Timeline of pollution in China

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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.

Big picture

Time period Development summary
1950s Communist China. Mao Zedong orders that residents north of the river receive free heating from the coal-powered plants.[1]
1970s Economic reforms in the late decade encourage economic development, which increases pollution and turn it into a serious problem.[2] China begins to use law to combat pollution and protect its natural environment.[3]
1980s Significant health complications, including respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular diseases, are already identified to be the cause of poor air quality in the country.[2] 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.[4]
1990s High values of PM2.5 and O3 in the country result in an alarming figure of premature deaths.[5] Beijing is already one of the world's most polluted cities.[6] The environmental regulatory framework in the country starts expanding rapidly.[7]
2000s China becomes the world’s biggest CO2 emitter. By 2008, 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China.[8]
2010s In 2013 China introduces a national action plan to curb air pollution.[8] As of 2016, the human-induced carbon dioxide emissions in the country account for approximately 30% of global emissions.[9] However, introduced policies start showing promising results. China’s coal use declines, and the declining trend accelerates along the decade.[10]

Full timeline

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.[2]
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.[11]
1978 March General Policy The Third Chinese Constitution is issued with inclusion of an environmental commission.[5][12]
1979 General Policy The Chinese Government issues an Environmental Protection Law on a trial basis.[5][7]
1981 - 2000 Air pollution Research Research shows that air pollution was 55% higher in the northern region of China during the period.[1]
1982 Water pollution Policy The Chinese legislature enacts the Marine Environmental Protection Law.[3]
1984 Water pollution Policy The Chinese legislature enacts the Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law.[3]
1984 Policy The Chinese legislature establishes the Forest Law as measure of nature conservation.[3]
1985 Policy The Chinese legislature establishes the Grasslands Law as measure of nature conservation.[3]
1986 Water pollution Policy The Fisheries Law is enacted.[13]
1987 Air pollution Policy The Chinese legislature enacts the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law.[3]
1989 General Policy The Chinese Government formally issues an Environmental Protection Law.[5][11]
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.[5]
1992 General Policy The environmental regulatory framework in the country starts expanding rapidly.[7]
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.[3]
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.[14]
1994 General Policy The Regulation on Nature Reserves is introduced.[13]
1995 Solid waste Policy The Solid Waste Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.[13]
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.[3]
1996 Noise pollution Policy The Environmental Noise Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.[13]
1996 General Policy The Regulation on Wild Plant Conservation is introduced.[13]
1997 General Policy The Regulation on Protection of New Plant Varieties is introduced.[13]
1998 General Policy The Wild Fauna Protection Law is enacted.[13]
1998 General Policy The Forest Law is amended.[13]
1998 October General Organization The Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims is founded by Professor Wang Canfa.[15]
1999 Water pollution Policy The Marine Environment Protection Law is enacted.[13]
2000 Air pollution Policy The Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.[3][13]
2000 General Policy The Seed Law is enacted.[13]
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.[16]
2002 General Policy A new Environmental Impact Assessment Law is amended.[3][3]
2003 Air pollution Statistics The Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning determines that air pollution is responsible for 411,000 premature deaths across China.[1]
2003 Radioactive contamination Policy The Radioactive Pollution Prevention and Control Law is enacted.[13]
2003 General Policy The Environmental Impact Assessment Law is enacted.[13]
2004 General Policy The Seed Law is amended.[13]
2004 Solid waste Statistics According to the World Bank, China is already the world’s largest municipal solid waste generator.[17]
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.[7]
2004 General Policy The Wild Fauna Protection Law is amended.[13]
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.[18][19][20]
2006 - 2010 Air pollution Policy China starts to seriously control air pollution by limiting emissions for each province.[4]
2006 Water pollution Statistics According to environmental authorities, one water pollution accident takes place every two to three days, on average, in the country.[7]
2006 General Policy The Regulation on Scenic Spots and Historical Sites is introduced.[13]
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.[2]
2007 Climate change The year is known as China’s “first year of climate change communication research.”[21]
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.[7]
2008 February Water pollution Policy The Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law (WPPCL) is amended to reinforce control.[7]
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.[4]
2010 Air pollution Policy The Administration Regulations of Ozone Depleting Substances legislation is enacted.[13]
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.[2]
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.[22]
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.[5]
2010 General Policy The Island Conservation Law is enacted.[13]
2012 July 28 Qidong protest takes place as an environmental protest against a proposed waste water pipeline in the Chinese city of Qidong.[23][24]
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.[2]
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”.[5]
2013 February General Policy The Operation Green Fence is implemented by the Government of China as an initiative with the purpose to limit the amount of contaminated recyclables and waste that was being imported to the country.[25]
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.[2][26][27][28][29]
2013 Water pollution Policy The Fisheries Law is amended.[13]
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.[30]
2013 Solid waste Policy The Solid Waste Pollution Prevention and Control Law is amended.[13]
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.[2]
2013 onward 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.[22]
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.[2]
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.[2]
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.[2]
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.[31]
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.[2][31][32][33]
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.[34][18]
2014 May General Policy The Chinese Government strengthens the country’s Environmental Protection Law for the first time in twenty-five years.[2]
2014 June General Infrastructure SDAS UAV is introduced as an unmanned aerial vehicle specifically for pollution surveillance missions.[35][36]
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.[2]
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.[2]
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.”[2]
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.[2]
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.[37]
2014 General Infrastructure JSYU UAV, a Chinese Unmanned aerial vehicle, is introduced. The device is developed for pollution surveillance and agricultural missions.[38][39]
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.[11]
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.[2]
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.[2][6]
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.[40]
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.[22]
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.[22]
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.[41]
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.[42]
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.[43]
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.[44]
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.[37]
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.[2][45]
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.[4]
2017 June Water pollution Policy The national government makes a second amendment to the Water Pollution Prevention Act.[46] 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.[47]
2017 July General Policy The Operation National Sword is announced by the Government of China as an initiative with the purpose to monitor and more stringently review recyclable waste imports.[48]
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.[49][50]
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.[51]
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.[52]
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.[43]
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.[17]
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.[53]
2020 Air pollution Policy China plans to reduce coal consumption to below 62% of primary energy by the time.[10]

Visual data

Google Trends

The comparative chart below shows Google Trends data for pollution in China (Search term), air pollution in China (Search term) and water pollution in China (Search term), from January 2004 to April 2021, when the screenshot was taken. Interest is also ranked by country and displayed on world map.[54]

Pollution in China, air pollution in China and water pollution in China gt.png

Google Ngram Viewer

The comparative chart below shows Google Ngram Viewer data for pollution in China, pollution in India, pollution in the US and pollution in Europe, from 1900 to 2019.[55]

Pollution in China, pollution in India, pollution in the US and pollution in Europe ngram.png

Wikipedia Views

The chart below shows pageviews of the English Wikipedia article Pollution in China, on desktop from December 2007, and on mobile-web, desktop-spider, mobile-web-spider and mobile app, from July 2015; to March 2021.[56]

Pollution in China wv.png

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by User:Sebastian.

Funding information for this timeline is available.

Feedback and comments

Feedback for the timeline can be provided at the following places:


What the timeline is still missing

Timeline update strategy

See also

External links


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