China China issues Law to protect Yangtze River

The Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress on December 26, 2020 approved the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of the Yangtze River (the “Law”) and published it. The purpose of the Law is to promote environmental conservation, the recovery and protection of the ecosystem, reasonable and efficient resource exploitation, harmonious coexistence of people and nature, sustainable progress of the Chinese people, etc. in the Yangtze River basin. It takes effect on March 1, 2021.

When conservation or recovery work of the ecosystem and environment, or industrial operations, including land development and construction, are carried out within the Yangtze River basin, the requirements of the Law must be followed. The Law covers an area that contains the mainstream, tributaries and associated lakes of the Yangtze River as well as 19 administrative districts, including provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

The Law consists of nine chapters, namely General Provisions, Planning and Management, Resource Protection, Water Pollution Control, Ecosystem and Environmental Recovery, Green Development, Administrative Support and Supervision, Legal Responsibilities and Supplementary Provisions, which contain a total of 96 articles. In the General Provisions, it states the principles of “giving priority to the ecosystem, green development, promotion of ecosystem and environmental protection and the ban on large-scale development” for the socioeconomic development of the Yangtze River basin.

Requirements for water pollution control

The Law demands that the State Council’s department for ecology and environment as well as local governments at different levels take effective measures to step up water pollution control, including supervision, in the Yangtze River basin. It also states that the above department is responsible for establishing aquatic environmental quality standards for the waters of the Yangtze River basin. The department can create complementary provisions necessary to make such standards in cases where there is no relevant national standards while it is allowed to set stricter standards in cases where there are already pertinent national standards.

Furthermore, the Law requires provincial level governments along the Yangtze River to establish local standards for water pollutant discharge to address issues related to industries and pollutants characteristic of each region; set such standards stricter than national ones for areas where concentration of industry is causing serious aquatic environmental issues or complex aquatic environment makes it insufficient to apply general standards; and develop and implement a plan to limit the total amount of total phosphorus in their administrative districts.

The full text of the Law (in simplified Chinese) is available at
https://www.mee.gov.cn/ywgz/fgbz/fl/202012/t20201227_814985.shtml