Capital Two Zones: Protecting Beijing’s Upper Watershed

By Yuanchao Xu 20 September, 2019

CWR's Xu lays out how the Capital Two Zones' plan helps alleviate Zhangjiakao's & Beijing's water stress

To tackle the problem of Beijing's high water stress, the Capital Two Zones plan was released in 2019 to support Zhangjiakao, Beijing's upstream watershed & also host of the 2022 winter Olympics
The plan includes targets on agricultural, industrial & domestic water use & groundwater use; it also suggests to shut down 80% of mines by 2020 - the remaining need to go green or upgrade
Green industries in Zhangjiakao will also be developed - a renewable energy (solar & wind) system is to be established; cloud computing & big data are also prominent industries but can that last?

The upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics has placed Zhangjiakou city, north of Beijing, on an international stage for the first time, as this is where most of the skiing events will be hosted. On 20 July 2019, the ‘Construction Plan for the Capital Water Source Conservation Functional Zone and Ecological Environmental Supporting Zone (the Capital Two Zones) in Zhangjiakou’ was released and brought back the spotlight to the city. Given this, we look at the water status of the two cities and what the plan hopes to achieve.

A tale of two cities

Zhangjiakou is 300 kilometres northwest to Beijing and within the one-hour commute to Beijing thanks to the high-speed railway. Beijing and Zhangjiakou are within the same ecological boundary, both relying on the Haihe river basin. Haihe basin has the highest water stress among the 9 large river basins in China, where most of the extremely highly water-stressed areas are located.

Bejing & Zhangjiakou both rely on the Haihe river basin…

…which has the highest water stress among the 9 larger river basins in China

As shown in the more detailed map below, the whole of Beijing is extremely highly water stressed. Meanwhile, Zhangjiakou, as the upstream city and the water resource conservation area of Beijing, also faces serious water problems with more than half of its area also extremely highly water stressed. The water resource per capita of Zhangjiakou is 347 m3, less than 1/5 of the national average. Besides, Zhangjiakou also has other outstanding issues such as water quality, groundwater over-extraction, grassland degeneration and poverty.

Beijing’s (100%) & Zhangjiakou’s (>50%) areas face extremely high water stress…

…Zhangjiakou plays an important role in the water conservation & ecological supporting of Beijing & Haihe basin

Although the south-north water diversion project and the use of reclaimed water have alleviated Beijing’s heavy reliance on Zhangjiakou’s water supply, Zhangjiakou still plays an important role in the water conservation and ecological supporting of Beijing and Haihe basin.

Now that we have reviewed the two cities’ waterscapes, below are key takeaways of the plan:

Water caps

Water resource is the most important restrictive criteria for economic and social development.

It is suggested in the plan to transition to water demand management & conservative water use

It is suggested in the plan to transition from water supply management (to increase water supply) to water demand management (to reduce unreasonable use of water resource) and from extensive water use (wasteful) to intensive/conservative water use. Measures and targets have been set for 2022 and 2035 respectively for agricultural, industrial and domestic water use:

  • Agriculture: Make adjustment to the planting structure, restrict high water consuming crops, restore farmland to grassland, agricultural water use to be controlled within 600 mn m3;
  • Industry: Restrict high water consuming industries, improve wastewater treatment and water reuse, industrial water use to be controlled within 80 mn m3; and
  • Domestic: Retrofit water supply networks, leakage rate to be controlled within 10%, domestic water use to be controlled within 160 mn m3 (2022) and 200 mn m3 (2035).

While Hebei province (where Zhangjiakou City is located) suffers from severe groundwater over-extraction, the groundwater extraction and compensation of Zhangjiakou is relatively balanced in general. However, some parts in north Zhangjiakou are groundwater over-extraction areas. To resolve the issue, the plan suggests:

  • 400,000 mu (1mu = 0.0667 hectares) of irrigation area is going to be reduced by 2022, and another 790,000 mu by 2029; and
  • Groundwater use to be controlled within 580 mn m3 by 2022 and remained afterwards.

Comprehensive improvement of mining industry

Zhangjiakou is full of mining resources (e.g. coal, iron, gold, silver and zinc) and has a long history of mining activities. Mining is a pillar industry of Zhangjiakou, but also very polluting and water-consuming.

There are still over 150 mines supposed to be shut down according to the plan

Recent years a lot of mines have been shut down due to ecological and environmental purposes. However, there are still over 150 mines supposed to be shut down according to the plan. The plan suggests a comprehensive improvement of the mining industry, promoting the green transitioning of the mining industry:

  • By 2020, 80% of the original mines shall be orderly shut down and about 50% of the large and medium mines need to become green mines;
  • Mining enterprises are encouraged to conduct green transitioning such as ecological tourism, sanatoria projects, etc.; and
  • Mergers and acquisitions of small mines with obsolete technologies are also encouraged to improve mining efficiency.

Green industries

Snow and ice sports are definitely going to be vigorously promoted, taking advantage of the Winter Olympics. A series of large winter sport events are planned to be hosted in Zhangjiakou. Corresponding industries such as commercial forums, winter sports training and winter sports equipment are also encouraged.

By 2022, the target for the installed capacity is 13,000 MW for wind energy & 6,000 MW for solar energy

Apart from the excellent snow condition, Zhangjiakou also has abundant wind and solar resources, making it the only national demonstration area for renewable energy. A renewable energy system including wind energy, solar energy, energy storage and transport is to be established. By 2022, the target for the installed capacity is 13,000 MW for wind energy and 6,000 MW for solar energy.

Special location & cool climate have made it a perfect base for cloud computing & big data (e.g. Tencent & Alibaba)

Zhangjiakou’s special location (close to developed areas such as Beijing and Tianjin) and its cool climate have made it a perfect base for cloud computing and big data, which is also a promising industry in Zhangjiakou. Chinese internet giants such as Tencent and Alibaba have already deployed their data centres in Zhangjiakou.

Zhangjiakou is an underdeveloped city, moreover, the shutdowns of mining enterprises and low-end manufacturers in recent years have further reduced the city’s revenue by over 30%. The green transitioning of the city has come at a crucial time. The construction of the Capital Two Zones is not only meaningful to the coordinated development of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, but also an exploration of the ecological development of underdeveloped areas.


Further Reading

  • Too Big To Fail! Protect At All Costs – Multiple policy innovations have been unleashed to protect the Yangtze River as it is too big to fail – corporates and investors need to get on top of the YREB to avoid regulatory shocks
  • Yangtze River: Actions Toward Ecological Compensation – With RMB5bn already allocated to supporting ecological compensation along the Yangtze River, what’s next? Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning’s Dr Zhanfeng Dong highlights what needs improving
  • Blue City Water Quality Index – Building on their successful Blue Map mobile app, IPE takes it up another notch with the new Blue City Water Quality Map. Hear from their Shen Sunan on which cities are leading and which are lagging
  • Thirsty And Underwater: Rising Risks In Greater Bay Area – How will water & climate risks, including rising sea levels & droughts, threaten the already water-stressed Greater Bay Area (GBA)? CWR’s Tan & Mirando explain in their latest CLSA report and highlight companies’ failure in climate risk disclosures
  • No-Sense Climate Strategies: From DSD To HSBC – Hong Kong’s shortsighted & unrealistic climate plans will leave key assets & infrastructure exposed that mean the government, companies, investors and the public are even more exposed. China Water Risk’s Dharisha Mirando & Debra Tan expand
  • China’s Renewable Energy Quotas – China is releasing its first ever renewable energy quotas along with Renewable Energy Power Certificates to improve trading; see what these mean for provinces & renewable enterprises with China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu
  • Green Development For A Beautiful China – The Minister of Environmental Protection Ganjie Li outlined the MEP’s achievements and future plans at the 19th People’s Congress. What are the key takeaways? China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu reviews
  • Managing China’s Water Stress Drop By Drop – What are the trends in managing China’s water stress? WRI’s Dr Jiao Wang finds that while there is good and bad news, the Three Red Line regulations and local policies seem to have overall positive impacts
  • Two Sessions: Reform – Transform – It has been a tough year but President Xi is staying true to his resolution to build a Beautiful China – what transformations can we expect? Find out in our review of this year’s Two Sessions
  • Key Water Policies 2018-2019 – Haven’t been following China’s environment & water-related policies? Get on top of them now with China Water Risk’s review, including China’s first Soil Ten Law & renewable energy quotas

Yuanchao Xu
Author: Yuanchao Xu
Yuanchao uses his analytical proficiencies towards the assessment and visualization of water risks for China Water Risk. Prior to joining, Yuanchao was based in Europe completing the Erasmus Mundus Master Program where he specialsed in hydro-informatics and water management. He applied his skills in climate forecasting and water resource modelling to the EUPORIAS project with DHI (Danish Hydraulic Institute) which resulted in a conference paper on seasonal climate forecasting. Building on this work, he went on to develop hyfo, an open-source R programme for climate scientists and modellers to analyse and visualize data. Yuanchao’s bachelor degree was from the China Agricultural University where he specialized in heat energy and power engineering. During his time there, he also patented a testing instrument for hydraulic machinery. He has studied and worked in Beijing, Nice, Newcastle and Copenhagen.
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