Off the wire
Urgent: Tokyo Gov. Masuzoe to step down following funds scandal  • Tokyo governor to resign over money scandal: report  • Australian shares open lower  • Urgent: Hillary Clinton projected to win final Democratic presidential primary in Washington, D.C.  • Tokyo stocks open down on concerns ahead of Britains Brexit vote  • Dollar moves in lower 106 yen range in early trade in Tokyo  • Apple CEO impressed by nine-year-old Australian app maker  • Clean-up of dead livestock begins following Australian floods  • Xinhua world news summary at 0030 GMT, June 15  • 17-year-old charged with terror offence over social media posts in Sydney  
You are here:   Home/ Environment

Scrubbing the soil

Global Times, June 15, 2016 Adjust font size:

In an effort to curb "alarming" levels of soil pollution in China, the State Council published an action plan on May 31 aiming to restore 90 percent of the country's contaminated arable land to usability by 2020.

The plan will aim to ensure the safety of agricultural products produced in the world's largest food consumer. Currently, around one-fifth of China's arable land is too polluted to use.

After being modified more than 50 times since it was first drafted in 2013, the document is the third cabinet document that lays out a plan to fight pollution following documents that deal with China's water and air problems released in 2015 and 2013 respectively.

In addition, the document lays out a "polluter pays" principle and sets deadlines for soil pollution control.

However, the country still needs specific laws and regulations on soil pollution if it is to fully implement the document's measures, as without such rules it will be hard to control private companies' behavior, Ada Kong, head of the Toxics Campaign of Greenpeace East Asia, told the Global Times.

Polluters pay

The document's goals include stopping China's soil from deteriorating further by 2020, getting soil pollution risks under control by 2030 and "forming a virtuous cycle" in the ecosystem by 2050.

The plan says that the country will establish basic laws and regulations concerning the control and prevention of soil pollution before 2020.

According to the document, companies or individuals who cause pollution shall be held responsible for solving the problem, but if the liable party cannot be established the mission would be transferred to the local government.

The principle of "polluters pay" has been adopted by many countries including the US and Germany. Unlike China, the majority of these countries' contaminated soil is found on brown-field sites which have already been built on and could easily be privately redeveloped after being cleaned up, said Kong.

However, much of China's polluted soil is found in farmland, which is less likely to attract private investment, meaning that the government will have to pay for most decontamination efforts, said experts.

About 63 percent of the 316 soil remediation projects undertaken in China from 2007 to 2015 were paid for out of the public purse, according to a 2016 report conducted by 22 institutions including the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

According to Environmental Protection Minister Chen Jining, 19.4 percent of the surveyed land has pollution levels higher than the national standard. That means about 3.33 million hectares of arable land are not suitable for growing crops, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Unlike water and air pollution, that are relatively easy to spot, both the contamination and remediation of soil are harder to detect and therefore the problem will be particularly expensive and time-consuming, Sheng Guangyao, a research fellow at the Institute for Urban and Environmental Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Last year, the central government allocated 2.8 billion yuan ($430 million) for anti-pollution projects in 30 prefecture-level cities, but experts told Xinhua that this is far from enough. About 9.1 billion yuan will be allocated this year to treat soil pollution, up 145.6 percent year on year, according to the Ministry of Finance.

Profitable and promising market

Though most of China's anti-soil pollution projects have been financed by the government, experts noted that the document has encouraged the private sector to get involved, which may boost the soil remediation industry.

Companies will be offered incentives by local governments to participate in fixing soil pollution, and more non-government groups will be encouraged to join in via financing measures, said the document.

He Pengfei, director of branding and media center at Elion, China's largest private green enterprise, which has total assets of more than 10 billion yuan, told the Global Times that remediation work is both financially rewarding and helps society.

"Local governments offer us tax cuts and land for commercial use, it's mutually beneficial," said He.

The company also works with other firms such as the State-owned Baosteel, as many companies are now required to clean up the pollution they caused but do not have the expertise to do so.