In honor of World Environmental Day, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection recently released its “2013 China Environmental Status” report, a profile of the water and ambient air quality index (AQI) of 74 “key” Chinese cities during 2013. Surveyors reported 35.9 smoggy days on average during 2013, an increase of 18.3 days from 2012. Haikou, Zhoushan and Lhasa were the only cities that’s average AQI met national standards during 2013, while Beijing, neighboring Tianjin and other cities in north China’s Hebei province were the worst. On just 175 days last year, Beijingers breathed “Good” air.
China measures AQI on a six-point scale, with a category I representing “Excellent” air (particulate matter averaging less than 50) and “Severely Polluted” air, indicating that particulate matter is more than 300.
The country delineates water pollution on a similar, six-level grading system, which runs from Grade I—which means the water is “nature protection zone” quality—to Grade VI—which is unfit for use for agriculture, swimming or fish-breeding.
According to the report, of the 4,788 groundwater test sites, 9% received a Grade V rating in 2013. China’s “offshore” water, meaning the seawater along its coast, is so polluted that about 11% is unsafe for human beings to swim, drink or fish from.
As for soil pollution, acid rain affected about 11% of the landmass in areas along the Yangtze River. Almost a fifth of China’s land is apparently contaminated with dangerous amounts of cadmium, nickel and arsenic, according to the report, which are the result of decades of harmful industrial and agricultural activities.
At a press release, vice minister of environmental protection Li Ganjie quoted the report as saying that, although China’s environment had improved in general, water quality is “not optimistic” and air quality in cities is “serious.” During 2013, China lost one of its many battles against the “war on pollution.”
In the past, the state has funded a number of “Green China” initiatives, from funding wind- and solar-energy projects to judging provincial bureaucrats in part on their environmental record to allowing and even encouraging journalist exposes of environmental problems.
One of the State Council’s most recent initiatives was the revised “Environmental Protection Law”—enacted in September 2013—which promises to streamline China’s process for managing nature zones, improve official compensation for ecological protection and standardize the monitoring and warning systems that measure a region’s resource capacity. Mainly, the law promises to prioritize environmental protection over economic development.
Failing to comply with the revised law could result in detention and criminal charges for those responsible, and even the closure of facilities found illegally discharging pollutants.
Li said the ministry sees water, air and soil pollution as a major threat to the country’s social and economic future. In 2013, China may have lost its battle against pollution, but the state is clearly gearing up for a war against cities dirty air, water and soil.