Making China Beautiful

July 1, 2017
Data from a government report shows that China's groundwater quality is improving, albeit slowly. Can the country's environmental decline be reversed or is it too late for the global superpower?

By Tom Freyberg, Chief editor

Data from a government report shows that China’s groundwater quality is improving, albeit slowly. Can the country’s environmental decline be reversed or is it too late for the global superpower?

Whether you think it’s a faltering superpower set to creep ahead of the US, or a polluting monster in need of a severe taming, most of you will have a viewpoint on China and its influence on the world. The environmental effect from years of industrial growth cannot be ignored. China disregarded its waterways and countryside in favour of becoming the world’s manufacturing juggernaut. The West is partly to blame: we’ve fed the country’s insatiable appetite to manufacture with our equally insatiable appetite to consume the goods its produces.

Although many, including me, struggle to remove the image scorched into our retinas of a child ‘swimming’ in a bright green, algae filled waterway, the country is actually making progress in its desperately needed clean up.

As part of its ‘War on Pollution’, China is bucking a five-year trend and reversing an industrialised legacy rendering 80 percent of its groundwater as polluted. Data from the 2016 State of Environment Report from the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) shows that groundwater quality is improving, albeit slowly. “Good” and “excellent” groundwater points have increased by 1.4 percentage points in 2015-2016.

Meanwhile, groundwater points marked as “very bad” have decreased by 4.1 percentage points to 14.7 percent, which falls in line with the wider Water Ten Plan’s target limit of 15 percent by 2020.

With China now on its 13th Five Year Plan, this latest news will be welcomed from Chinese authorities and the wider environmental community. At the World Economic Forum earlier this year in Davos, Switzerland Chinese president Xi Jinping said: “It is important to protect the environment while pursuing economic and social progress so as to achieve harmony between man and nature and between man and society.”

According to China Water Risk, the country’s commitment to environment issues appears to be stronger than ever. However, the organisation said that to achieve a “beautiful China”, more has to be done, including - at the micro scale - wastewater treatment and other technologies need to become mainstream and more robust, as well as the need for corporations and businesses to adopt water stewardship. Whether this translates into opportunities for global water technologies is another question.

“The 2016 report refers to the past year as the starting point for a “successful phase” in environmental protection,” said China Water Risk. “Some of the results, such as the improvement in groundwater quality and the expansion of monitoring coverage, certainly support the view that the tide is turning. This is even more evident when considering the significant strides that the revised environmental law has made in enforcing environmental protection.”

Every country has to start somewhere and hopefully what was once an algae filled tide is starting to turn for China.

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