The Chinese government and legislature are increasing pressure on local government officials and companies to reduce pollution in China.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China’s legislature is targeting companies responsible for pollution, and has ordered local judiciaries and lawmakers to implement revised rules and enforce penalties against those who break them.

Air pollution, in particular, has been of particular concern. Li Zhanshu, chairman of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, announced that “[e]very provincial-level people’s congress should release or amend regulations on the air pollution prevention law by the end of this year in line with pollution conditions in their areas.” He further urged increased cooperation between public bodies, such as courts and environmental bodies within government. He noted that this cooperation should include both expanded investigation and enforcement efforts, but also issuing regulatory guidance so regulated companies are clear on the standards they are required to meet.

Updates underscore China’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions despite government agency reshuffling.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

The Climate Change Department (CCD) of the newly formed Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) has announced its official updates in relation to China’s low carbon-development strategy generally and the National Emissions Trading System (ETS) in particular. This announcement took place at the sixth Low Carbon Day celebration (13 June, 2018) and marked the CCD’s first public event since it was transferred to the MEE from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state agency originally tasked with developing the ETS.

President Xi recently took the opportunity at the National Ecology and Environmental Protection Conference to stress the importance of a national climate change strategy through a governance system, in order to demonstrate China’s commitment to the cause.

Polluters of one of China’s most polluted waterways are increasingly facing prosecution through coordinated local and national efforts.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

Chinese authorities have been increasing their efforts to prosecute environmental offenders along the Yangtze River, the third-longest river in the world and the longest in Asia. The crackdown reflects China’s goal to make 70% of its surface water safe to consume by 2020.

Water Pollution: A Serious Problem for China

China’s government has good reason to take the problem of water pollution seriously. In 2012, a senior official from the water ministry acknowledged that 20% of China’s waterways were classified as toxic, while 40% were seriously polluted. The World Bank has further noted that water pollution could have “catastrophic consequences for future generations,” and that the problem is compounded by the fact that China does not have enough water for its population to safely consume. (For more information on China’s water supply, see Latham’s previous blog post).

The plan’s stricter and more targeted requirements will impact a broader range of provinces, including the Fen-Wei Plains.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China has released a new three-year action plan for 2018 to 2020 to combat air pollution. The previous air pollution action plan, published in 2013, has played a significant role in improving air quality in major cities. China’s updated plan, which was released on July 3, draws on additional information and research to provide more targeted requirements.

Success of the 2013 plan

The former plan set a coal cap across China with varying limits in different provinces. For example, the plan required Beijing to reduce its coal consumption by half from 2015 to 2018. The plan’s success was due in part to the state’s ownership of a large number of China’s worst polluters, making them easier to control. Furthermore, because half of China’s pollution comes from coal-burning power stations, the country needs a less varied range of policies to order to target pollution compared with other countries.

Increased manufacturing offshoring and industrial activity may prevent China from reaching its commitments, despite a booming renewable energy sector.

By Paul A. Davies, Kimberly Leefatt, and R. Andrew Westgate

China’s carbon emissions increased by 4% in the first quarter of 2018 — marking the biggest hike in carbon emissions in the last seven years, according to an article published by China Economic Review. Increased industrial activity is due in large part to the government’s financial support of furnaces and kilns meant to stimulate the economy. However, industrial growth could prevent China from achieving its Paris Agreement targets, despite the country’s reduction in coal use and commitment to promoting renewable forms of energy.

Increasing Carbon Emissions

China is responsible for approximately 30% of global carbon emissions. In fact, China emits twice the amount of CO2 per dollar of gross domestic product compared with the United States, and more than in the European Union.

China’s uneven distribution of water sources presents unique difficulties to China as demand for water is increasing rapidly.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China’s water supply problems are well-known globally. However, the main problem facing China is how to distribute its water, rather than lack of water per se. 80% of China’s water supply lies in southern China. But this water cannot be used by the population of 12 Chinese provinces representing 41% of its total population, 38% of Chinese agriculture, 46% of its industry, and 50% of its power generation. Eight of these provinces are currently experiencing acute water scarcity, while in four provinces water is merely “scarce,” and two provinces are largely desert. Moreover, the problem is getting worse, with 28,000 rivers in China having dried up over the past 25 years. And China’s appetite for water continues to grow, with consumption forecast to rise to 670 billion cubic meters a year by the early 2020s.

Adding to the problem is the fact that coal mining is a water-intensive as well as polluting process, and 85% of coal reserves in China are located in provinces where water is scarce and must be shared with a large agriculture industry. Reportedly 20% of all water use in China is for mining, processing, or consumption of coal, and almost 70% is for agricultural purposes. Rapid growth in water demand, combined with a reliance on groundwater drawn from aquifers, has resulted in a new problem — subsidence. This poses a threat to over 50 cities in China and is being closely monitored by the government.

The government’s plan to tackle internal and imported plastic waste is the latest phase in China’s clean energy commitment.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

Although China’s ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions and air pollution have received global attention and coverage, the country’s significant steps to reduce solid waste pollution have been subject to less scrutiny. Plastics, which are both manufactured and imported into China for recycling in vast quantities, are a case point. The National Development and Reform Commissions (NDRC), China’s key economic planning body, has frequently affirmed its commitment to reducing plastic waste pollution. To further this objective, the NDRC is expected to revise a 2008 order, which banned the production and sale of plastic bags less than 0.025 millimetres thick. The order also made it compulsory for retailers to charge customers for plastic bags.

As China begins to implement its emissions trading system, the country may look around the globe for regulatory guidance.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

China established its national emissions trading system (ETS) as a key component of the plan to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. The country’s participation in the Paris Agreement is significant not only because it contributes 15% toward total global carbon emissions, but because China was a key proponent of the agreement during its negotiation.

China’s initial hurdle was how to systematically collect the emissions data necessary to design and implement the emissions trading scheme. Accurate and comprehensive emissions data is critical not only for setting the level of the overall cap, but also in determining how free allowances will be allocated to regulated companies. Determining the rate at which the emissions cap declines also requires predicting future emission rates and market demand levels.

China cuts fossil fuel consumption to achieve clean energy goal, but must carefully balance the consequences for Chinese citizens.

By Paul Davies and Andrew Westgate

In tandem with China’s significant economic growth over the past three decades, coal emissions have soared, increasing from 446 million tonnes in 1990 to 2.6 billion tonnes in 2017. Coal remains, and for some time likely will remain, an important source of fuel for the Chinese economy. However, the harmful effects of coal consumption are evident in the shortening life expectancies of Chinese citizens, particularly in northern China. An individual in the north apparently has an average life expectancy that is approximately 3.1 years shorter than an individual in the south, which has been linked to the burning of coal.[1]

Achieving President Xi Jinping’s promise to “to make the skies blue again” is by no means an easy feat, and the government’s plan is ambitious. Entitled the “Energy Production and Consumption Revolution Strategy”, the plan aims to ensure that emissions reach their highest level in 2030 and decline thereafter, and that by 2050 coal and other fossil fuels make up less than 50% of the country’s energy mix. China has invested heavily in renewable energy, adding more renewable capacity in recent years than any other country.