Policy making

China’s challenges in policy making

Policies and goals are important in any country’s governance, but their relative roles could have two primary patterns under different governance models. Rules are set up through policies (and laws), while polluters and other stakeholders decide on their own actions according to the rules. In the rule-based governance, policies are in the first place, while goals are more implicit to take the second place. Another strategy explicitly makes goals in the first place, while policies are secondary and could be more flexible. With the rule of law not yet well established, China would face great challenges in policy supply under the rule-based governance, especially given its rapidly evolving economy and society.

Uncertain linkages between actions and outcomes

China is rapidly industrializing and the economy grows at a fast pace. It encounters great uncertainties on whether planned actions could achieve intended goals. Sulfur dioxide (SO,) emissions as well as other environmental problems tend to have a wide scope of influential economic, energy and environmental factors, as well as scattered emission sources in numerous important sectors. Many key factors for SO, mitigation are beyond the jurisdiction of environmental protection, specifically the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (and previously the Ministry of Environmental Protection). Implementation is largely under the responsibility of local governments, while the central government is not designed and well equipped for primary policy implementation. In addition. China’s complexities can cast substantial uncertainties on whether preplanned actions can achieve their goals. China identified enough efforts to achieve the 10% reduction goals of SO, emissions in both the 10th and the 11th Five-Year Plans, but their outcomes differed from each other dramatically. In the Outline of the National 10th Five-Year Plan that was ratified by the National People’s Congress, the 10% reduction goals of "major pollutants" were clearly written (National People’s Congress, 2001). "Major Pollutants” were later defined to include SO,, dust, COD (chemical oxygen demand), ammonia-nitrogen and industrial solid waste (SEPA, 2001). External measures, particularly energy conservation, did not show up in the national

Outline (National People's Congress, 2001). However, in the special plan for energy development, China did propose a goal to reduce energy intensity by about 15% to 17% and coal's share in total energy consumption by 3.88% in the five years (NDRC, 2001). China’s annual economic growth rate, another key factor, was estimated to be 7% (National People’s Congress, 2001). Between 2001 and 2005, the reversely calculated sulfur contents in coal from China’s official data went down from 1.22% to 1.05% (Xu et al., 2009), and a lot more SO, scrubbers were installed (Figure 5.11). For the 10th Five-Year Plan, the SO, mitigation shortfall was mostly due to the unexpected surge in coal consumption as a result of accelerated economic growth, 87.6% over the five years that overwhelmed the efforts of the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA; BP, 2019).

In the 11th Five-Year Plan, the planning structure differed only slightly. With the same 10% reduction goal, the Outline of the National 11th Five-Year Plan narrowed the definition of "major pollutants" to cover only SO, and COD for primary attention (National People’s Congress, 2006). Other pollutants were addressed in the special plan for environmental protection (State Council, 2007b). A goal on energy conservation, a 20% reduction of energy intensity, got promoted to the national Outline. Coal’s share in total energy consumption remained in the special plan for energy development, with a 3% drop in the five years (NDRC, 2007). China's economy was estimated, or conservatively planned, to grow 7.5% per year (National People’s Congress, 2006). These figures were quite close to those in the 10th Five-Year Plan. Simply from the planning perspective, these two 10% reduction goals of SO, emissions should both be attained. However, their results diverged significantly away from each other, which illustrated the difficulty to foresee the effects of policies and actions on goals.

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