China Environmental Law

A discussion of China’s environmental and energy laws, regulations, and policies

China Environmental Law header image 2

The State of China’s Environment: 2008

June 24th, 2009 · 9 Comments

The Ministry of Environmental Protection released the English summary of its “State of the Environment” report earlier this month.  We have read it so you won’t have to.

Let’s first look at the ten achievements identified for 2008.  Where interesting facts and figures were given, we have noted them.

  • First, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council have made important arrangements for environmental protection under the new circumstances. [Zzzzzzzz]
  • Second, the environmental impact assessment system has played an important role in macro control. [Not sure I would have placed this item quite so high given concerns about lax review of stimulus projects and the Jinsha River dam debacle]
    • 156 projects were denied or suspended.
    • Pollution reduction measures helped to cut down 468,600 tons of SO2 and 38,400 tons of COD annually.
  • Third, a breakthrough has been made in pollution reduction.
    • Urban sewage treatment capacity was increased by 11.49 million tons/day.
    • 97.12 GW of installed electric generation capacity was installed with desulphurization facilities.
    • 16.69 GW small thermal power plant capacity was shut down.
    • COD discharges dropped by 4.42% compared with 2007, and 6.61% against 2005 levels.
    • SO2 emissions dropped by 5.95% compared with 2007, and 8.95% against 2005 levels.
  • Fourth, accomplished emergency response to severe natural disasters and guaranteed environmental quality for Beijing Olympics.
  • Fifth, steady progress has been made in prevention and control of pollution in river basins.
  • Sixth, environmental protection work has been unfolded in rural areas.
  • Seventh, intensified efforts have been made in supervision of law enforcement.
    • 16,000 enterprises have been placed on the nationwide “rectification blacklist” since 2005.
    • More than 8,000 papermaking companies inspected in 2007 [sic] and 621 were shut down for violating national industrial policy and total discharge standards.
  • Eighth, new achievement has been made in environmental legislation, policy, technology, publicity and education and international cooperation.
  • Ninth, further built up capacity.
    • The central government invested 34 billion Yuan for environmental protection, an increase of more than 10 billion Yuan compared to that of 2007.
  • Tenth, the three strategic programs are proceeding smoothly. [What the "three strategic programs" are, however, is hard to figure out from the description provided].

The report notes, however, that China is still confronted with a “serious environmental situation,” and “general environmental conditions” were described as follows:

  • First, surface water pollution remained very serious.
    • The general water quality of the seven major waters including the Yangtze River, Yellow River, Pearl River, Songhua River, Huaihe River, Haihe River and Liaohe River were about the same as last year.
    • 20.8% of 409 sections in 200 rivers were graded worse than Grade V standard [presumably this means you could walk across the water segment].
    • 46.2% of the 26 lakes (reservoirs) under national monitoring programs on their nutrition state suffered from eutrophication.
  • Second, the coastal areas nationwide were slightly polluted.
  • Third, some cities had good air quality better than last year, but other cities still suffered from serious pollution.
    • 519 cities across the country reported air quality data in 2008. 21 of them reached national Grade I standard for air quality, accounting for 4.0%; 378 ones was up to national Grade II standard, accounting for 72.8%; 113 cities hit Grade III standard, taking up 21.8%; and 7 failed to meet Grade III standard, accounting for 1.4%. 71.6% of the country’s cities at or above prefecture level had qualified water quality, and 85.6% of county-level cities managed to do so.
  • Fourth, 71.7% of the country’s cities enjoyed good or relatively good regional acoustic environment, and 75.2% of the 113 major cities on environmental protection managed to do so.
  • Fifth, the radiation environmental quality across the country was good at large. ["Good at large" does not provide me with the level of comfort I'm looking for when it comes to radiation]
  • Sixth, some progress was made in ecological construction.
  • Seventh, the environmental problems in rural areas were increasingly prominent, with aggravated household pollution, worsening non-point pollution, sharpening industrial and mine pollution, and hidden risk for drinking water safety. The pollution tended to transfer from urban areas to rural areas.

That’s a wrap for 2008.  Overall grade, I’d say B-.

Tags: 11th Five year Plan · EIA · MEP · air pollution · enforcement · environmental policy · noise law · pollution targets · water pollution · water resources

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dayton // Jun 24, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Thanks Charlie for nice review and saving us the time from reading the same old rederick.

    Wow, a -B for an overall grade!

    I Wish I had you as my physical chemistry teacher……………

  • 2 cmcelwee // Jun 24, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Dayton: there has been significant grade inflation since your physical chemistry days!

  • 3 Greg // Jun 26, 2009 at 9:35 am

    “156 projects were denied or suspended.”

    That would only account for 1-2 states in the US, and probably at most 3 Chinese provinces. And what was the scope of these projects? Power plants or small shopping centers with political clout behind them?

    “Urban sewage treatment capacity was increased by 11.49 million tons/day”

    What was the percentage increase?

    Lastly, can the reductions in emissions be considered completely due to environmental reg. enforcement and new technologies or to that and economic decline?

  • 4 cmcelwee // Jun 29, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    Greg: with respect to suspended projects, I think they have only reported on projects subject to national MEP approval jurisdiction. Thus 156 is a decent chunk of them, but I’m sure the vast majority were simply “suspended” and allowed to continue after a tweak here or there.

    With respect to sewage treatment capacity percentages, the summary didn’t give any. Shanghai’s largest WWTP can treat 2 million tons/day (a very large plant). So, 2008 additions total about 6 super large treatment plants in a year. OK, but nothing to write home about.

    I’m sure economic decline played some role, as did “fun with numbers” at the local reporting level.

  • 5 Greg // Jun 30, 2009 at 11:19 am

    2 million tons per day or 2 million gallons per day?

  • 6 Pua // Jul 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    “Fifth, steady progress has been made in prevention and control of pollution in river basins.”

    Any stats on this? How is “steady progress” measured/verified?

    And… what sort of environmental protection work is unfolding in rural areas?

  • 7 cmcelwee // Jul 21, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    @Greg yeah I double checked my source it says “tons.” Now the source could be wrong, of course.

    @Pua I suspect they define progress in terms of wastewater treatment plants constructed, COD reductions, and maybe a couple other pollutants in some watersheds. Who knows how COD discharges are measured, however. The official numbers can only be rough approximations at best. Rural area improvements are undoubtedly slower than improvements in developed areas.

  • 8 Johan // Jul 21, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    Very interesting article… the only thing that can really help in my opinion is for western countries to stop providing economic incentive for China to keep polluting…. (see here for more information:

  • 9 Li Xu // Jul 24, 2009 at 7:18 pm

    Johan, you have good heart about improving the green chances.

    Article you link to is good but does not tell whole story:

    “With the extreme pollution coming out of China, the U.S. either needs to commit to manufacturing its consumer goods domestically to cut back on the environmental implications of investing in Chinese made products, or the consumers need to be one-hundred percent committed to buying goods that have been produced in an environmentally-sound way. In either case, China needs to reform its industry to ensure that environmental concerns are put before economic prosperity. If not, China will continue to reverse the environmental progress made by other countries who have cut back on Greenhouse Emissions.”

    Will concern for the globe be primary China motivation before Copenhagen? It seems is taking hold in things like plastic bag laws and consumer choice options here. Maybe Chinese know how will soon go into environmental protection products Americans and eur0peans want to pay more for because they see the products are net good for environment. Less expensive water treatment or wind energy. They will pay the carbon tax for those things! It is good also western countries can participate in FDI in manufacturing here and bring good practice on ground. So there is many ways to do it and China government does sound job keeping stable to allow wealth to grow.

Leave a Comment