China Announces Action Plan to Tackle Soil Pollution

On May 31, China’s State Council released a nationwide Action Plan for Soil Pollution Prevention and Control. The Action Plan, whose implementation will be led by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP), calls for the establishment of laws to monitor, prevent, and remediate soil pollution, and aims to incrementally improve soil quality across the country by mid-century. Specifically, the plan aims to make 90% of polluted arable land safe for human use by 2020 and increases that target to 95% by 2030.

Of particular significance, MEP will cooperate with the Ministry of Land and Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture to implement a uniform monitoring system to track the soil quality of all regions across the nation. By 2020, the monitoring system is to serve as an intra-governmental database to provide real-time tracking of soil contamination. Regular soil quality investigations will thereafter be conducted every ten years.

The Action Plan was announced following a 2014 nationwide soil quality survey, which revealed contamination in approximately 19% of surveyed farmland, 10% of forests and 10% of grasslands across the country. The plan addresses existing contamination on industrial and agricultural land and also sets forth protections for uncontaminated land. It does not, however, provide for any number of measures instrumental to addressing soil contamination, such as the listing of priority sites, providing for an overall approach to evaluating and selecting cleanup measures or defining cleanup standards. These issues will need to be addressed in the future legislation called for by the Action Plan.

The Action Plan is consistent with goals set forth in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan to clean up agricultural land and to reduce contamination from pesticides and fertilizers. The plan is the government’s third environmental action plan in recent years, with the first targeting air pollution (released in 2013) and the second targeting water pollution (released in 2015).