1. Current status of air pollution and countermeasures in China

In recent years, in China, it is said that by implementing measures such as the “Air Pollution Control Action Plan” (Kijujo), the results of air pollution control have been steadily achieved, the air quality has been improved, and the image has changed completely from the bad image in the past. In fact, according to the “2018 China Environmental Situation Bulletin” published by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on May 29, 2019, the air quality in urban areas in 2018 was reported “good”. 121 cities (35.8%) of the 338 cities above the local government level achieved environmental air quality standards, specifically improved it 6.5% up from 2017 level.

In addition, according to the Bulletin, comparing the 2017 and 2018 data on the six air pollutants in the 169 cities monitored in 2018, the pollutants other than ozone (O3) were almost reduced.

However, although the concentration of air pollutants was reduced and the air quality was improved, the achievement status of three pollutants, PM2.5, PM10, and O3, was still poor. Especially in key areas such as Jingdu (Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei) and its surrounding areas, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Yuan Plain, the concentration of  PM2.5 is too high, and the environmental air quality greatly exceeds second grade standard in the national environmental air quality .


Blue Sky Defense Battle 3-Year Action Plan

Thus, the State Council of the People’s Republic of China promulgated the “Blue Sky Defense Battle Three-Year Action Plan” on July 3, 2018. The plan clarifies the basic goals, main missions, support policies, etc. of China’s air pollution prevention efforts, and is regarded as an important measures that can be said to be a policy guideline for the air pollution prevention field in the next stage of the “Air Pollution Control Action Plan” that was completed in 2017.

Then in 2020, in China, laws and regulations on air pollutants are expected to become further stringent. For example, the comprehensive emission standard for air pollutants (GB 16297-1996) and the emission standard for malodorous pollutants (GB 14554-93) will be revised, and the emission limit values and measurement methods for pollutants from light vehicles (GB 18352.6-2016) will be introduced for implementation.


Thirteenth Five-Year VOCs Pollution Prevention Activity Plan

In recent years, regulations on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been issued one after another in China, and have been tightened over a wide area in China. The 2015 revised Air Pollution Control Act was the first law in which VOCs were covered in the scope of legal supervision, changing the past situation where there is no corresponding law regarding VOCs. Later on, according to the “13-Five-Year VOCs Pollution Prevention Activity Plan” promulgated in September 2017, it was clearly presented that the measures to reduce VOCs pollution emissions would be implemented in priority areas and priority industries by 2020, and that nationwide emissions would be reduced by 10% or more. In July 2018, the above-mentioned “Blue Sky Defense War Three-Year Action Plan” was adopted, not only the comprehensive plan, basic goals, main missions and public health safeguards for air pollution control projects, but also the schedules and guidelines for winning the blue sky defense battle were presented. It is expected that the laws and regulations regarding VOCs will become stricter in the future.


2. Framework of Air pollution control law and regulations

Regarding air pollution control measures, the air pollution-related legal provisions at the early stage in China were found in the “Environmental Protection Law (Trial)” enforced in 1979, but they were limited to the basic principles. Then, in 1987, the first law specializing in air pollution, namely the Air Pollution Control Law, was enacted, where responsibilities for the related management and supervision, sharing of the roles among the central and local governments, and provisions of legal liabilities for pollutant emitters were stipulated. Thus, it is positioned as a basic law in the field of air pollution control measures.

The law, which has been revised in 1995, 2000 and 2015, regulates both stationary and mobile sources and sets concentration standards for regulated substances. Its feature is that not only companies but also local governments are subject to the regulation. After that, despite the revision of the Air Pollution Control Act in 2018, there was no change in the contents of the articles therein, only the name of the department in charge was changed.

Regarding the legal and regulatory framework, China has few independent ordinances or laws for air pollution control, and often publishes policy documents (plans) that determine air pollution control policies and long-term goals based on the “Air Pollution Control Law.” As an example, the “Air Pollution Control Action Plan” promulgated in September 2013 is one of them. However, since the “Air Pollution Control Action Plan” was effective up to 2017, and now it is no longer valid. As the “Blue Sky Defense War Three-Year Action Plan” was promulgated as its successor in July 2018, not only the comprehensive plan, basic goals, main missions and safeguards of the air pollution control project, but also the schedule and guidelines for winning the blue sky defense battle throughout Chinese society were presented; as a result, the development goals for air pollution control towards 2020 were clarified.

Then, regarding VOCs whose emissions are still on the rise, the “Volatile Organic Compounds Comprehensive Measures Plan for Priority Industries” and “Air Pollution Comprehensive Measures Plan for Industrial Kilns” were promulgated in 2019, which established a policy to enact more stringent regulations on air pollutants one after another.

Furthermore, in 2019, Chinese government promulgated the “Action Plan for Comprehensive Measures for Air Pollution in the Fall and Winter 2019-2020 in Beijing (Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei) and the surrounding areas”. It has given instructions to strengthen the air pollution control projects in China’s priority areas and win the blue sky defense battle, but it has already been invalid because the planned period is autumn and winter in 2019.

In addition to the above plans, there are many standards for emission of air and VOCs, but among those, the one that is particularly important and targets the priority areas is “Public Notice on Enforcement of Special Emission Limits for Air Pollutants”.

As described above, China’s air pollution control legal framework consists of the higher-level law “ Air Pollution Control Act”, action plans, air environmental quality standards, and emission standards such as VOCs, which were created based on it.