Environmental Recovery – Where is China?
by China Water Risk 18 June, 2020
Environmental Recovery – Where is China? This month, we focus on China – it has finally just managed to hold its 2020 “Two Sessions”, released its 2019 State of Ecology & Environment (SOEE) Report and announced a pantheon of policies for recovery. So where is it … has it abandoned its plans to build a Beautiful China?
Some good and bad news: we’ll start with the good. We predicted in our 5 Trends for the Year of the Rat … while the rat year portends disasters and diseases, China will still resolutely tai-chi toward eco-civilisation despite the virus and slowdown and we are pleased to say we are right! GDP has been further deprioritised and after reading the tea leaves from this year’s Two Sessions, we breathe a sigh of relief that China is still sticking to its ecological roadmap.
Not convinced? We highlight three Two Sessions key takeaways that give clear signals of this direction – from the modernisation of the environmental governance system in the 14FYP to “Five Targeted” future pollution control enforcement. Still confused? Find out more on the 14FYP’s Ecological & Environmental Policy Reforms with Dr Dong from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning. See why he thinks deeper reforms are needed to meet unprecedented challenges ahead.
And now for the bad: China’s still hooked on coal and reliant on heavy chemicals that are polluting. Despite trends showing an “overall improvement of national ecological environment” some aspects of water pollution still remain stubborn. China’s river quality has improved but 85.7% of groundwater is still unfit for human touch – yuck!
Clearly more needs to be done – the upside is that the Minister of Ecology and Environment (MEE) is on the case. He has publicly acknowledged heavy coal & chemical reliance and that environmental pollution is still severe plus accidents are still occurring frequently.
Speaking of coal, China has been sending mixed signals with its latest relaxation on coal projects. But does this signal a reversal of its coal commitments? Has it given up on renewables? But then why is it spending USD3bn on a new UHV transmission line for renewables only? We take a closer look at various polices and signals from coal caps and renewable expansion to UHV transmission lines to find that China is still going green – phew !
In short, China’s green recovery journey will be riddled with fits and starts; it will be slow, it’s certainly not perfect, but it’ll not stop. And as we watch China experiment its way forward with multiple pilots, lessons can be learned from its success and failures for the rest of Asia.
No doubt, China-India relations are currently tense but water is an issue that will wait for no one. With 21 Indian cities set to run dry by 2021, Kubernein’s Ambika Vishwanath shares 4 Chinese lessons that India can use to tackle its urgent issues and leapfrog ahead to ensure both economic and water security.
A new study shows that water stress will mostly intensify in areas already under stress in all future scenarios for most transboundary river basins – even if we stay within 2°C, up to 380mn people could face water stress by 2050. This means every nation needs to seriously tackle climate change to protect our water resources.
So while China and the EU’s inclusion of climate action in its recovery plans are encouraging, they could do so much more. Yes, COVID-19 did result in the biggest-ever reduction so far, but given the record-high spike in CO2 concentration in 2019, COVID “didn’t even show up as a blip”. Various countries throwing hundreds of billions of dollars for their green recovery is a start, but frankly it is a mere scratch when we are up against a US$616trn problem.
We need reach-for-the-sky solutions. We need to educate an army of water and climate champions to drive these changes, yet universities are not churning them out. Worse still, the siloed nature of academia creates a barrier restricting multidisciplinary collaboration – from science, engineering to finance – needed for solutions. As education is also not immune to COVID-19, surely the sector can use this downtime to rethink the curriculum to stay relevant?
We say it’s time for education unusual – especially in Asia, where we are behind in climate action. We need these future resilient leaders to have the courage to continue to chart a path of green recovery.
In these uncertain times, tempers flare and blame is easily assigned, but we must remember that we need to work together to protect our common waters. It’s time to put aside rhetoric, roll up your sleeves and tai-chi towards a green recovery.