The Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB), a region with 43% of the national population & nearly 42% of China’s GDP, is of strategic importance to the country. However, fast economic growth and rapid urbanization have put much pressure on the water resources and ecosystems along the Yangtze River. The YREB’s water use has been rising at a rate faster than the average rate allowed by the total water use cap for the region by 2020 and 2030.
The paper, based on the policy brief “WATER-NOMICS OF THE YANGTZE RIVER ECONOMIC BELT: Strategies & recommendations for green development along the river” jointly published by China Water Risk (CWR) and the Foreign Economic Cooperation Office of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China (MEP FECO), explores the linkages between water use and allocation, as well as pollution control and economic development in the YREB.
Significant economic, water use & pollution disparities exist among the three YREB regions – the Yangtze River Delta (YRD), the Middle Reaches and the Upper Reaches. For instance, the YRD’s per capita GDP is almost 2x that of the other two regions; while, the Middle Reaches and Upper Reaches grew faster than the YRD during the 12FYP. As a result, wastewater discharge from the Upper Reaches has been rising faster, and risks for pollution from mountaintop to the sea are high as treatment capacity in the Upper Reaches still lags behind the YRD. Can pollution be managed holistically along the entire river? How can the poorer and less developed Upper Reaches develop without causing more pollution downstream?
YREB’s dominance in China’s economy, means it must lead by example in finding innovative and clean solutions for water, food & energy security. Indeed, various policies on the development of the YREB released since 2014, have signalled a shift in policy towards ecological protection and green development along the river. To manage YREB’s water risks and achieve harmonious development on the Yangtze River, better understanding of trade-offs in ‘water-nomics’ at the YREB is necessary as they will have implications for China’s national water, food, energy and economic security. Policy making should focus on managing trade-offs in balancing water allocation and pollution with economic mix. The paper also proposes an “Upgrade, Protect & Advance” approach along the YREB.