Despite daunting tasks ahead, China has made significant progress in environmental protection, a senior official said at a national environmental protection work conference.
Achievements have been made in air, water and soil protection, Chen Jining, minister of environmental protection, said at the two-day work conference that ended Jan 11, citing the most recent available data.
In 2016, average density of fine particles measuring no more than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM 2.5, in 338 Chinese cities fell 6 percent, according to the minister.
Substances that form these particles come from power plants, industrial facilities, agricultural practices, and motor vehicles, among other sources.
“If we look at the year as a whole, we have made substantial progress, but if we look at winter alone, the improvement is trivial,” said Chen when commenting on the country’s efforts in air pollution prevention.
To address the problems in winter, China will phase out unclean and inefficient coal-fired boilers, encourage off-peak industrial production and enhance scrutiny and punishment for violations of the rules.
Chen vowed to take concrete steps and employ more stringent and effective measures to deal with outstanding environmental problems and improve environmental quality.
Severe smog triggered red alerts in more than 20 cities at the beginning of the new year. When authorities issue red alerts, some manufacturing companies are required to cut production, and heavily polluting vehicles are banned from the roads.
China is aiming for a 10-percent reduction in air emissions from 2012 levels by 2017 in cities at the prefecture level and above. Meanwhile, the PM 2.5 density in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province should drop 25 percent.
As to water quality, the environment minister said that there are 3,186 water quality monitoring stations in China, forming a monitoring network.
According to the network, China’s surface water quality improved in 2016, with an additional 5.7 percent reaching “drinkable” quality or better compared to the previous year.
Moreover, the country began a plan to appoint “river chiefs” to protect its waters in the latest attempt to control water pollution.
Government officials will be hired as river chiefs at the provincial, city, county and township levels, and heads of provincial regions will serve as general chiefs responsible for all rivers and lakes in the region.
For large rivers and lakes that span across regions, river chiefs will be responsible for different parts of a body of water and will cooperate in management. The central government expects to expand the practice nationwide by the end of 2018.
Earlier in April 2015, China released its Action Plan for Water Pollution Prevention and Control, aiming to reduce pollutants, improve drinking water and promote water conservation by the end of 2020.
The plan said more than 70 percent of the water in the seven major river valleys, including the Yangtze and Yellow rivers, should be in good condition by 2020. The same target has been set for offshore areas.
For soil protection, China set up about 15,000 risk monitoring stations throughout the country in 2016, according to Chen.
In May 2016, an action plan on tackling soil pollution in China was released by the State Council, which is the third pollution action plan issued by the cabinet, following plans targeting air and water pollution.
The Action Plan for Soil Pollution Prevention and Control aims to improve soil quality and ensure safe agricultural products and a healthy living environment for people.
The document said China will curb worsening soil pollution by 2020 and control soil pollution risks by 2030.
The country is already carrying out soil pollution surveys, promoting legislation on soil pollution prevention and control, enhancing land management, protecting uncontaminated soil and monitoring pollution sources, treating and restoring polluted soil, and increasing support for research in environmental protection.
Besides its efforts in air, water and soil protection, China is also working to build a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient modern energy system.
The country’s total energy consumption will be capped at 5 billion tonnes of coal equivalent by 2020, representing an annual uptick of about 2.5 percent between 2016 and 2020, the National Energy Administration said.
China’s top economic planner imposed in December 2016 a combined fine of 328 million yuan ($47.6 million) on 605 coal-fired power plants for their pollution control irregularities in 2015.
Green development is one of the five development concepts outlined in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020), which also include innovation, coordination, opening up and sharing.