Timeline of pollution in China
This is a timeline of pollution in China, attempting to describe progression in coping with all kinds of pollution in the country. Incumbent environmental policies are included.
|Time period||Development summary|
|1950s||Communist China. Mao Zedong orders that residents north of the river receive free heating from the coal-powered plants.|
|1970s||Economic reforms in the late decade encourage economic development, which increases pollution and turn it into a serious problem. China begins to use law to combat pollution and protect its natural environment.|
|1980s||Significant health complications, including respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular diseases, are already identified to be the cause of poor air quality in the country. Levels of air pollution in the main Chinese cities at the beginning of the decade are almost exactly at the level of London at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1890.|
|1990s||High values of PM2.5 and O3 in the country result in an alarming figure of premature deaths. Beijing is already one of the world's most polluted cities. The environmental regulatory framework in the country starts expanding rapidly.|
|2000s||China becomes the world’s biggest CO2 emitter. By 2008, 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China.|
|2010s||In 2013 China introduces a national action plan to curb air pollution. As of 2016, the human-induced carbon dioxide emissions in the country account for approximately 30% of global emissions. However, introduced policies start showing promising results. China’s coal use declines, and the declining trend accelerates along the decade.|
|Year||Month and date||Category||Event type||Details|
|1972||General||Policy||After the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, the Chinese Government begins to develop environmental institutions.|
|1978||Background||Policy||The Chinese Government adopts its open door policy, and starts an era of flourishment of the Chinese economy. This rapid economic development would also lead to serious pollution problems.|
|1978||March||General||Policy||The Third Chinese Constitution is issued with inclusion of an environmental commission.|
|1979||General||Policy||The Chinese Government issues an Environmental Protection Law on a trial basis.|
|1981 - 2000||Air pollution||Research||Research shows that air pollution was 55% higher in the northern region of China during the period.|
|1982||Water pollution||Policy||The Chinese legislature enacts the Marine Environmental Protection Law.|
|1984||Water pollution||Policy||The Chinese legislature enacts the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law.|
|1984||Policy||The Chinese legislature establishes the Forest Law as measure of nature conservation.|
|1985||Policy||The Chinese legislature establishes the Grasslands Law as measure of nature conservation.|
|1986||Water pollution||Policy||The Fisheries Law is enacted.|
|1987||Air pollution||Policy||The Chinese legislature enacts the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law.|
|1989||General||Policy||The Chinese Government formally issues an Environmental Protection Law.|
|1990 - 2015||Air pollution||Statistics||According to Global Burden of Disease Study, estimated China’s annual premature deaths attributable to PM2.5 and O3 average values at around 1 to 1.2 million deaths in the period.|
|1992||General||Policy||The environmental regulatory framework in the country starts expanding rapidly.|
|1993||Water pollution||Policy||The 1984 Water Pollution and Prevention Law is deemed unsatisfactory. Rapid economic growth and resulting pollution makes the law an outdated policy.|
|1993||General||Policy||After the Spring Festival, a total number of 308 deputies from National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) propose legislation to ban fireworks and firecrackers strictly.|
|1994||General||Policy||The Regulation on Nature Reserves is introduced.|
|1995||Solid waste||Policy||The Solid Waste Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.|
|1996||Water pollution||Policy||The Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law is amended. 23 articles are adjusted or added, producing a law with 7 chapters and 62 articles. The amendment is part of a stricter and clearer legislation by lawmakers.|
|1996||Noise pollution||Policy||The Environmental Noise Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.|
|1996||General||Policy||The Regulation on Wild Plant Conservation is introduced.|
|1997||General||Policy||The Regulation on Protection of New Plant Varieties is introduced.|
|1998||General||Policy||The Wild Fauna Protection Law is enacted.|
|1998||General||Policy||The Forest Law is amended.|
|1998||October||General||Organization||The Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims is founded by Professor Wang Canfa.|
|1999||Water pollution||Policy||The Marine Environment Protection Law is enacted.|
|2000||Air pollution||Policy||The Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.|
|2000||General||Policy||The Seed Law is enacted.|
|2001||December 11||Background||Policy||China joins the World Trade Organization. Since then, manufacturing quickly starts to expand. As a consequence, emissions in the country spike.|
|2002||General||Policy||A new Environmental Impact Assessment Law is amended.|
|2003||Air pollution||Statistics||The Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning determines that air pollution is responsible for 411,000 premature deaths across China.|
|2003||Radioactive contamination||Policy||The Radioactive Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.|
|2003||General||Policy||The Environmental Impact Assessment Law is enacted.|
|2004||General||Policy||The Seed Law is amended.|
|2004||Solid waste||Statistics||According to the World Bank, China is already the world’s largest municipal solid waste generator.|
|2004||General, water pollution||Statistics||The Ministry of Environmental Protection reports 1,221 environmental accidents in the year, most of which are related to water. However, experts believe the figure is vastly underestimated.|
|2004||General||Policy||The Wild Fauna Protection Law is amended.|
|2005 – 2013||Soil pollution||Research||China conducts a large-scale soil quality sampling analysis nationwide during the period, taking samples across an area of 6.3 million square kilometers, two-thirds of China's land area.|
|2006 - 2010||Air pollution||Policy||China starts to seriously control air pollution by limiting emissions for each province.|
|2006||Water pollution||Statistics||According to environmental authorities, one water pollution accident takes place every two to three days, on average, in the country.|
|2006||General||Policy||The Regulation on Scenic Spots and Historical Sites is introduced.|
|2007||Air pollution||Statistics||China ranks the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, overtaking the United States for the first time and being responsible for 27 percent of global emissions in the year.|
|2007||Climate change||The year is known as China’s “first year of climate change communication research.”|
|2007||Water pollution||Research||The Ministry of Environment's 2007 Official Report on China's Environment declares that all seven major rivers in China in general suffer from moderate pollution, and 11 out of the 28 major lakes have a water quality grade rated at the lowest national standard for water quality, which means the water is essentially unusable for any purpose.|
|2008||February||Water pollution||Policy||The Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law (WPPCL) is amended to reinforce control.|
|2008||Air pollution||Research||Study suggests that reductions in air pollution only happens after the Chinese government creates the Ministry of Environmental Protection. After its creation, among the many changes in environmental policy, the MEP starts to gather reliable SO2 emissions data from continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMS) at the prefecture level and increases the number of enforcement officials by 17 percent. Further study suggests that reductions in air pollution in China only happens after the creation of the MEP.|
|2010||Air pollution||Policy||The Administration Regulations of Ozone Depleting Substances legislation is enacted.|
|2010||General||Statistics||The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection estimates the cost of pollution at around 1.5 trillion RMB (US$227 billion), or roughly 3.5 percent of the GDP.|
|2010||Air pollution||Statistics||Chinese census data calculates that nearly half of households primarily use solid fuels for cooking, and four out of five of these households are in rural areas.|
|2010||Air pollution||Statistics||The ambient air pollution in China is estimated by the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) to lead to 1.2 million premature deaths from one year’s (2010) exposure in the country.|
|2010||General||Policy||The Island Conservation Law is enacted.|
|2012||July 28||Qidong protest takes place as an environmental protest against a proposed waste water pipeline in the Chinese city of Qidong.|
|2012 - 2014||Air pollution||Statistics||The National Energy Agency claims that coal use dropped to 64.2 percent of the mix in 2014, down almost two percent from 2012.|
|2013||January - February||Air pollution||Crisis||Severe haze covers many provinces and cities in China. The haze with its unprecedentedly high index of PM2.5 concentration and extremely low visibility provoques worldwide concern and eventually becomes known as the “PM2.5 crisis”.|
|2013||Water pollution||Policy||The Fisheries Law is amended.|
|2013||General||Policy||The Chinese Government claims declaring war on pollution. Among the efforts to curb smog, these include closing down or moving heavily polluting factories and restrictions on the use of cars.|
|2013||Solid waste||Policy||The Solid Waste Pollution Prevention and Control Law is amended.|
|2013||General||Crisis||Chinese politician Chen Jiping, the former leading member of the party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, states that environmental issues are a major reason for “mass incidents” in the country, estimating unofficial gatherings of one hundred or more that range from peaceful protest to rioting.|
|2013||March||Water pollution||Crisis||More than 7,500 dead pigs are found in the Huangpu river. The news is spread rapidly online. An estimated 16,000 diseased pig carcasses are found in tributaries of the river.|
|2013 <||Air pollution||Statistics||A spectacular increase of the market for devices that help keep indoor air clean by filtrating outdoor air before it enters the dwelling is experienced, along with increasing use of facial masks, which soon become even available in fashionable patterns, all meant to protect people from breathing polluted air.|
|2013||December||Climate change||Policy||The China’s National Development and Reform Commission issues its first nationwide blueprint for climate change, outlining an extensive list of objectives for 2020.|
|2014||January||Air pollution, water pollution||Policy||The central government requires fifteen thousand factories, including large state-owned enterprises, to publicly report real-time figures on air emissions and water discharges.|
|2014||Air pollution||Statistics||China stands as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and is responsible for 27 percent of global emissions in the year.|
|2014||March||General||Policy||The Ministry of Finance reports that China would spend 21.1 billion yuan on energy conservation and environmental protection in the year, up 7.1 percent from 2013. An amount of 64.9 billion yuan would be allocated to agriculture, forestry and water conservation, up 8.6 percent.|
|2014||March||General||Policy||Chinese Premier Li Keqiang opens the annual meeting of parliament and announces pollution being one of his nine "major tasks" for 2014.|
|2014||April||Soil pollution||Statistics||Survey between 2005 to 2013 releases report admitting that in total 16.1% of China's soil is polluted, including 19.4% of the arable land. About 82.8% of the polluted land shows contamination by inorganic materials, with levels noticeably higher than the previous survey between 1986 and 1990.|
|2014||May||General||Policy||The Chinese Government strengthens the country’s Environmental Protection Law for the first time in twenty-five years.|
|2014||June||General||Infrastructure||SDAS UAV is introduced as an unmanned aerial vehicle specifically for pollution surveillance missions.|
|2014||Air pollution||Statistics||A record 17 million new cars on the road are calculated in the year, further contributing to China’s high emissions.|
|2014||November||Climate change||Policy||In a joint statement on climate change with the United States, China commits to hit its peak carbon emissions by 2030 and to have renewables account for 20 percent of its energy mix by 2030.|
|2014||Water pollution||Research||Groundwater supplies in more than 60 percent of major cities are categorized as “bad to very bad,” and more than a quarter of China’s key rivers are considered “unfit for human contact.”|
|2014||Air pollution||Policy||China stands as one of the biggest investors in renewables, investing nearly US$90 billion in the year as part of its pledge to cut its carbon intensity, an amount far outspending the United States’ US$51.8 billion.|
|2014||Air pollution||Reserch||Approximately 4 billion tons of coal are consumed in the country in the year, more than the rest of the world combined.|
|2014||General||Infrastructure||JSYU UAV, a Chinese Unmanned aerial vehicle, is introduced. The device is developed for pollution surveillance and agricultural missions.|
|2015||January 1||General||Policy||China formally begins implementing an updated Environmental Protection Law. This is the first time China's fundamental environmental protection statute is revised since its promulgation in 1989.|
|2015||Air pollution||Statistics||The national coal power plant capacity increases by 55 percent in the first six months, 155 new coal-fired plants are approved, and the Chinese Government admits that it has underreported its annual coal consumption since 2000.|
|2015||March||Air pollution||The Chinese Government allows its people to watch for one week an environmental documentary exposing Beijing's true pollution levels and the government corruption behind them. The film, titled Under the Dome, is watched by millions of people and goes viral, before being abruptly removed from the Chinese internet.|
|2015||August||Air pollution||Policy||The national government issues the Air Pollution Control Law, which would be implemented starting 2016. Experts believe that although the law is inevitably flawed in some aspects, if 80% of the law can be implemented, it would significantly improve the air quality.|
|2015||Air pollution||Statistics||Study estimates about 1.5 million premature deaths in China attributable to PM2.5 exposure in the year, of which about 60 per cent were due to ambient PM2.5 pollution and about 40 per cent to household air pollution.|
|2015||Air pollution||Statistics||The rate of deaths attributable to air pollution in the country in the year is estimated at about 115 deaths per 100,000 people. For comparison, the estimated figure for India is 138 deaths per 100,000 people, 49 in Japan, 43 in Western Europe and 31 in the United States.|
|2015||Water pollution||Research||A reported 3.78 billion cubic meters of untreated wastewater was discharged across China in the year. This is water that has been ruled unusable for agricultural, industrial and even decorative purposes dumped into rivers and lakes.|
|2015||December 12||Air pollution||The first Bluetech Award Ceremony is held in Beijing. It is an annual award presented by the Clean Air Alliance of China (CAAC) to recognize outstanding technologies that prevent and control different forms and sources of air pollution.|
|2016||Air pollution||Organization||The Regional Ozone Sino-US Collaborative Research Center is established at Duke Kunshan University. It is the first research institute for ozone pollution control in the country.|
|2016||May 31||Soil pollution||Policy||The State Council releases the ‘Soil Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan’ or “Soil Ten Plan”. It aims to "improve soil quality and ensure safe agricultural products resulting in a healthy living environment for China’s population". The plan consists of 231 specific actions, and deadlines are given.|
|2016||September||Air pollution||Policy||The Innovative Financing for Air Pollution Control in Jing-Jin-Ji Region Program is launched, with the goal to finance projects helping to reduce coal consumption.|
|2017||Air pollution||Policy||President Xi Jinping, on a state visit to Washington, announces that China would initiate a national cap-and-trade emissions program.|
|2017||Air pollution||Research||The Ministry of Environmental Protection calculates an annual average PM2.5 concentration of 43 µg/m3 for China’s cities in 2017, more than 4 times the level of 10 µg/m3 recommended by the World Health Organization.|
|2017||June||Water pollution||Policy||The national government makes a second amendment to the Water Pollution Prevention Act. Based on the first regulation of Water Pollution Prevention Act in 1996, the amendment would increase the punishment for water pollution and the penalty ceiling may be raised to 1 million yuan.|
|2017||October||Policy||Policy||China halts more than 150 coal-fired power plants after launching first regional Environmental Protection Bureau to consolidate cuts in air pollution following party conference. The measures are a part of an aggressive action plan that aims to cut wintertime particulate pollution by 15% year-on-year over the next five months.|
|2018||January 1||Water pollution||Policy||A revision of the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law is approved by the National People’s Congress and goes into effect.|
|2018||March||General||Research||Four years after declaring war on pollution, research gives promising results, and estimates on longer life expectancy that is possible in the country. In particular, cities have cut concentrations of fine particulates in the air by 32 percent on average, in only four years.|
|2018||July||Air pollution||Policy||Government initiates three-year plan to curb air pollution, released, making certain provisions for ozone control, such as compelling manufacturers to repair and replace VOC-emitting installations and applying legal upper limits on VOC concentration in paints, inks, and adhesives.|
|2018||July||Solid waste, air pollution, soil pollution||The Wuhu Ecology Center releases its fourth observation report on the “Information Disclosure and Pollutant Discharge of 359 Domestic Waste Incineration Plants.” According to the report, there are currently 359 waste incinerators in China, distributed across 29 provinces, direct-administered municipalities, and autonomous regions.|
|2018||September||Light pollution||Research||Chinese scientists from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth conduct nighttime light pollution research using a domestically-produced remote sensing satellite.|
|2020||Air pollution||Policy||China plans to reduce coal consumption to below 62% of primary energy by the time.|
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