The urbanization ratio of China grew from 29.04 percent in 1995 to 41.76 percent in 2004. To tackle environmental problems arising from rapid urbanization, the Chinese government has adopted a series of comprehensive measures to gradually improve the urban environment. As a result, the environment in some cities has been remarkably improved. Compared with 1996, in 2005 the proportion of cities with air quality reaching Grade II of the state standard increased by 31 percentage points, while that of cities with air quality lower than Grade III decreased by 39 percentage points.
Considering the capacity of the urban environment and the ability to guarantee resource preservation, many Chinese cities have laid out and implemented general urban planning and planning to fully attain required standards for urban environmental quality based on functional districts, measure the capacity of the atmospheric and water environments, determine city size and the orientation of development in a rational way, adjust the structure and distribution of urban industries, and gradually optimize the division of functional districts. Many large and medium-sized cities have carried out the strategy to phase out secondary industry and promote the tertiary sector; local governments have shut down some enterprises with serious pollution problems, moved some such enterprises out of the city center through the use of land pricing, and implemented technological transformation and concentrated control of pollution based on the principle of "keeping industry in industrial parks and concentrating on pollution control." Some cities have combined the transformation of old cities with the adjustment of city layout to change the dirtiness, disorderliness and insanitariness characteristic of old urban areas and improve the living environment of urban residents. They have made great efforts to adjust urban energy structure, and actively advocated clean energy and central heating, so as to reduce pollution caused by burning coal. Ready-mixed concrete is introduced in urban construction, and concrete mixing is prohibited in city centers of the municipalities directly under the Central Government, the cities directly under provincial governments, some large and medium-sized cities, and tourism cities, so as to reduce dust pollution caused by construction.
Governments at all levels in China have taken the construction of urban environmental infrastructure as the focus of financial input, pushing forward the construction of facilities dealing with sewage and waste. By the end of 2004, the rate of urban sewage treatment had reached 46 percent; that of innocuous disposal of house refuse, 52 percent; and consumption of clean energy in city centers, 40 percent. In recent years, the vehicle emission standards have proceeded from Phase I to Phase II, and Phase III standards have been drawn up. Some cities have started a clean vehicle campaign, actively promoting the use of low-pollution vehicles fueled by natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas. Since July 2000, leaded gasoline has been prohibited throughout China, reducing lead emission by 1,500 tons each year.
The quantitative examination system for comprehensive urban environmental control has been introduced in over 500 Chinese cities. The system gives quantitative standards for the quality of the urban environment, pollution control and construction of urban environmental infrastructure, and thus will help to comprehensively assess the environmental protection work of city governments. Since 1997, the Central Government has started a campaign to build environmental-protection model cities as required by economic development, social progress, facilities amelioration and environmental improvement. At present, more than 100 cities (districts) are building themselves into environmental-protection model cities, among which 56 cities and five districts in municipalities directly under the Central Government have succeeded in meeting the required standards. These model cities enjoy 80 percent of the total number of days a year with air quality reaching or above Grade II, city sewage treatment rate is higher than 70 percent, the rate of innocuous disposal of house refuse higher than 80 percent and greenery coverage rate higher than 35 percent -- all above the national average. And "azure sky, blue water, green land, tranquility and harmony" have become prominent features of these model cities.
In recent years, the Chinese government has made great efforts in city afforestation, so as to landscape cities and improve the environment for human settlement. At the end of 2004, the coverage of green areas in Chinese cities was 31.66 percent, 3.51 higher than in 2000; the greening rate was 27.72 percent, a growth of 4.05 percent compared to 2000; and the per-capita public green area was 7.39 sq m, or double the 3.7 sq m of 2000. So far, the State has named 83 national-level garden cities, four garden city districts and 10 national-level garden county towns, and honored 12 cities with the "Human Settlement Environment Award."