China sets regional ‘red lines’ to cut coal, water and energy use

Environmentalists say effectiveness of limits will rest on how clearly the regional targets are defined and how well they are enforced

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 3:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2016, 11:31pm

China will set regional “red line” limits on energy and water consumption and land use for industrial development, ­according to a document published jointly by nine ministries this week.

The authorities will also set targets for cutting coal use in key industrial areas as part of moves to comply with the top leadership’s call to meet “ecological red lines”.

Local governments will be responsible for defining the caps and targets, which will need the approval of the State Council.

The document said the red lines should be revised only in exceptional cases, and all such changes would also need the State Council’s approval.

Regions including the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas, as well as other provinces hit hard by air pollution, such as Shandong, had to set specific targets, including the percentage of coal use in total energy consumption, the document said.

Dai Yande, deputy director at the National Development and Reform Commission’s Energy Research Institute, said the aim of the targets was “not to limit energy consumption”, but to improve the efficiency and quality of energy use.

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The targets would still allow “reasonable growth” of energy use in various regions, Dai said.

He said the limits were being put on energy use because the existing pricing system could not reflect the true ecological costs of consumption.

Meanwhile, water-scarce regions and areas that had been over-extracting groundwater would be told to set limits on exploitation of the resource, the document said.

Northern provinces, such as Hebei are among the worst offenders of excessive groundwater exploitation.

Hebei, which relies on heavy industry for growth, has surpassed internationally recognised sustainable limits for groundwater extraction by6 billion cubic metresa year in order to support expansion in its industrial and agricultural sectors.

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According to data from the Ministry of Water Resources, about two-thirds of the mainland’s cities are facing water shortages. And each year, the country’s supplies of water fall more than 50 billion cubic metres short of its needs. All provinces will also have to set “environmental red lines” to guard against further deterioration in the quality of the air, water and soil.

In 2013, the Communist Party’s third plenum called for the mainland to establish “ecological red lines” in an attempt to overhaul the country’s economic growth model and halt environmental degradation.

Environmental experts have said that such “red lines” will need to be clearly defined and properly enforced if they are to be effective.

Last year, the State Council said local officials would be assessed on their administration’s record of resources consumption, environmental damage and “ecological competitiveness”. Any officials found to have caused severe damage to the environment would be held to account and barred from promotion.