A new set of Environmental regulations on air, water and soil pollution have recently been announced by China`s State Council: the Soil Pollution and Prevention Action Plan (also know as Soil Ten an “extension” of the Water Ten Plan). The plan outlines 10 headline actions split into 35 categories and 231 specific points aimed at making 95% of currently contaminated land fit to reuse for either agricultural purposes or urban development by 2030.
The first national survey on soil quality, released in 2014, showed the gravity of soil pollution. More than 16 percent of the samples taken nationwide were contaminated by heavy metals. Moreover, contaminants were discovered in 19.4 percent of surveyed farmland, 10 percent of forests and 10.4 percent of grassland.
- To curb worsening soil pollution by 2020, and control soil pollution risks by 2030, with the aim to create a virtuous cycle in the ecosystem by 2050.
- To ensure that over 90% of contaminated land can be utilised safely by 2020, and to increase this to 95% by 2030.
- Using the next 2-3 years to focus on large-scale monitoring and finalising plans & laws; reining in chemical industries & heavy metals are key.
Soil pollution is the most difficult to tackle amongst soil, water and air; plus possibly the most expensive. Also, it is not possible to tackle soil pollution without addressing water pollution. Untreated wastewater can contaminate soil and conversely pollutants in soil can be washed into surface & groundwater sources contaminating them.
From the key actions to be taken, the government is signalling that it only intends to get a handle on the total area of contaminated farmland by 2018 and to only establish soil prevention & control related laws by 2020. The Soil Ten Plan singles out 8 specific industries:
- Non-ferrous metal extraction & processing
- Non-ferrous metal smelting
- Oil exploration
- Petroleum processing
- By 2016, local governments need to finalise detailed work plans for submission to the relevant ministries;
- By 2017, to set up national-level soil environmental quality monitoring points and monitoring networks;
- By 2017, provincial soil remediation planning to be finalized and soil remediation result assessment methods to be issued;
- By 2018, to finalise investigation of total area of contaminated farmland and assessment of impacts on agricultural products;
- By 2020, soil environmental quality monitoring points to cover all the cities and counties; and
- By 2020, to establish soil pollution prevention & control related laws and regulation system.
However one glaring challenge in the plan it the relatively limited number of domestic companies with both the experience and infrastructure to clean contaminated land. Foreign companies with the required technologies are already involved in China, albeit participating in pilot projects funded by the World Bank or other international funds.
Analysts have estimated that the soil remediation market could be worth anywhere from RMB1-5 trillion, but authorities have struggled to determine who should pay for rehabilitating contaminated land. Many of the inland provinces targeted are not as rich as coastal regions and much of the responsibility for the costs now lies with relatively impoverished local governments.