Water policy is a critical component of both EU and China environmental policies. This issue brief provides an assessment of critical points for the implementation of the Chinese Water Action Plan (issued in February 2015). It aims at contributing to a better understanding of China’s new water pollution policy, using the comparison with the European water policy as an entry point to identify critical implementation issues.

Key messages

  • The 2015 Chinese Water Action Plan is expected to play an important role in the transition of the Chinese society and economy to a new era, dubbed the “New Normal”.
     
  • The Action Plan is mostly based on a command-and-control approach and a long and detailed list of abatement rates, pollution thresholds and technical targets to be implemented no later than 2020.
     
  • It resembles the European Urban Waste Water Directive, although this cornerstone of European environmental regulation took more than two decades to implement.
     
  • The Chinese Action Plan introduces a type of “sunshine regulation” by requiring local authorities to provide for performance indicators and be evaluated based on these. If stringently implemented, this might prove at least as effective as the European public participation approach in creating a policymaking momentum—strongly needed in both contexts.
     
  • Shifting from an “authoritative-technical” focused policy to a “new governance” land-use-based policy is an honourable and ambitious task, but it requires mainstreaming water objectives in the general economic and urban policymaking, which would mean reorienting these sectors and urban plans towards a new type of economy.
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