Historic significance of Yangtze River Protection Law
Pub Date:2021-03-03 16:41 Source:CGTN
Editor's note: He Weiwen is a senior fellow at
the Center for China and Globalization (CCG). The article reflects the
author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
The Yangtze River Protection Law of the People's Republic of China
took effect on March 1. It stipulates explicitly all the legal aspects
on ecological protection of the Yangtze River, and the development along
the Yangtze River Basin.
The law covers the overall planning of land resources, allocation of
water resources, resources protection, harnessing water pollution,
rehabilitation of ecology, overall development, upgrading and
transformation of traditional industries, and legal responsibility.
It symbolizes not only the first law governing a major river valley
of China, but also the rule-based planning, environment protection and
green development of the whole Yangtze River Basin, which covers 11
provinces and municipalities and accounts for close to half of the
nation's economy. It is also a fundamental legal guarantee for China
implementing its commitments to the Paris Climate Accord, to reach peak
CO2 emissions by 2030 and hit carbon neutrality by 2060.
Five years ago, when Chinese President Xi Jinping made the call "to
step up conservation of the Yangtze River and stop its overdevelopment"
as the guiding policy for economic development in the Yangtze River
Basin, this huge area was in a poor environment. There were over 400,000
chemical enterprises, five major iron-steel complexes, seven leading
oil refineries and mega-sized petrochemical works in Shanghai, Nanjing
and Yizhen, and over 6,000 sewerage outlets to the river, with 40
billion tonnes of industrial liquid waste emitted into the river per
year, or 51 percent of the nation's total.
Five years later, however, there is a completely different landscape.
All the 8,000 high-pollution factories have been moved, 1,361 illegal
wharfs have been removed or fully rebuilt. All the petrochemical works
and iron-steel complexes have been transformed with green technology
thoroughly. No barren land could be found along the Yangtze River bank.
The share of the river's quality A water increased from 82.3 percent in
2016 to 96.3 percent in 2020, with quality E portion decreasing from 3.5
percent to zero. This was achieved by unified government planning and
coordination. In order to keep a sustainable, green development
environment for generations to come, all future development should be
protected by a systemic and conclusive law.
The Yangtze River Protection Law is also essential to help secure the
national efforts against climate change and meet China's commitment to
the Paris Climate Accord. The Paris Climate Accord has set the target of
keeping the global average temperature no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius
higher than the pre-Industrial Revolution era. Global CO2 emissions hit
an all-time high of 33.14 billion mt in 2018. If the world fails to
keep it from growing, the temperature will be in danger. China's CO2
emissions accounted for 27.2 percent of the world total, the largest
emitter by far. 2020 saw emissions drop by 7 percent worldwide due to
the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic and travel falls. China also reduced
its emissions by 1.4 percent.
China reduced its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 47 percent from
2005 to 2017, meeting the 2020 target of 45 percent reduction ahead of
This will require an enormous transformation toward low-carbon or
carbon-free industries and services development, and an upgrade of
traditional industries to high technologies in 10 years. As the Yangtze
River Basin accounts for nearly half of the nation's total economy, the
low-carbon, or carbon-free, or green development along the basin will
make decisive contributions to meeting the national goal. In a word,
Yangtze River protection means not only keeping the environment clean,
but also contributing to a new pathway in China's sustainable
development in future generations.
To step up conservation of the Yangtze River and stop its
overdevelopment does not mean slowing down the development. On the
contrary, the past five years have witnessed accelerated higher quality
growth along the Yangtze River Basin. In 2020, the total GDP of the 11
provinces and municipalities along the basin reached 47.16 trillion
yuan, 46.4 percent of the nation's total, as compared to 42.3 percent in
2015. The Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui)
alone accounted for 24 percent. The basin accounted for over 50 percent
of the nation's total in information and telecom technologies, high-end
manufactured goods, new material and biotechnology.
Nanjing Iron and Steel Group, once a source of heavy pollution, has
transformed to a high-tech manufacturer of both high-end steel products
and new materials. Nanjing Chemical Industrial Park has also been
transformed to a leading cluster of new materials industries. The
Yangtze River Economic Belt also boasts eight free trade zones and five
of the top 10 national economic development zones.
It is estimated that, through great protection and upgrading
development, the Yangtze River Basin will account for over half of
China's economy by 2025, or by 2030 at the latest. It will also serve as
the vanguard and model for the whole country to meet its ambitious goal
of becoming a medium developed economy by 2035.