By Paul Davies and Andrew Westgate

On 28 May, the State Council, China’s highest administrative body, released the Action Plan on Prevention and Control of Soil Pollution (currently available only in Chinese) to address one of the nation’s most difficult and pressing environmental issues.  This ambitious plan, developed in the wake of increasing consciousness of soil pollution issues, most visibly the students affected by contamination at a school in Jiangsu province this April, will require that 90 percent of contaminated farmland be made safe by 2020, and 95% by 2030.  According to some estimates, the cost of these efforts could reach $1 trillion.  In addition, the Action Plan calls for a detailed national survey of soil conditions to be completed by 2018, including identifying “hotspots” of severe pollution (a topic which was not included in previous reports), categorizing farmland by level of contamination.  The survey will be repeated every 10 years thereafter.  The Action Plan does not, however, provide details on the evaluation and selection of cleanup measures, or define standards for soil remediation or what constitutes a “hotspot.”  Finally, Article 7 of the Action Plan endorses the “polluter pays” (as well as the polluter’s successor) principle seen in the revised Environmental Protection Law and various notices and regulations issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection over the last few years.