China’s second national survey of pollution showed major air and water pollutants dropped significantly in the ten years since 2007, though the region surrounding Beijing still remains one of the most polluted in terms of air quality.
The census, which China began in 2017 and concluded in 2019, is based on information collected from more than 3.5 million sources of pollution. It showed that the amount of three major pollutants — sulfur dioxides, chemical oxygen demand and nitrous oxides — dropped by 72%, 46% and 34% respectively from ten years earlier, when the first census was done.
The findings showed major polluting industries also did less damage to the environment. The paper-making industry produced 84% less chemical oxygen demand than in 2007, sulfur dioxide from the steel industry dropped by 54% and nitrogen oxides from the cement producing industry dropped by 23%.
China’s leaders are grappling with how to maintain the nation’s momentum in battling pollution as attention turns to reviving an economy battered by the coronavirus. China was either on track to meet or had already met most of its 2020 climate goals before the pandemic, but is struggling to curb coal power and has already delayed tightening emission controls on vehicles to help automakers.
Emissions from agriculture, industry, households and motor vehicles have become harder to control compared with ten years ago, deputy environmental minister Zhao Yingmin told reporters at a briefing where the census was released. China’s countryside and its western region still lag behind in terms of the number of environmental protection facilities and more money will be invested there, he said.
The census showed that emissions of four major pollutants — chemical oxygen demand, nitrous oxides, particulate matter and volatile organics emissions — were all above 10 million tons in 2017. Almost half of industrial pollutants were produced by the fabricated metal industry, manufacturing of non-metallic mineral products, manufacturing of general machinery, rubber and plastic products and the textile industry, the report showed.
The census pointed to three regions — the area surrounding Bejing, the Yangtze River Delta and the Fenhe-Weihe River Plains near Xian — as having the highest intensity of air pollutants.
Zhao also said the number of domestic waste disposal facilities in China had increased by 86% from 2007 to 2017.
China generates hundreds of millions tonnes of urban household refuse daily. Since most Chinese families do not sort garbage, 97% of the rubbish is either buried or incinerated. The country plans to roll out a mandatory waste sorting system across 46 major cities by the end of this year, modeled on one launched in Shanghai in 2019 with surveillance cameras and volunteers checking for compliance at dumping sites.