environmental protection

MEE declares full steam ahead on China’s environmental initiatives, including an NGDF, private sector finance, Yangtze River conservation, and the social credit system.

By Paul A. Davies and Zoe Liu

Xu Bijiu, director general of the general office of China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), has given the clearest signal to date that China’s environmental ambitions will not be impeded by the projected slowdown of the Chinese economy.

Dismissing suggestions that increased environmental protection had led to downward pressures on the economy in recent years, Xu stated that China has, in fact, benefitted from a “harmonious, win-win relationship” between economic development and increased environmental protection. Xu confirmed that the pollution targets MEE set last year for the end of 2020 would not be altered, despite the fact that some areas of the country (such as Hunan in south-central China) missed their PM 2.5 air quality targets in 2019.

The Green Industry Guidance Catalogue attempts to provide consistent nationwide guidelines for green industries and projects.

By Paul A. Davies and R. Andrew Westgate

Background

On 6 March 2019, seven Chinese regulatory agencies issued the Green Industry Guidance Catalogue (the Catalogue) listing “green industries” that are eligible for funding with green bonds. The seven agencies include the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Ministry of Natural Resources, Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, The People’s Bank of China, and the National Energy Board.

China’s environmental revolution not only entails implementing a robust, modern policy framework, but also a significant rearrangement of the economy itself — rendering the revolution a priority for both ecological and economic development reasons. As a result, in recent years, all provinces and directly-administered municipalities within China and departments within the Chinese government have introduced policies and measures to promote green industries. However, these policies and measures have been hampered by a lack of uniformity and the application of differing standards in different regions.

Reports suggest that China’s promising focus on environmental regulation may be slowing amid an economic downturn.

By Paul A. Davies and Andrew Westgate

Background

At the 2014 National People’s Congress, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s rhetoric adopting an “iron fist” approach in a “war against pollution” represented a stunning volte-face from China’s relaxed environmental oversight and prioritization of economic growth over the preceding four decades.

Building on pollution reduction targets set in 2013, the Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (EPL) was adopted in 2014 and came into force in 2015. The EPL represented the first real revision to Chinese environmental law since 1989, and it took a modern, holistic approach to environmental legislation. The EPL declared environmental protection a fundamental national policy; obligated all entities and individuals to protect the environment; encouraged entities and individuals to use environmentally friendly and recycled products; adopted a total pollutants emission control system and public disclosure requirements; empowered citizens to report environmental pollution and bring public interest litigation; and imposed penalties, including daily fines and administrative detention for polluters and for government officials that fail to enforce environmental law.

Lawmakers will debate an amendment to include the country’s environmental commitments in Article 1 of France’s Constitution.

By Fabrice Fages

MPs in France have adopted an amendment to include a new paragraph in Article 1 of the French Constitution. The amendment reads:

France acts towards the preservation of the environment and biological diversity, and against climate change.”

The Constitutional Law Commission of the National Assembly adopted the amendment on June 27, 2018, as part of France’s upcoming constitutional reform. A plenary session beginning on July 10, 2018 will debate the amendment.

The amendment represents an interesting shift from the previous constitutional reform proposal. The previous proposal addressed the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change via the modification of Article 34 of the Constitution.

China’s new energy ministry demonstrates the country’s continued commitment to environmental protection and renewable energy.

By Paul A. Davies and Andrew Westgate

Recent comments from senior communist party leaders indicate that the Chinese government intends to establish a new Ministry of Energy to streamline and consolidate authority for energy-related issues. The responsibility for these issues is currently dispersed among a variety of other ministries. The new ministry will be responsible for managing sectors including electric power generation, oil and natural gas in a bid to improve the workings of government and policymaking in relation to energy. However, the full extent of the new ministry’s authority remains unclear, including whether it will have oversight of China’s state-owned oil companies.

By Michael Green and Paul Davies

A coalition of medical and environmental groups has called upon the European Commission (EC) to propose specific legislation that will address pollution, in particular, by active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). This political development highlights the complex debate currently taking place over how to identify and address the effects of APIs.

An API is the biologically active component of a pharmaceutical drug. Other ingredients, known as “excipients”, are the inert substances present in a pharmaceutical drug. For example, if a product is in syrup form, the excipient is the liquid being used.

The coalition has raised the concern that APIs make their way into groundwater, rivers, lakes, oceans, and even drinking water after being disposed, with potentially harmful effects on the environment and human health. APIs are specifically designed to trigger a biological process (unlike most other chemical pollutants). As such, if APIs are present at significant-enough levels, biological processes in humans and/or animals may be unintentionally activated with potentially harmful effects. For example, some evidence suggests that the environmental presence of antibiotics contributes to developing antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, and that synthetic hormones found in contraceptive pills cause infertility in fish. Moreover, the effects on humans of inadvertent long-term exposure to low levels of APIs in drinking water, particularly given the potential for the presence and interaction of multiple APIs, are relatively unknown.

By Paul Davies and Andrew Westgate

China’s State Council released an “Opinion Concerning Establishment of a Long-Term Mechanism for Early-Warning and Monitoring of Environmental and Natural Resources Carrying Capacity,” which will halt major projects in heavily polluted areas, according to a report from the official Xinhua news agency. The opinion also calls for authorities to use a new pollution alert system that tracks areas ranging from “green non-alert zones” that are the least polluted to “red zones”, where environment and natural resource pressures are greatest.

The opinion provides that in “red zone” areas, government authorities will suspend approval for projects. Companies responsible for environmental damage and local officials failing to implement the ban strictly enough will be held accountable, and could even be prosecuted for criminal liability. Conversely, the government may provide a financial reward for “green non-alert zones”.

The initiative is the latest development in China’s environmental crackdown, which has intensified this year, rattling the country’s ports, factories, and commodities markets, in particular. Economic analysts have suggested that China will sacrifice 0.2 percentage points in economic growth and approximately 40,000 jobs this year to achieve cleaner air in Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei alone.