Situation before the initiative began
Overall thirty years of exploitation of Tangshan’s natural coal reserves had left the surrounding areas of Tangshan in a devastated state. The most bleak and depressed area stretched 1,300 hectares to the south of the city center, with growing mountains of rubbish and flowing wastes. This old and abandoned open-pit mine became a serious source of pollution and environmental degradation as mountains of rubbish and coal-mining waste attracted flies and vermin. Loose dust particles would become windblown during the dry summer season, turning the sky bleak and infiltrating each and every corner of the city.
Establishment of priorities
This lead to the decision by the Municipal Government to establish the “Southern Reforestation Construction Headquarters Office” which was charged with the task of coordinating a comprehensive remediation plan.
Formulation of objectives and strategies
The resulting remediation plan involved the remediation of 20,800 hectares of abandoned mine pits and depositories of mine waste. The specific objectives involved:
- Clearing-up 1.3 million cubic meters of rubbish made up of waste coal mining material.
- Demolishing 240,000 square meters of old industrial structures that were no longer in use.
- Reforestation involving planting 1.38 million trees and 240,000 square meters of shrubs and to form 607 hectares of green space.
- Sewage Treatment: the diversion of wastewater from 250 pits through a network of 5,313 meters of collector pipes to bring the wastewater to the sewage treatment plant for the safe disposal of sewage.
- The creation of a leisure park replete with entertainment and leisure facilities such as boats, pavilions, walk ways and paths and traditional Chinese garden architecture including arched bridges and covered walkways.
Mobilisation of resources
The mobilization of resources followed two principles. The first principle was the social responsibility of the enterprises involved and the principle of “polluter pays”. This led to an investment capital of RMB 150 million (US$ 18 million).
The second principle was the responsibility of the local government to provide a healthy and sustainable environment for its citizens. This led the Municipal Government of Tangshan investing RMB 30 million (US$ 3.5 million) from its own resources.
Finally, these resources were leveraged with private donations by civil society amounting to RMB 20 million (US$ 2.4 million). In addition, the population of Tangshan participated actively in the tree planting and urban greening component of the project.
Expertise was sought and obtained from various institutes and research centres in China including Li Jiale, the vice-chairman of the Park Beautification Committee of China and Liang Yongji and Tang Xueshan, two professors from Beijing Forestry University.
While the Municipal Government of Tangshan assumed the leadership role in the design, implementation and coordination of the remediation plan, the process involved numerous actors and stakeholders.
A key first step was an awareness campaign which was undertaken by the municipal government. This involved the use of TV, radio, posters, exhibitions and town hall meetings where people, experts, planners and industry executives were able to exchange ideas on various aspects of the plan and the merits of its component projects.
The second step was a series of ad hoc or special purpose meetings to discuss specific issues with various stakeholders. Some of these meetings focused on very specific issues such as the relocation of a cemetery to allow for more rationale land use and landscaping. Other meetings focused on road building, waste removal and recycling. Yet other meetings were held with industry to relocate and remove certain structures and plants to ensure overall coherence of the remediation plan.
Multi-stakeholder management and supervision committees were also established to ensure the proper and transparent use of resources including land and funds, inspection of works, and quality and cost control.
Within the former coal-mining district of 1,300 hectares to the south of the city center, an area of 607 hectares has been reforested and turned into a massive green space. 65 hectares of stagnant water have been completely cleaned and purified and turned into a lake. The lake is safe for people to swim in and water life has returned to this body of water, including fish, aquatic and migratory birds and insects. The most severely polluted area of 300 hectares nearest to the city center has been rehabilitated into an ecological park with trees, flowers and shrubs selected by experts to provide an ecologically balanced environment.
The improvements to the environment have had a tremendous impact on the city. Areas surrounding the green space have become prime real estate with new housing and commercial enterprises investing in the area. Instead of being just coal-mining town, Tangshan is now able to attract other industries and commerce as witnessed by a thriving local economy which witnessed double digit growth for the past decade.
The creation of a massive green space and of more than 1.3 million trees has brought about considerable improvement sin terms of air and water quality and micro-climate.
The financial montage of the remediation plan provides a good example of effective partnership between the public, private and civil society sectors. The municipal government allocated resources primarily for basic infrastructure and services. By investing its resources in roads, parks and gardens and waste treatment, it provides the basis for the long-term economic vitality of the city. Improvements to quality of life, environmental health and the beautification of the city will help make Tangshan a more agreeable and attractive place for work, to live and for tourism.
The involvement of the people of Tangshan in the design and implementation of various projects has led to tremendous awareness of ecological and environmental issues. Having witnessed first-hand the improvement of the city’s natural environment, citizens continue to play a very active role in its protection and management. Dozens of civil society groups have taken on entire portions and areas of the reforestation projects and these have now been named after the associations, clubs and schools involved. Two forests of particular interest include the Women’s Forest, planted by the women’s association of Tangshan, and the newly weds’ forest where just married couples come to plant a tree.
The Tangshan initiative is without a doubt one of the largest attempts at brown-field remediation in China. The initiative spanned eight years during which many lessons were learned. The first lesson was the need to have strong leadership and solid project management. Without these two ingredients, interest and commitment of various stakeholders would have diminished over time. Similarly, it was necessary to inscribe and maintain the initiative as a priority undertaking by the public administration to ensure that commitments made were fulfilled and to avoid bureaucratization which would have also slowed down the realization of projects and led to loss of enthusiasm.
Given the substantial resources involved, it was necessary to have solid project management based on the highest standards of transparency and accountability. This was not only the case with financial resources but also the amount of land, water and infrastructure involved. Any slippages in their use and allocation would have undermined the initiative and the confidence of the numerous stakeholders involved.
In the course of implementation, the advantages of a soft approach to remediation and environmental management became quite evident. With the help of nationally renowned experts and approach was adopted to espouse the landscaping to the prevailing topography and geology, to use carefully chosen species of plants and shrubs. Minimal use was made of heavy machinery, concrete, asphalt and steel and earth movement kept to a minimum. This not only made the initiative less costly, it also enabled mother nature to do what it does best.
The sequencing of the projects was also carried in a progressive and realistic manner. This allowed for the optimal use of resources, not causing undue burdens to industry or to the municipal budget. It also allowed for lessons learned along the way to be incorporated in decision-making. This was particularly the case with reforestation where careful monitoring of survival rates and soil conditions and erosion control over the 8 years allowed for adjustments along the way.
Many initiatives and projects in China are carried out at great haste in order to achieve impressive and visible results in a short period of time. We believe that in the area of environmental remediation, a soft and progressive approach has many advantages. This soft approach is now being exposed to other cities and administrations throughout China that have similar issues and conditions. The Municipal Government of Tangshan is committed to sharing these lessons and its expertise both within China and worldwide.