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Why Does Yangtze River Have its Own Protection Law?

AUSTRALIA, Jan 3 2022 (IPS) - The new Yangtze River Protection Law (YRPL), which came into effect on March 1, 2021, is China’s first legislation on a specific river basin. The Yangtze River is China’s longest and largest river system, stretching over 6,300 kilometres and has over 700 tributaries. With a drainage basin covering more than 1.8 million square kilometres, approximately one-fifth of China’s total land area, the river basin is home to over 40% of the country’s population.

Genevieve Donnellon-May

The new law suggests that the Chinese Central government is shifting its priorities when it comes to rivers and ecological conservation. The YRPL demonstrates a major milestone in the CCP’s legislation on ecological protection and restoration: it seeks to strengthen oversight as well as the prevention and control of water pollution in the river basin by addressing the inability of current institutions to carry out the river’s protection through 96 provisions across nine chapters. The overall aim of the YRPL is to protect China’s longest river by strengthening its ecological protection and restoration as well as promoting the efficient use of its water resources.

Why is the YRPL necessary?

The YRPL is necessary for four main reasons:

The YRPL offers many opportunities. Aiming to addressing water resources management and the sustainable development of the Yangtze River basin by cutting across, the YRPL can strengthen China’s “ecological civilisation” and green development policies. However, the YRPL presents many challenges. How can the Chinese central government implement and enforce the YRPL at a local level? What kind of legal infrastructure or mechanisms are necessary to create a supporting environment to ensure the law’s success? In addition, will local interests try to overpower the basin-wide protection law? Many of the factories accused of polluting the Yangtze River contribute significant amounts of money to the gross domestic products (GDPs) of provinces. Will this, combined with socio-economic disparity between provinces, influence the YRPL’s implementation and effectiveness? Nonetheless, if successful, the YRPL may lead to the universal implementation of similar protection laws for other rivers in China.

Genevieve Donnellon-May is a research assistant with the Institute of Water Policy (IWP) at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests include China, Africa, transboundary governance, and the food-energy-water nexus. Genevieve’s work has been published by The Diplomat and the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum.

Mark Wang is a human geographer specializing in development and environmental issues in China. He is a professor in School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and also the director of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Melbourne.


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