Key Water Policies 2018-2019

By Chien Tat Low 18 March, 2019

Haven't been following China's environment & water-related policies? Get on top of them here!

For water, main policy goals are to improve pricing mechanism & crack down on urban black & smelly water bodies; on the pollution front, the soil ten law is the key milestone
The Yangtze River remained a key target region with new ecological protection red lines & improved compensation schemes; plus this year, the Bohai sea has also come under scrutiny
How about industry? Watch out for the action plan for the comms sector to reduce water use per VAI by 23% by 2020; also China’s first renewable energy quota has finally come into fruition

Economic issues topped China’s recent Two Sessions given its slowing economy, but despite this China’s march towards a Beautiful China appears unhindered. In the latest government budget for 2019, spending in water and soil pollution will increase by a strong 45.3% and 42.9%, reaching RMB30 billion and RMB5 billion respectively. Spending on air pollution on the other hand will go up 25% to RMB25 billion.

Now, as China looks to forge ahead, it is a good time to look back at how it has reinforced its water-related policy landscape in the past year. Below, we have summarised all the key policies into five categories: 1. Water; 2. Pollution; 3. Regional; 4. Industry & Tech; and 5. Energy.

1. Water Focused Policies

China is determined to further improve its pricing mechanism to stimulate environmental protection and green development. For water use, the government aims for a new pricing mechanism that encourages better quality and more conservation to ensure sustainable use of water resources.

Other new targets include all the cities to finish the campaign of environmental protection by 2019, and to accelerate the performance in the war on urban black and smelly water bodies. For key cities, black and smelly water cleaning rate should be over 90% by the end of 2018, while for other cities by end of 2020.

Policy/Plan/Regulation/Standard Release Date Responsible Dept(s) Key Points
Assessment Standards for National Water-saving Cities  Feb 2018 MoHURD, NDRC -Requirements to qualify as a water-saving city
Special Action Plan for the Environmental Protection of National Drinking Water Sources Mar 2018 MEP, MWR -By the end of 2019, all the cities to finish the campaign of environmental protection
Opinions on Innovation and Improvement of the Price Mechanism for Promoting Green Development Jul 2018 NDRC -Improve price mechanism for urban water supply residential water price to cover the supply cost
Implementation Plan for the War on Urban Black and Smelly Water Body Control Sep 2018 MEE, MoHURD -Black & smelly water cleaning rate should be >90% for key cities by the end of 2018 & for other cities by the end of 2020


2. Pollution Focused Policies

Of the many pollution focused polices released over the last year, the most significant one is the new “Soil Pollution Prevention & Control Law”. This is the China’s first dedicated law on soil protection, which builds upon the “Soil Ten Plan” issued in May 2016. Together with previously revised pollution prevention & control laws on air (2015) and water (2017), it again shows that China has escalated its fight against pollution through legislation.

Two other major pollution related development plans were released in June and July 2018 to strengthen the protection of China’s ecological environment. These plans include setting out various targets to achieve a “Beautiful China” by 2035 and establishing the strictest legal system to fight the war on pollution holistically.

Policy/Plan/Regulation/Standard Release Date Responsible Dept(s) Key Points
Notice on Resolutely Curbing the Illegal Transfer and Dumping of Solid Wastes and Further Strengthening the Supervision of the Entire Process off Hazardous Wastes May 2018 MEE -Resolutely curb the illegal transfer & dumping of solid waste
Opinion on Comprehensively Strengthening Ecological Environmental Protection and Resolutely Winning the War on Pollution Jun 2018 Central Committee of the CPC, State Council -Achieve Beautiful China by 2035
Resolution on Strengthening the Protection of the Ecological Environment in All Aspects and Promoting Winning the War on Pollution in Accordance with the Law Jul 2018 Standing Committee of the NPC -Establish the strictest legal system for environmental protection
Soil Pollution Prevention and Control Law Aug 2018 Standing Committee of the NPC -Establish national information platform & soil pollution prevention & control fund
Action Plans for the Supervision and Inspection of Ecological Environment Monitoring (2018-2020) Aug 2018 MEE -To improve the accountability system for ecological environment monitoring data quality
Opinions on Further Enhancing the Supervision and Enforcement in Ecological Environmental Protection Sep 2018 MEE -Clarify responsible personnel; promote random inspections & advanced tech to identify environmental violations
Notice on the Comprehensive Cleaning of Environmental Protection Regulations, Rules and Standards Sep 2018 General Office of the State Council -Clean regulations not in accordance with eco-civilisation / environmental protection laws


3. Regional Focused Policies

Like previous years, the Yangtze River remained a key target region for China’s regional water related policies in 2018. A comprehensive action plan for Yangtze protection and rehabilitation was released in December last year. Among other key points, the plan set out 1) details of delimitation of ecological protection red lines along the Yangtze, 2) controlling industrial and agricultural pollution, and 3) improving investment and compensation schemes.

This year, the Bohai river also became a priority target for water pollution protection and rehabilitation. A quota system for pollution discharge in Bohai will be gradually established.

Policy/Plan/Regulation/Standard Release Date Responsible Dept(s) Key Points
Guiding Opinions on Establishing and Perfecting the Long Term Effective Mechanism of Ecological Compensation and Protection in the Yangtze River Economic Belt Feb 2018 MoF -Increase financial support for riparian areas & key water source areas
Plan of Supporting Hong Kong’s Full Participation and Assist in the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative Mar 2018 NDRC -Promote green bond market based in Hong Kong
Action Plan for the War on the Integrated Bohai Sea Rehabilitation Nov 2018 MEE, MNR, NDRC -Gradually establish quota systems for pollutant discharge
Action Plan for the War on the Protection and rehabilitation of Yangtze River Dec 2018 MEE, NDRC -Industrial & agricultural pollution control


4. Industry & Tech Focused Policies

To win its War on Pollution, industrial water pollution has to be controlled and the IT and communications sectors were especially targeted in the past year. For the communications industry, China released a three-year action plan to reduce water use per VAI by 23% compared to 2015, and to increase water use efficiency and corresponding water use standards. Moreover, an action plan to promote the green development of lead acid batteries was also put in place.

More widely, China issued a development plan to accelerate the industrial green development in its core economic regions such as Jingjinji, Yangtze River Economic Belt, and Pearl River Delta. Later in December 2018, China further revised and consolidated the appraisal indicator system of clean production for 14 sectors.

Policy/Plan/Regulation/Standard Release Date Responsible Dept(s) Key Points
Three-Year Action Plan for Resolutely Winning the War on Pollution Prevention and Control of Industry and Communication Industry Jul 2018 MIIT -Water use per VAI to reduce 23% compared to 2015
Notice on Promoting Financial Support for Industrial Green Development in County-level Regions Nov 2018 MIIT, Agricultural Bank of China -Support industrial green development e.g. tech innovation
Notice on Issuing the Appraisal Indicator System of Clean Production for 14 Sectors Dec 2018 MEE, MIIT, NDRC -Revise & consolidate appraisal indicator system of clean production for 14 sectors
Action Plan for the Pollution Prevention and Control of Waste Lead-acid Batteries Jan 2018 MEE, MoF, MIIT, MoJ, MPS, MoT, NDRC, SAMR, SAT -Promote green development of lead-acid industry


5. Energy Focused Policies

China’s first renewable energy quota finally come into fruition with the National Energy Administration (NEA)’s consultation on “Renewable Energy Power Quotas and Assessment Methods”. We have explored the new quotas and Renewable Energy Certificates here.

Also, earlier this year, China’s top planning organisation revealed new solar and wind policies for subsidy-free projects. China will start building pilot wind and solar power projects that won’t receive national government subsidy as it pushes to improve the competitiveness of renewable energy and rein in subsidy bills.

Policy/Plan/Regulation/Standard Release Date Responsible Dept(s) Key Points
Consumption Quota and Assessment Approaches for Renewable Energy (Consultation Paper) Mar 2018 NEA -See CWR article
Notice on Relevant Matters about Reducing the Burden of Renewable Energy Enterprise Apr 2018 NEA -Green finance to be applied to lower the financing cost of renewable enterprises
Monitoring and Evaluation of National Renewable Energy Development for 2017 May 2018 NEA -Serve as the baseline for the renewable energy development in 2018
Notice on Promoting the Work of Feeding Wind Power and Photovoltaic Power into Grids at a Fair Price without Subsidies Jan 2019 NDRC, NEA -Tariffs for pilot projects will be same or lower than coal


Further Reading

  • 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
  • Welcome To China’s Zero Waste Cities – China Water Risk’s Yuanchao Xu unpacks China’s new zero waste city initiative – can it save China’s cities from being ‘surrounding by garbage’? Which cities e.g. Greater Bay Area will become pilots?
  • Top 10 Responsible Investment Trends For 2019 In China – Chinese financial institutions are increasingly embracing responsible investment, so follow their lead and get up to date with the latest developments and key trends for 2019 from Syntao
  • Water Quality From On-Ground: Huang Long Xian Village Case – Jerry Jiang, Wanying Na and Zhenzhen Xu from the Alliance for Water Stewardship showcase their education pilot and explain how it has raised awareness on ground & improved local water quality in China
  • China’s Water Sharing Treaties – Reciprocity In Practice? – Does China really deserve its bad rap over its water sharing practices? Chongqing University’s Dr. David J. Devlaeminck questions this by exploring water sharing norms through a Chinese lens
  • Key Water Policies 2017 – 2018 – Missed out on key water and water-related policies in China this past year? Catch up with China Water Risk Woody Chan’s review, including the latest on the new Water Ten Law and environmental tax law
  • Balancing Economy With Environment In China – Professor Asit Biswas from National University of Singapore looks at how the environment has risen up China’s agenda from his first trip in 1981. Plus, see why he think China will make spectacular progress going forward
  • Belt & Road Initiative Injects Vitality Into Economies – Professor Asit Biswas & Cecilia Tortajada from the National University of Singapore show how China’s Belt & Road Initiative can benefit developing economies in Asia & Africa by promoting connectivity
  • 8 Key Challenges In Rural Water Security – Rural water supply in China is challenging due to size, increasing urbanisation & more. China Water Risk’s Feng Hu shares 8 key challenges & reflections from the China Europe Water Platform workshop
Chien Tat Low
Author: Chien Tat Low
Low has extensive inter-disciplinary research experience, which although wide-ranging, focuses on identifying hotspots to facilitate better planning. At CWR, Low uses spatial modelling and statistical analysis as well as remote sensing, cartography, and geo-statistics to map and assess water risks. In addition, he helps manage CWR’s extensive network of contributors and partners. CWR is Low’s first foray outside academia and he hopes to apply his 12 years of scientific know-how toward enhancing the understanding of water risk in Asia, including spatial temporal variabilities of anthropogenic and natural factors on water resources. Previously, Low was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Hong Kong where he devised methodologies to measure and benchmark the quality of urban life in an Asian context. As a certified GIS Professional, he also taught GIS and spatial analysis modules there. Low’s research on urban, human and environmental health is published in 11 prominent international peer-reviewed journals; he has also written a chapter in a book on managing environmental hazards. His PhD thesis on place effect on human well-being was prize-winning. Low is currently the reviewer editor for the journal “Frontiers in Environmental Informatics” and also reviews other international journals such as “Applied Geography”.
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