China Outlines Environmental Action in ‘War’ on Air, Water and Soil Pollution

By Michael Standaert  

March 5 --China's Premier Li Keqiang pledged that the country would take stronger measures over the coming year to reduce and control air, water and soil pollution, speaking in his annual address at the opening of the National People's Congress (NPC) meetings in Beijing.

Li said China would “declare war” on pollution, and would raise energy efficiency, reduce vehicle emissions and prevent and monitor airborne dust. He said that “blind and inefficient development” had led to major pollution problems in the nation.

Li said that around 50,000 smaller coal-fired furnaces would be shut down and that China would increase the use of denitrification and desulfurization technology in larger coal-fired power plants. China will continue the policy goal of having China IV diesel provided nationwide, and removing around 6 million older vehicles from the roadways, by the end of the year, Li said March 5.

A separate report released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) before Li's speech outlined goals for reducing energy intensity per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 3.9 percent, and reducing carbon intensity per unit of GDP by 4 percent by the end of the year, compared with the year before.

Outlining goals for key pollutants targeted for reduction in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), the NDRC said the aim is to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 2 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions by 5 percent, compared with the year before. Both discharge levels of chemical oxygen and ammonia nitrogen have 2 percent reduction targets.

Soil and Water Plans Coming Soon

On March 4, Fu Ying, deputy secretary-general of the NPC, said in a news briefing that environmental legislation would be a “top priority” in 2014 and that action plans on water and soil pollution prevention and control are still in the planning phase .

Zhou Jian, vice minister of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), was quoted March 4 as saying the process of finalizing the soil pollution prevention and control plan is being speeded up and that it would be released this year.

Pan Biling, head of the Hunan provincial Environmental Protection Bureau and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress, also meeting in Beijing, was quoted by state-run Beijing Youth Daily on March 4 as saying that data from a national soil pollution census conducted over several years by the MEP and Ministry of Land and Resources could be released soon after the NPC meetings.

Hunan province, which has seen particularly severe heavy metal contamination of soil and waterways, has begun piloting a system of 3- to 7-year special municipal bonds to help fund remediation along the Xiangjiang River area of the province, a report from the MEP website on March 3 indicated.

In his work report, Li said that China expects to spend 70 billion yuan ($11.4 billion) through the year to fund water diversion, protection and efficient irrigation projects. A total of 648 billion yuan ($105 billion) has been budgeted from the central government for agriculture, forestry and water conservation, according to the Ministry of Finance annual budget report released before Li's speech, an increase of 9.8 percent over the previous year.

Spending on energy conservation and environmental protection also is expected to increase by 7.1 percent, with 210 billion yuan ($34 billion) allocated from the central budget.

Fu also said that amendments to the Environmental Protection Law are still being deliberated by the NPC but did not give a date when those would be finalized.

At the briefing, Fu said that while current enforcement action is progressing related to the air pollution action plan released in the latter half of 2013, legislators also are considering further amendments to the action plan .

Fines Expected to Rise to Curtail Air Pollution

Increased fines for violation of air pollution regulations could be among changes to the action plan, according to several reports. State-run China Daily newspaper on Feb. 28 quoted officials from the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau as saying more severe punishments are likely to be added to revisions of the capital's own air pollution action plan, which officially took effect March 1.

Fines for businesses in Beijing that do not reduce or suspend production when ordered to do so during air pollution emergencies will be increased to 500,000 yuan ($81,500), up from a current 100,000 yuan ($16,300) level, the paper reported.

The paper reported on Feb. 27 that MEP is also working on drafting an Air Pollution Prevention Law that will be reviewed by the Standing Committee of the NPC this year, and would include fines for local governments that do not fulfill air pollution reduction targets. The policy has been piloted in the province of Liaoning in northeast China, which fined eight cities in 2013 for not meeting their targets.

Increased Enforcement Action

After the introduction of the air pollution action plan in 2013, the level of environmental law enforcement notably increased, particularly in areas of northeast China around the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area.

At a news briefing on Feb. 27, the Supreme People's Procuratorate stated it would concentrate more on environmental crimes in the coming year, according to a report from Legal Daily, a newspaper attached to the Ministry of Justice.

In an interview at his Beijing office on March 4, Feng Yongfeng, head of the nongovernmental Green Beagle Environment Institute in Beijing, told Bloomberg BNA that environmental law enforcement has increased because of air pollution problems, but that more could be done regarding water and solid waste emissions, particularly at the local level.

Feng said that fines are too low to change behavior, and that there are problems monitoring smaller companies.

“Pollution from smaller facilities can actually be more acute than those from a large steel company, which has more advanced facilities,” Feng said.

Technical Standards for Polluted Sites

On Feb. 26, the MEP approved a series of technical instructions related to remediation of contaminated sites, according to a statement from the ministry website.

Full texts of the instructions have not been released by the MEP, but the statement quoted an MEP official saying that the instructions would be important for forthcoming soil pollution and groundwater pollution policies and regulations, with the instructions used for fulfilling certain targets in treating soil and groundwater pollution.

The documents reportedly focus on technical surveying instructions, technical instructions for monitoring, instructions on evaluating risk, instructions on remediation and a glossary of terms related to contaminated sites.

The MEP official said that site remediation faced obstacles because of the lack of professional experience in China in remediation, lack of or incomplete data on sites and the lack of domestically produced technology for surveying, monitoring and remediating those sites.


To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Standaert in Shenzhen, China, at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at

The MEP statement on forthcoming contaminated site remediation instructions is available, in Chinese, at