What actually happened at China’s National People’s Congress for climate action?

Clare Saxon Ghauri
Reading time: 5 minutes
12 March 2015

BEIJING: As the National People’s Congress concludes in Beijing this week, global markets are left with the sure message that China is serious about fighting pollution. The Premier has pledged to replace coal with alternative energy in key regions, reduce emissions and implement an “iron hand” on punishing polluters.

China’s biggest political gathering of the year, the National People’s Congress (NPC), draws to a close this weekend. NPC is the highest legislative arm of Chinese government and the event’s outcomes outline the economic and political landscape for China’s year ahead.

As well as economic reforms, the country’s worsening environmental problems dominated the meeting from day one, where Premier Li Keqiang promised China will "fight with all our might" to tackle pollution, calling it "blight on people's quality of life and a trouble that weighs on their hearts." 

The government's flurry of environmental announcements follows mounting public discontent over China's dangerous smog levels, most recently proven by a documentary about pollution which went viral days before the NPC began.

Changhua Wu, Greater China Director, The Climate Group says the NPC outcomes reinforce China’s continued climate leadership: “Premier Li’s annual work report to the National People’s Congress shall be regarded as ‘well delivered’. One year on after he declared War on Pollution, the outcome is well aligned with the 12th Five-Year Plan targets of reduction of emissions of major pollutants, such as SO2 and NOx. Energy intensity has also decreased 4.8%, the highest ever annual reduction in the last few years.”

Key highlights of the Premier’s plan include the following 2015 targets:

  • CO2 intensity decreasing at least 3.1%
  • COD, Ammonia Nitrite discharge decreasing at least 2%
  • SO2 and NOX emission reduction by at least 3% and 5% respectively
  • Overhaul of coal-fired power plants to achieve super-low emissions
  • Zero addition of coal consumption in some key regions
  • New energy vehicles to be scaled up
  • Expansion of carbon trading schemes, among others

On the buzz topic of air pollution, China’s new Environment Minister, Dr Chen Jining pledged four commitments on behalf of the Ministry:

  • Amending the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law, which is urgently needed because many existing articles are not aligned with the basic environmental law.
  • Fully enforcing the Ten Action Plans to Tackle Air Pollution, which while implemented last year, needs to be fully scaled up to achieve its outcomes.
  • Strengthening scientific and systemic levels of smog control and prevention.
  • Enhancing the transparency of pollution information.

Changhua Wu explains that while NPC's announcements won’t be implemented instantly, they further prove the economic case for climate action: “The Environment Minister’s promises and commitments are strong and clear. Tackling China’s dangerous emissions won’t be an overnight solution. But Minister Chen also echoed Premier Li’s point that environmental protection demands a stronger environmental industry, which is an important economic pillar for China.”

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Finance Ministry also released a 2015-20 action plan on the efficient use of coal, pledging to slash coal consumption by 160 million tons in an attempt to reduce air pollution.

Beyond tackling emissions, the country’s chief energy official Nu Bekri reiterated that clean energy growth will continue to be a priority of China’s energy strategy, including increasing wind power capacity to 200 gigawatts (GW) and solar to 100 GW by 2020, up from 95.8 GW and 26.5 GW respectively, which will help spur the country's low carbon economy.

But while China’s commitment ahead of the global climate talks that will take place in Paris this December was made clear at the NPC, the spotlight will now be on whether climate measures are as dominant in China’s next five-year plan, which covers 2016-20. A draft of the plan is expected to be available by October and officially adopted at next year’s NPC meeting.

Changhua added: “2015 is the final year of the Plan and a transition year towards the 13th Five-Year Plan. Cracking down on pollution is now regarded as equally important as poverty alleviation. But while pollution is not a problem you could address overnight, China is on track toward a future with clear skies in the coming decade.”

To explore the outcomes from National People’s Congress and discuss how China will deliver its promises through Ecological Progress, we hosted a live Twitter Q&A with our China Director Changhua Wu on March 16. Read a summary here.

Read our new Insight Briefing - 'Ecological Progress': Understanding China's new framework for sustainable development 


By Clare Saxon Ghauri

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