0723 GMT October 17, 2019
Soil pollution is one of China’s biggest environmental challenges. A 2014 government survey showed nearly a fifth of the country’s farmland was contaminated to varying degrees by chemical waste, pesticides, mining residues and heavy metals, Reuters reported.
Beijing drew up a soil pollution action plan in 2016 and new legislation went into effect in January, but the government has struggled to create incentives and financing mechanisms to pay for the clean-up, especially in old industrial or rural regions where property prices are low.
Efforts to improve the environment in urban areas have also led to the demolition of thousands of industrial plants, leaving behind large numbers of contaminated sites.
A new study conducted by Greenpeace and the Institute of Ecology and Environment at China’s Nanjing University said the reliance on land transfers to generate revenues meant local governments had less motivation to ensure pollution was properly treated.
“Chinese cities rely heavily on land transfer fees to generate revenue and they have a clear incentive to redevelop land on quick turnarounds,” said Bao Hang, campaigner with Greenpeace in Beijing.
“Even a city with deep commitment to properly handling toxic land will in the end need money,” Bao said.
In 2018, the transfer of land utilization permits earned 6.5 trillion yuan ($968.53 billion) for local authorities, up a quarter on the year, the study said. Over the same period, a quarter of China’s contaminated land was transferred, earning as much as 1.05 trillion yuan.
By comparison, only 7.75 billion yuan has been spent on treating the land, seven percent of total earnings last year, it said.
The study found 41 percent of China’s land contamination was caused by chemical production. Heavy metals and metalloids like chromium, lead and arsenic accounted for 54 percent of the total pollutants, it said.