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CWR & MEP FECO Water-nomics of the Yangtze River Economic Belt

CWR-MEP Joint Report - Water-Nomics Of The Yangtze River Economic Belt - June 2016

17 June 2016 – 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) jointly release “WATER-NOMICS OF THE YANGTZE RIVER ECONOMIC BELT: Strategies & recommendations for green development along the river”. The brief explores the linkages between water use and allocation, as well as pollution control and economic development in the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YREB).

This collaboration expands on China Water Risk’s earlier work on trade-offs within the water-food-energy-climate nexus.

The YREB, with 43% of the national population & nearly 42% of China’s GDP, is of strategic importance to China. It must lead China’s path towards green growth. However, economic and pollution disparities exist in the three regions along the river – the Yangtze River Delta (YRD), the Middle Reaches and the Upper Reaches. Can pollution be managed holistically along the entire river? How can the poorer and less developed Upper Reaches develop without causing more pollution downstream? The joint brief sets out strategies & recommendations for green development for each of these regions.

“Given the economic and pollution disparities along the Yangtze River, holistic solutions are needed to avoid pollution risks spreading from mountaintop to the sea and even threatening food safety and security.”


Key findings & messages include:

  • The report highlights just how much of an industrial powerhouse the YREB is; it produces 48% of cement, 81% of chemical textile fibres and 58% of pesticides to list a few;
  • The region is also crucial for food and energy security with 65% of rice production & 40% of electricity generated
  • However, such dominance has come at very high water use & wastewater discharge;
  • Significant economic, water use & pollution disparities exist among the three YREB regions; The Yangtze River Delta’s (YRD) per capita GDP is almost 2x that of the other two regions;
  • The Middle Reaches and Upper Reaches grew faster than the YRD during the 12FYP. As a result, wastewater discharge from the Upper Reaches has also been rising faster;
  • Risks for pollution from mountaintop to the sea are high as treatment capacity in the Upper Reaches still lags behind the YRD;
  • Hazardous pollution such as heavy metals (63% of Cadmium, 62% of Arsenic & 59% of Lead) along the Yangtze threatens food safety & security, and exacerbates water stress in the YRD; and
  • To manage YREB’s water risks, an “Upgrade, Protect & Advance” approach should be taken.


In early 2016, development of new large-scale projects on the Yangtze River was put on pause by President Xi Jinping. Various policies since 2014 also protect the quality of the river. These signal a shift in policy towards ecological protection and green development along the river.

The joint brief is available on the China Water Risk website in English.

A Chinese journal article based on this joint brief was published in the national academic journal “Environmental Protection” (Issue 15, 2016) (link here)


You can also read articles on the brief – “Water-nomics: Trade-offs along the Yangtze” and “Yangtze flows: Pollution & Heavy Metals. Plus, it is hard not to focus on pollution this month with the issuance of the much anticipated Soil Ten Plan, and the release of the 2015 State Of Environment Report. Read our June newsletter to find out more.

Yangtze Flows -Pollution & Heavy Metals  Water-nomics - Trade-offs Along the Yangtze  China's Soil Ten  2015 State of Environment Report Review