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December 8, 2015

Environmental watchdog group monitors pollution in China

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In China, decades of rapid industrial growth have resulted in largely unrestricted environmental pollution affecting millions of people.

Instead of waiting for the government to crack down on factories and businesses not meeting environmental standards, a small non-government organization stepped up to hold them accountable.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, or IPE, sends inspectors to plants across the country to check their compliance with government requirements. The organization also makes emissions levels reported by factories available to the public on a mobile app.  Anyone with a mobile phone can see whether a specific site is in compliance or not.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been exposed to hazardous compounds through air and water pollution, according to IPE founder Ma Jun.

“If we don’t handle that right, this will not just threaten our social stability, but it could hinder the very economic growth itself,” said Ma.

Ma began as an investigative journalist reporting on the human and environmental toll of China’s industrialization in the 1990s. The country’s role as a major exporter to the United States and Western Europe allowed its economy to grow quickly, often at the expense of environmental safeguards.

Now, Ma has gained global recognition for his environmental activism and has found ways to convince international brands to be more environmentally conscious too.

IPE publishes an annual transparency index listing which top international brands collaborate with Chinese businesses that violate emissions standards.

Apple, based in the U.S., is one example of a company that now relies on IPE’s data after it was revealed that the company was linked to non-compliant Chinese companies.

Apple, based in the U.S., is one example of a company that now relies on IPE’s data after it was revealed that the company was linked to non-compliant Chinese companies.


Vocab

greenhouse gasses – a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing infrared radiation, e.g., carbon dioxide (CO2) and chlorofluorocarbons

carbon emissions –  the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels, including carbon dioxide (CO2), from human activities such as electricity production, driving and heating

global supply chain – the trade network created among different worldwide companies that produce, handle and distribute goods or products

non-governmental organization – referred to as an NGO, an organization that is not a part of the government or a for-profit company; typically started by ordinary individuals and may be funded by governments, foundations or businesses

Warm up questions
  1. What are some major causes of pollution throughout the world?
  2. Whose job is it to keep an eye on pollution?
  3. What can you do to help limit pollution where you live?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How do NGOs, like the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), help keep companies accountable to China’s environmental laws?
  2. Do you think IPE’s index ranking global companies is an effective way to encourage safer environmental practices? Why or why not?
  3. Are U.S.-owned companies just as responsible for the world’s pollution problems if they use suppliers that break emissions laws? Explain your answer.
  4. Would you stop buying products from brand name labels like Apple, if they didn’t abide by environmental policies put in place to help reduce pollution in China?
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