High level Chinese policy initiative shows new momentum on environment

Last week, China’s leadership met at the Third Plenum of the Central Committee to outline major reforms China will undertake over the next decade. While China faces multiple challenges, reforms related to greater environmental protection and low-carbon development were high on the agenda. China’s leaders understand the challenges and are taking actions that can have significant impact.

Below are a few key environmental and low carbon reforms that were outlined in the resolution coming out of the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.


  • The resolution highlights using the polluter pays principle to target environmental destruction with resource fees. It also calls for ramping up environmental protection taxes. (Read more on the potential for carbon taxes in China)

Use of market mechanisms:

  • The resolution stresses the use of market mechanisms to address environmental issues. This specifically includes carbon emissions, which builds on recent measures. The document also mentions that market mechanisms will be established to attract investment in environmental protection. (Read more on China’s recent progress on carbon emission trading and renewable energy).

Industrial reforms:

  • The resolution calls for the implementation of pricing reforms on natural resources and outputs. It states that prices should reflect supply and demand, and importantly, also include the costs of environmental damages and restoration.
  • The resolution highlights environmental protection goals for state-owned enterprises, which builds on recent initiatives. (Read more on recent environmental initiatives in China).

Official Evaluations:

  • The resolution makes clear that there will be increasing emphasis on environmental impacts and benefits when evaluating the performance of officials.
  • There will be audits of the records of environmental officials when they leave their posts, with the Chinese government also establishing career-long monitoring of environmental performance.

Carrying out these reforms can help China to address its environmental challenges and can help show international leadership. For example China can build on the use of markets for their carbon trading pilots and feed-in-tariffs for renewable energy to continue its shift towards low-carbon energy. China’s leaders are showing a commitment to action. In the coming months, China’s progress on reform will hopefully become even more apparent.

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Author Information:
Jonathan Moch is the ChinaFAQs Project Specialist
Paul Joffe is WRI’s Senior Foreign Policy Counsel and head of the ChinaFAQs Project.

Photo credit: Remko Tanis/Flickr