in their sleep while burning coal in iron stoves.

This week, I walked down a hutong called Liulichang, a slice of old China far removed from the capital of the fastest-growing economy. There was a missing picture here in Beijing’s oldest, densest urban space. Instead of men pushing tricycles stacked with one-kg coal cakes, the hutong was blocked with workers building the community’s electricity sub-station.

Hu Shu Ping (48), who works in the community store, was once rushed to hospital after waking up with carbon monoxide poisoning, but she waited until this year to buy her first electric heater. “The cheapest one.’’

Until last year, she bought 2,000 coal cakes to survive each frigid winter. “I’ve heard of climate change,’’ she told HT. “That’s why we feel less cold every year.’’

China is the world’s largest coal consumer and producer. Coal-fired plants supply 70 per cent of the nation’s power. Like rural India where firewood and polluting fossil fuels are still used, vast swathes of China’s population depend on noxious coal for heating and cooking.

So far, about 94,000 electric heaters have replaced coal cakes in Beijing. The government scheme to refund two-third of the cost of heaters is still a blip in battling climate change. But the gadgets have brought a buzz about clean energy in a community where tap water arrived only last year.

By the year’s end, all 2,000 homes here will have electric heaters. Outside these ancient alleys, about 1,500 new cars hit the roads per day.