The Information Office of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China promulgated the White Book of “China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change” on October 29, 2008 in Beijing. This White Book explains the impact of climate change on China and introduces China’s policies and actions addressing climate change, as well as the relevant mechanism establishment.

This 16,000-word White Book consists of ten parts, which include the Foreword, Climate Change and China’s Situation, Impact of Climate Change on China,  Strategies and Objectives for Addressing Climate Change, Policies and Actions to Decelerate Climate Change, Policies and Actions to Adapt to Climate Change, Enhancing Public Awareness in Addressing Climate Change, Enhancing International Cooperation on Climate Change, Institution and Mechanism Building for Coping with Climate Change, and the Conclusion.

China signed the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)” in 1992, and then in 2002, approved the “Kyoto Protocol” which was endorsed by 149 nations and regions in 1997. By June 2007, the “China National Plan for Coping with Climate Change” was released by the Chinese Government.

Actually, the announcement of the White Book and other actions reflected just one aspect of the numerous steps taken by China in environmental protection in recent years.

Things were different thirty years ago when China began its economic reformation and actualized its opening policy. In many areas, the enhancement of GDP figures increased at the expense of the environment and natural resources.  Statistical data has shown that the expense of natural and energy resources for each one dollar output of GDP in China used to be five to eight times to that in leading industrialized countries such as the United States.

Fortunately, the Chinese Government and enterprises, organizations, and individuals have become aware that destruction of forest and grassland, water pollution, air pollution, and degeneration of farmland obstruct economic development.

Currently, China has about twenty effective laws directly involving environmental affairs which were approved by the National Congress of Peoples’ Representatives and include the “Environmental Protection Law” as legal framework, and other laws specifically related to water and soil preservation, ocean environment, prevention and remediation of radioactivity, water and noise pollution, grassland and forest protection, anti-desertification, land resources utilization and other aspects.

The above-mentioned laws are generally brief in principle and leave much room for further development and supplement. The State Council of China and its subordinate administration departments have issued about 80 relevant regulations in accordance with and under the framework of these laws. Meanwhile, most of the local governments have also stipulated for uncountable local rules. So such legal system in China regarding the environment has become increasingly more rigid, complicated and diverse, and has affected the economy and industrial orientation much more than ever before.

The following are examples:

Approximately two or three years ago, many local governments, especially in areas along China east and south coastline such as Jiangsu, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong (Canton), began to implement more rigorous sewage and pollution emission control standards. In some areas, mandatory closing (with partial government compensation) of the entire industry of printing and dyeing is a common occurrence. Shanghai Shenda Co., Ltd., one of the largest textile-based publicly-listed companies in China, closed its $12-million-investment printing & dyeing factory in south Jiangsu province as of May 2008. That was the second time within three years the company did the same thing voluntarily because of cost increases and for the sake of environmental protection.

Kai-Yue Investment Ltd., a real estate developer in Shanghai, had to postpone a plan for 100,000 square meters (approximate 1,100,000 square feet) of residential buildings and an apartment hotel located downtown on the bank of the river. Their first layout plan was denied by the municipal land resource authority until the company revised the layout according to the request of the authority. The authority asked the developer to reduce the capacity ratio (the ratio on construction area to land area) from 2.80 to 2.08 (that means about 380,000 square feet less) to depress the height and density of the buildings. The purpose of the reduction was to decelerate the geologic sedimentation, improve the neighborhood sunlight situation in winter, and make the architecture harmonic to the riverside atmosphere. Meanwhile, the authority also prohibited the building surface is being covered by reflexible glazing glass over 12 percent to reduce sun radiation pollution.

In October 2002, China National Congress approved the “Law of Environmental Effect Appraisal” which became effective as of September of 2003. This law concerned government planning, military facilities, enterprise establishment, equip replacement and renew, product capacity enlargement, and any other program possibly involved environment effect. According to the law, before beginning such programs, you must engage the independent appraisal institution to appraise the effect or impact of the program to environment, and submit the report to the environmental protection authority and release it to public if necessary. If you failed to do that, you would not acquire the enterprise or company registration license, or would not get the deduction or exemption of import taxation and value-added taxation, or you would receive a huge penalty or mandatory closing.

Let’s come back to the White Book. This document does not have equal effectiveness of the laws, regulations and rules, and does not create any substantial legal obligation. But it can be treated as China’s legislation orientation, and a great deal of new or revised laws and regulations under such structure will be expected in the near future. But the next challenge the Chinese Government has to face is the domestic and worldwide economic depression. However, for stimulating and resuming the economy, the government probably has to take in a little bit compromise of lax control —- just like the recent announcement of suspending the regulation of annual increase of labor’s lowest wage standard, and make great efforts to balance the environmental protection and economic development.