While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to claim victims across the globe, China is gradually reducing the drastic measures that shut down much of the economy and stranded millions of workers at home, unable to get back to their workplace after the Chinese New Year. While crucial production remained operating on reduced holiday schedules, other economic activity and transport ceased entirely for weeks.
The unintended side effect of the epidemic containment measures was a 25% reduction of CO2 emissions in the first quarter of 2020. It also led to a victory for biodiversity when it triggered the temporary ban on all hunting, farming, trading, transportation, and consumption of “terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value.” A revision of the wild animal law foresees stricter regulations that allow authorities to catch and punish poachers and traders more stringently. The environmental ministry is studying whether to include wild animal protection law enforcement into central environmental supervision.
By mid-March, China started resuming operations in an “orderly and staggered manner” to avert more damage to the economy and avoid job losses. Production resumption started from the least affected provinces with a priority on core industries related to PPE and medical materials, daily necessities, public utilities, agriculture, foreign trade, and high-tech. These industries also act as anchors to trigger ensuing up and downstream production and ensure a smooth supply chain. Hubei and its 10-million capital city, Wuhan, were the last regions to open shops.
To tackle challenges with cash flow shortages of SMEs relevant fiscal policies and a cash injection of 1 trillion yuan were made available to help Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) weather a financial crunch. Measures included access to credit, temporary roll-over of debt, deferred payment of insurance premiums tax relief, etc. More money may become available at a later point in time.
Further relief to core industries as well as SMEs came in the form of relaxed environmental impact assessment requirements by the Ministry of Ecology & Environment. Companies producing medical and personal protection equipment, foodstuffs, and daily necessities with relatively small impact on the environment are to be exempt from onsite compliance checks and have access to faster approvals via online means. The MEE has also simplified assessments for some hard-hit, large-scale, and labor-intensive projects e.g. in infrastructure, manufacture, or transportation.
While China has not announced a large stimulus package thus far, the government has – in a move to expand its leadership in new energy vehicles and battery production – decided to help their ailing automotive and battery industry. The government plans to promote electric cars and plug-in hybrids as part of the country’s overall eco-friendly production and consumption campaign. Tax exemptions and lower VAT for new energy vehicles as well as targeted subsidies to encourage private consumption, public procurement, and replacement of heavily polluting diesel trucks are in the pipeline.
Activity Rating: *** Short-lived, temporary impact
While the coronavirus pandemic has tied up much of China’s government resources over the past 3 months, work on environmental policies independent of the pandemic and current production resumption has continued. In March, the National Development and Reform Commission issued new policies regulating the acceleration of the development of a legal system for green production and consumption, as well as a program for building wind power and photovoltaic energy.
2020 is a special year as the new 14th Five-Year-Plan is under development, defining the country’s development strategy for the next 5 years starting 2021. The solicitation phase for industries to contribute through respective industry associations is ongoing. Several policy papers have included provisions not only for market-based reforms but also for reforms aimed at mitigating climate change. For example, stepping up investment in and partnerships for renewable energies, reducing coal consumption, introducing an absolute carbon cap, setting a carbon price and opening up doors for innovative industries, green financing, and banking to enter the Chinese market, etc.
If the Chinese government uses this juncture in time – which may see the closing of many smaller enterprises not equipped to shift from polluting production to cleaner manufacturing – to consequently shut down the legacy, non-sustainable enterprises in favor of new technologies, and to pursue its Manufacture 2025 program, the country has a real chance to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic stronger than before.
Much though, remains to be done. Even without the usual car emissions and despite a drop of emission by 20 – 30% to normal average, February saw heavily polluted air during a spell of bad weather. Meteorological and atmosphere experts blamed the pollution on trapped lingering and current emissions from still operating industry – including steel mills and coal-fired power – in combination with weak wind, high humidity, and strong thermal inversion.
Please send the following message to the policymaker(s) below.
Dear Minister / Dear Premier Li,
We commend China on its efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus within its borders and for your country’s efforts to make information available as soon as the scale of the problem and the contagious nature of the virus became clear and substantiated.
We understand that keeping economic stability and people’s prosperity will be the most important task in the near future. At the same time, we see the epidemic as an opportunity to reflect and explore novel, more sustainable, and environmentally friendly ways to create economic prosperity and battle climate change at the same time. This should include the acceleration of a shift from polluting, high-energy consuming production to smart and innovative industries. Now presents an opportunity to phase out non-viable industries and to shift resources and investments to clean and energy-efficient production, innovative industries, and retraining of workers from old industries to gain the necessary skillsets for work in clean energy enterprises, light industry, etc.
Now more than ever, it is clear that innovations addressing climate change will be the most viable road to prosperity. We hope that the strategic direction of the 14th Five-Year-Plan will reflect this with strong incentives and recommendations for innovation, environmental protection, and people development.
Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China
(For English) email@example.com
National Development & Reform Commission
(for Chinese) http://xf.ndrc.gov.cn/xf/2019/ly.jsp
(For English) firstname.lastname@example.org
The State Council, Share your ideas with China’s Premier (in English)
This post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach
此文由Climate Scorecard国家经理：Annette Wiedenbach
Translation / 翻译：Jolin
Sources / 参考资料
- http://www.mee.gov.cn/zcwj/zcjd/202003/t20200313_768877.shtml http://www.mee.gov.cn/xxgk2018/xxgk/xxgk03/202003/t20200304_767281.html