The country is expected to launch an action plan later this month following approval by the cabinet to give it legal powers to hold polluters and local authorities responsible.

The plan will require industries such as paper mills and dye and chemical plants to treat discharged water, setting high penalties for those that do not comply with the new regulations.

Water will be prevented from being classed worse than level five – so polluted it is toxic for human skin – by 2017. 

Widespread Contamination

According to official data, one third of China’s major river basins and 60% of its underground water are contaminated, posing a major threat to public health and food security.

Experts say the plan will improve China’s urban drinking water system, help prevent industrial discharge into rivers, lakes and underground water and expand water infrastructure in rural areas.

“The plan will ring an alarm bell with local authorities who did little to protect water and will help to remove the regional segregation that constrained the growth of the water treatment business,” said He Yuanping, executive vice president of Originwater, a private clean water technology company.

Greenpeace have already launched an initiative to clean up China’s water. Thirty-one major global fashion brands joined Greenpeace’s Detox campaign requiring them to remove dangerous chemicals from their supply chains and provide transparency on their operations.

Gloabl Agreement

This week has seen several announcements from major economies on environmental issues, as the deadline for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of COP 21 in Paris in December passed yesterday.

The United States confirmed its’ post 2020 climate target to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025, as agreed with China in a deal in November.

China has already announced its intent to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and increase its non-fossil fuel energy share to 20% by 2030. The deal is seen by many as a major indication that a global agreement can be struck at Paris.

“The U.S.-China accord has eliminated what some said was a stumbling block in mobilising the rest of the world,” said World Resources Institute (WRI) senior foreign policy counsel Paul Joffe. “The joint statement showed that the world’s two largest emitters, which together produce over 40% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, are willing to take the lead in making serious commitments to address the problem.

“The accord provides an example of growing momentum for both developed and developing countries, showing a path to limiting emissions and investing in low-carbon energy. All major emitters are taking some action, but need to do more.”

Dangerous Signal

There has been much criticism of the INDC declarations so far, saying the declarations will not limit global warming to two degrees.

Meena Raman, Negotiations Expert at Third World Network said: “The US proposal to the UN climate talks sends a dangerous signal that the world is drastically off track to confront the climate crisis. No credible scientific assessment can say that the US proposal sets us on a path to avoid the gravest risks that climate change poses to our food systems.”

Earlier this month, the EU made its INDC to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. However Russia is proposing much higher reductions to emissions of 70-75% on 1990 levels by 2030, which much more closely tracks with scientific expectations.

Lucinda Dann

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