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China’s ecological redlines could protect 25% of its territory

April 22, 2021 PV InfoLink


The Chinese authority mulls over national-scale regulation to protect areas selected by the Ecological Conservation Red Line (ECRL) initiative from newly constructed wind and solar PV facilities. The National Territorial Spatial Planning Bureau is reportedly researching and enacting concrete management measures, while provinces such as Shandong, Hebei, Hainan, and Inner Mongolia have promulgated relevant plans and policies. Presently, the Chinese authority is stipulating a legal framework for ECRL that could protect at least 25% of the country’s land and sea area. 

The existing wind power or solar PV infrastructures in China’s key eco-function regions and highly ecologically fragile areas can be included within ECRL. Therefore, ECRL has little impact on renewable energy infrastructures that are under construction.

While coping with an aging society, China is working on mitigating pollution brought by the country’s economic reform and moving toward a greener economy.  In fact, the concept of ECRL was first proposed in 2011, and subsequently enshrined in the Environmental Protection Law of 2015. In 2017, the Chinese government promulgated the “Opinions on Delineating and Strict Management of Ecological Conservation Redlines” to enforce the implementation of ECRL on a national level. This means that ECRL is firmly, legally endorsed, and is expected to be considered with care prior to the developments of any solar PV or wind power projects in China.

Over the past decades, China’s coal industry has fueled its economy, but its reliance on coal also turned it into one of the most polluted countries in the world.  To tackle climate change, the recently published 14th Five-Year Plan includes the expansion of renewable energies. The country is not only planning to construct nuclear power plants, but also to increase the generation capacities of hydropower, solar PV, and wind power, hoping for non-fossil fuel sources to represent 20% of the country’s energy consumption by 2025.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, namely that the amounts of greenhouse gas emissions would not exceed the amount removed from the atmosphere through constructions or afforestation.

The ecological redlines include forests and grasslands. Taking Inner Mongolia for example, sandstorm caused by grassland degradation has seriously impacted provinces across China. According to the latest news, 50.46% of the land in Inner Mongolia is protected by the ecological redlines, which forbid mining activity as well as wind and solar PV developments in the selected zones. The energy bureau of Inner Mongolia has formulated clear measures for the construction of wind and solar PV plants in desert areas, border areas, coal-mining subsidence areas, and open pit; deployment of wind and PV projects is prohibited in other areas.

To China, environmental policies bring not only economic but political benefits.  With global warming and climate issue being the world’s shared concerns, taking actions against climate change is a way for China to establish friendly bonds with other countries, including the U.S. and the EU. President Xi Jinping has claimed China to be the defender of “ecocivilization.” Last year, he pledged to reduce China’s greenhouse gas emissions, saying that as the world marching towards a “green recovery” after COVID-19 outbreak, China will not yield its leading place in renewable energies and environmental protections.


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