14FYP – Promote Ecological Conservation

By Dr Zhanfeng Dong, Yichuan Song 26 March, 2021

The 14FYP has bullish environ goals but transformative potential is met with challenges, explains CAEP's Dr Dong & Song

'Promote green development and the harmonious coexistence between human and nature' is the new strategy to advance the ecological civilisation agenda in China
Continued focus on the petrochemical industry, coal-generated power & highway-led transportation is hampering green development; 'three pollution control' to be strengthened
A modern ecological environ governance system is a prerequisite for a ‘Beautiful China', one led by govt but that emphasizes private sector roles & public engagement

The 5th Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China was successfully held in Beijing from October 26-29, 2020. The meeting affirmed that “promote green development and the harmonious coexistence between human and nature” is the new strategy to advance the ecological civilisation agenda in China, giving the country a clear direction and momentum to overcome severe challenges that China’s ecological conservation is still facing.

Challenges of ecological civilization construction and ecological conservation during the 14th Five-Year Plan (14FYP)

Pressure to continuously improve the quality of China’s ecological environment:

Despite the growing strategic importance of green development, challenges to ecological conservation are still paramount, including the continuous focus on petrochemical industry, coal-generated power, and highway-led transportation. According to the “2019 China Statistical Yearbook”, the contribution to the GDP growth from three strata of industry are 7.2: 40.7: 52.2. The second industry still weighs relatively heavy when compared to other developed nations – 2.15x of US, 1.79x of EU, 1.62x of Australia, and 1.34x of Japan.

Also, according to the “2019 China Ecological Environmental Quality Brief”, the overall environmental quality is still lagging behind – most notable shortfalls are listed below:

  • 337 prefecture-level or above cities still have not met the standard for small particles concentration;
  • Less than half of the cities meet the air quality standard; in particular the percentage of “good” days in Beijing, Tianjin and neighboring areas (2+26 cities) is merely 53.1%; and
  • In river/sea coastal areas where pharmaceuticals, chemicals, papermaking and other high-risk industries clustered, risks for polluting accident are still high.

In short, the quality of current ecological environment is still distant from fulfilling people’s expectation of a better life and the goal of building Beautiful China.

The unstable international environment challenges ecological and environmental protection tasks:

Recent global & domestic turbulence raises major questions on how to achieve green development

The world has entered a period of turbulent change with the retreat of economic globalisation, increasing unilateralism & protectionism, sluggish economic development and increasing conflicts of US-China trade. Domestic situation is not favourable as well due to increasing economic downward pressure. This in turn deters economic transformation – from January to November 2019, the output of crude steel, ethylene, cement, flat glass and other products in the country increased by 7.0%, 9.3%, 6.1%, and 6.9% respectively year-on-year. This poses severe challenges to ecological conservation. In light of all these challenges, how to prioritise green development and achieve green recovery is the major question to answer.

Strive to promote ecological and environmental protection work during the 14FYP

Strengthen green development and highlight the “three pollution control”:

During the 14FYP, unwavering support must be given to the three “unshakable” principles – prioritise ecology, support green development, and use laws to advance pollution control and ecological conservation.

Given the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19, these actions also need to be implemented with high precisions to ensure they are effective. These policies should eventually promote the harmonious coexistence between human and nature and improve people’s livelihood.

Strengthen the coordinated control of small particles and ozone:

The coordinated control of small particles (PM2.5) and ozone is the key to improve air quality in 14FYP. This needs to be done by concurrently reducing emission of VOCs and nitrogen oxides. Although the overall cities’ air quality have been improved, ozone pollution is intensifying: the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, Yangtze River Delta, and Fenwei Plain still fail to meet the ozone pollution standard; and ozone is the primary pollutant that led to most polluted days in Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and surrounding areas, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Pearl River Delta

To target ozone & small particles PM2.5, policies have to be seasonally adjusted

In order to target ozone (more prevalent in summer and autumn) and small particles PM2.5 (more prevalent in winter and autumn), policies have to be seasonally adjusted. For Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and surrounding areas, the Yangtze River Delta, the Fenwei Plain and other key areas and non-key areas with heavy PM2.5 pollution, policies should on promoting clean heating in rural area and eradicate scattered coal usages. For areas with heavy ozone pollution, policies should focus on building/upgrading VOCs management facilities to stablise/decrease ozone concentration and maintain the steady decrease in PM2.5.

Implement comprehensive prevention and control of pollution reduction and carbon reduction, and steadily and orderly promote the peak of carbon emissions:

The 14FYP will resolutely implement the national strategy in combating climate change and build a green and low-carbon circular developmental economy. Different policies, such as carbon emission reduction, pollution control and ecological conservation should be integrated into a coherent policy direction to maximise synergy. This set of policies should also control fossil fuel-based consumption, develop non-fossil energy sources, and fast-track decarbonisation in key areas. To further promote a green and low-carbon lifestyle across China, national carbon market and low-carbon technological innovation should also be enhanced.

Strengthen ecological environmental risk management; establish an ecological environment management system that focuses on prevention at the origin:

Environmental risk management should also be a key focus in the 14FYP. Environmental emergency response and nuclear supervision should be enhanced to guarantee ecological and nuclear safety. A system of protecting the environment from hazardous wastes with “prevention from the origin, vigorous monitoring and serious punishment” should be established. The national and regional distributions of hazardous wastes handling capacity should align with actual needs and in a sensible manner.

Environ protection system should be established –  “prevention from the origin, vigorous monitoring and serious punishment”

To better manage hazardous wastes, works such as the hazardous wastes law, operational mechanism and environmental emergency response should be strengthened. Law enforcement, support to technological innovation and regional cooperation should also be intensified to level up the effectiveness in ecological environmental risk management.


Modernisation of the ecological environmental governance system to guarantee a beautiful China:

A modernised ecological environmental governance system is a prerequisite to realising a beautiful China. This system, which fully adopts President Xi’s thought on ecological civilisation, should focus on the leading role of the government. It should emphasize the role of private companies in protecting the environment and better mobilise the public to participate in environmental management.    

A modern ecological environ governance system is a prerequisite for a ‘Beautiful China’

A multi-facet approach should also be taken to enhance ecological environmental governance in government leadership, corporations, citizens, monitoring system, market, credit system, and legal framework. It should also rely highly on scientific evidence. More specific areas of improvement for these areas are listed below:

  • Government leadership – improve the working mechanism of central planning, provincial overall responsibility, and city and county implementation, plus clarify the fiscal expenditure responsibilities between central and local governments;
  • Corporations –implement the pollution discharge permit system and promote green productions and services;
  • Citizens – utilise functions of different social groups and elevate citizens’ environmental consciousness;
  • Monitoring system – enhance legal protection and strengthen the monitoring infrastructure;
  • Market – establish a regulated open market, support the green industry and innovate the environmental governance system;
  • Credit system – Strengthen the integrity of government affairs and improve the establishment of corporate credit; and
  • Legal framework – improve laws, regulations and environmental protection standards, and strengthen fiscal and taxation support.

Further Reading

  • Deeper Ecological & Environmental Policy Reforms In 14 FYP – Dr Dong from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning shares his views on how to overcome unprecedented challenges of environmental protection during the 14FYP
  • Two Sessions 2020 – Ecological Roadmap – China’s still sticking to the ecological roadmap despite COVID-19. CWR’s Xu runs us through three key takeaways from this year’s Two Sessions that give clear signals of this direction
  • Greening The Yellow River For A Beautiful China – As President Xi reiterates the Yellow River’s importance, Dr Zhanfeng Dong from the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning expands on policies for “黄河宁,天下平” – a stable Yellow River, peace in China
  • 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
  • Capital Two Zones: Protecting Beijing’s Upper Watershed – The Capital Two Zones plan is set to protect Zhangjiakou, upstream of water stressed Beijing & host of the 2022 Winter Olympics – how will this impact industry and development? China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu explores
  • Ministry Reform: 9 Dragons To 2 – What does China’s long-awaited ministry re-shuffle mean – who manages what and how? China Water Risk’s Woody Chan and Yuanchao Xu review the roles and impacts of the new Ministry of Ecological Environment & Ministry of Natural Resources

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Dr Zhanfeng Dong
Author: Dr Zhanfeng Dong
Dr. Dong Zhanfeng is currently working at the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning (CAEP) directly under the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), acted as the associate director of the Environmental Policy Institute (EPI). He is mainly engaged in SDGs, ecological and environmental policy. He served as editor-in-chief of Progress in Environmental Economics Research and served as editorial board of some academic journals such as Ecological Economics. He also serves as the senior environmental policy consultant experts for UNEP, UNDP, ADB, GEF and other international agencies. He acted as the core expert of China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) in 2016. He has presided over about 60 international cooperation and domestic research projects in recent 10 years. The international cooperation projects were mainly funded by UNEP, ADB, GEF, etc. Domestic scientific research projects were mainly funded by the National People's Congress (NPC), the State Council, MEE, Ministry of Science and Technology(MOST), Ministry of Finance(MOF), the National Natural Science Foundation(NNSF), etc. He has made several recommendations on environmental policy to the National People’s Congress (NPC), State Council, MEE, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), MOF, State Administration of Taxation (SAT) in China, and were adopted by the relevant ministries and commissions. He has published more than 150 papers in academic journals, authored 9 monographs and 20 books.
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Yichuan Song
Author: Yichuan Song
Yichuan Song is an Assistant Researcher of the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning. Her main research focuses on environmental policy, environmental planning, green finance, and environmental governance system.
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