Deeper Ecological & Environmental Policy Reforms In 14 FYP

By Dr Zhanfeng Dong 18 June, 2020

The 14FYP will see unprecedented environmental challenges. Dr Dong from Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning shares how to overcome these

To continue pursuing a Beautiful China & overcome unprecedented challenges during the 14FYP, the Chinese govt must continue to promote policy reform & innovation in environmental protection
Need to set up a long-term protection mechanism, which will help China achieve the 'five connections'; meanwhile, more market efforts to promote green ways should be used
6 key policy reforms are essential in 14FYP from green dev to quality control and dual responsibility to international participation; overall, science needs a more prominent role in policy formulation

Since the 18th National Congress, China has made big strides in reforming and innovating ecological and environmental protection policies which provided an important driving force for the pursuit of a beautiful China.

Environ protection will face unprecedented challenges in 14FYP

Yet, the work in ecological and environmental protection will face unprecedented challenges in 14 Five-Year Plan (14FYP) period. To provide more high-quality ecological products to satisfy people’s growing demand for a better living quality, China must continue to promote policy reform and innovation as well as enhancing the capability and modernity of the system by following President XI’s doctrine of ecological civilisation.

Challenges in 14FYP

There are still multiple domestic and international obstacles to overcome in 14FYP and they can be summarised into the following eight points:

1. The consistency and capability of the environmental protection system are still insufficient. In particular, the operations of the system in 4 areas – namely standards formulation, monitoring and evaluation, supervision and enforcement, and officials’ accountability, are still not sufficiently standardised.

2. The system still requires further modification and its potential has not yet been fully tapped to achieve emission reduction.

3. The policy framework for regional environmental management – from watershed control unit compliance, regional air quality, the “3-lines-1-list” initiative (3 lines: ecological protection redline, environmental quality baseline, natural resources appreciation line; 1 list: the permission list for ecological resources exploitation) to national parks’ protection are still far from comprehensive.

4. The current system mostly focuses on monitoring and target assessment while lack of progress can still be found in data collection, transparency, emphasis of responsibility and the use of incentives.

5. Although the market economy of ecological resources exploitation and protection is steadily improving, it still has not fully achieved the aims of structural alignment, quality improvement and multi-agency governance.

6. Both the multi-agency approach to manage the ecological environment and the social condition of green production and consumption are still incomprehensive.

7. The legal framework and standardisation mechanism are still far from perfect. Also, incompetence in enforcing these laws can still be observed.

8. External challenges such as the resistance towards Belt and Road green development, the aim of reaching peak carbon emission by 2030, the rise of protectionism and the gap between China’s policies and the international standards still persist.

A long-term protection mechanism to pursue a beautiful China

To weather through the unprecedented political environment, the reform of ecological environment protection policies must adhere to President Xi’s doctrine and promote high quality developments in both the economy and the environment.

Through strengthening the system coordination, regulation, governance, regional management, and standardisation, China can achieve the “five connections” in environmental protection (connecting surface-underground, ashore-underwater, land-ocean, city-villages, carbon monoxide-carbon dioxide) and marry pollution control with ecological protection.

Aside from system improvement, the effectiveness of management must be more transparent and accountable. As such, the on-going system which is government-led, market-based, and monitored by the judicial system and the NPC (National People Congress) must be solidified.

More efforts should be paid on utilising the market economy to encourage green production, lifestyle & consumption

More efforts should also be paid on utilising the market economy to encourage green production, lifestyle, and consumption. Above all, science should be an indispensable element in policy making and implementation.


In addition to achieving the above to enhance domestic ecological environment protection, China should treat it as a global issue and strive to participate in international standard setting to help achieve a clean and beautiful planet.

The 6 key policy reforms in 14FYP

1. Green development promotion & emission reduction

To promote structural green adjustment in key non-electricity industries such as cement and chemical industry, the government should provide subsidies for ultra-low emission and establish ladder-level incentives for water and electricity usage.

The government should also use multiple approaches to achieve emission reduction in China.

  • Reduces and substitutes coal in focused area and promote nation-wide energy saving and structural readjustment to reduce carbon emission and pollution;
  • Subsidies for shore power supply;
  • Phases out diesel truck;
  • Optimises the transportation infrastructure, and
  • Provides extra subsidies for beneficial activities in the rural area such as waste recycling, usage of organic fertiliser and operation of sewage treatment plants. Specifically, the electricity price for the sewage treatment plant should be following the civilians or rural production standard (i.e. lower tier).

2. Ecological environment monitoring and management

China needs to continue to improve its regional management and coverage of ecology, atmosphere, water, soil and ocean. In addition to the focus on regions, the aforementioned “3-lines-1-list” requires further emphasis with particular focus on strategic environmental impact assessment, the permission list for ecological resources exploitation, ecological compensation and performance management.

3. Ecological environment quality control and assessment

A consolidated assessment mechanism that encapsulates the elements of water, atmosphere, soil and ecology has to be constructed to achieve comprehensive assessment of the environment.

A consolidated & transparent assessment mechanism is needed

This mechanism also needs to be transparent and incentive-based, meaning good performances should be rewarded with official promotion or increased funding from the central government. The mechanism should also strive to achieve full coverage of China.

4. The market economy of ecological environment

The performance of environmental quality should be fully integrated with the central government funding distribution mechanism.

Negative externalities should be included in the resource & consumption tax

To provide further impetus, volatile organic compounds, carbon emission and polluting products should be incorporated into the scope of environmental protection tax reform. The negative ecological and environmental externalities should ultimately be included in resource and consumption tax. Regarding waste reduction, full-cost coverage sewage treatment policy and solid waste handling fee mechanisms should be established.

Aside from taxes and government funding, China should continue to improve its transfer payment mechanism (based on ecological contribution and environment) in key areas. More works could be done on ecological compensation such as managing water holistically (resources, quality and ecology), prioritising cross-provincial ecological compensation, and marketising a diversified ecological compensation mechanism.

The possibility of green development funds in the Yangtze River basin & GBA should be studied

Also, trading mechanisms of carbon, pollution discharge and natural resources should be established and enhanced to utilise natural resources efficiently. The possibility of establishing green development funds in key areas such as Yangtze River basin and the Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao Greater Bay Area should also be studied.

5. Dual-responsibility-for-one-post of the party and government

The responsibility of governance of ecological environment has to be clearly defined – lead by the party, guide by the government, implement by enterprises, participate by the society, operate by multi-agency approach, and be transparent.

The party and government play a particular important role here, hence the capability of the Congress’s legal monitoring, CPPCC’s ecological governance and public interest litigation system should be further enhanced. Through this chain of command, the governing regime should guide the development of green consumption and mobilise the entire society to participate in pursuing a beautiful China.

6. International participation

China needs to elevate its involvement in international environmental regulations setting, monitor the 2030 SDG Agenda closely, and regularly publish the progress report of China’s Implementation of the 2030 SDG.

It should promote joint constructions of a green Belt and Road and establish mutual recognition of environmental standards with other countries, as well as leading the standardisation of green infrastructure development along the Belt and Road.

More broadly, China needs to promote green trade and responsible investment, plus encouraging structural changes in the global supply chains and strengthening the implementation of international environmental treaties.

Supporting elements for ecological environmental management

To achieve the visions above, support from a solid legal framework is vital and the government needs to refine regulations in areas of discharge permit, ecological redlines, biodiversity protection and key ecological area protection.

Also, it needs to promptly legalise or enhance the following laws and regulations:

  • Yangtze River Protection Law
  • Yellow River Protection Law
  • Climate Change Response Law
  • Planning Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations
  • Natural Protection Area Regulations
  • Operational Permit of Dangerous Waste

However, a well-established legal framework will not be useful unless an effective implementation mechanism is in place. Therefore, the government must implement the most stringent ecological environment supervision by promoting institutionalisation, standardisation, and simplification in central and provincial governments as well as various departments.

Govt must implement the most stringent ecological environment supervision

Law enforcement in river basin, ocean, and pollution discharge should also be strengthened. In addition, a unified basin law enforcement mechanism, a regular monitoring mechanism for natural protection areas, and the environmental monitoring agent mechanism need to be enhanced.

Finally, science needs to play a more prominent role in policy formulation and adjustment. It should be utilised to evaluate the efficiency of various policies in order to assist the government to refine existing regulations into more economic efficient and scientific ones.

Science needs to play a more prominent role in policy formulation

Cutting-edge technologies such as Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and satellite remote sensing should also be deployed to maximise the efficiency and innovation of environmental policies. It should be heavily utilised to design the 14FYP ecological environmental protection policy reform and eventually contribute to achieving the ultimate goal of 2035 ecological environmental protection policy reform.

Only by achieving these can the pursue of a beautiful China in 14FYP be successful.

Further Reading

  • 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
  • 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
  • Becoming Beautiful: Property Rights For Natural Resources – The Ministry of Natural Resources is creating a landmark rights system for each natural resource, from coal and gas to forests and water. What does this mean and where are the pilots? Find out in our review
  • 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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