Supporting PRC's "Mother River" Will Help Achieve Ecological Civilization

By Stephen P. Groff

Vice-President Stephen Groff gives an update from his visit to the Upper Yangtze River region in the People’s Republic of China.

Vice-President Stephen Groff gives an update from his visit to the Upper Yangtze River region in the People’s Republic of China.

I’m here in Maotai town along the Chishui river in Guizhou Province, PRC. The Chishui is part of the Yangtze River Basin, the longest and largest river system in China and the third longest in the world.

The Yangtze River Economic Belt, or YREB, covers 9 provinces and 2 specially-administered cities across the Yangtze River Basin.

The basin harbors an abundance of natural resources, including 40% of the PRC’s freshwater reserves and 20% of total wetland areas. It supports 40% of the population, provides 45% of PRC’s economic output, and has been identified as one of the key regions for furthering economic development in the country.

I am here leading a field visit of sites along the Upper Yangtze River to gain a deeper appreciation of the key issues facing this unique region. The idea for this trip was borne of discussions at last December’s Annual General Meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), where I co-chaired a session on Yangtze river protection.

This discussion highlighted the important role of the Yangtze River for achieving the country’s aspirations for an ecological civilization. It also called for enhanced focus on the YREB environmental master plan, which was released in September 2016 and sets forth specific environmental and development targets.

[tweet="VP @spgroff: #Yangtze plays crucial role in achieving #PRC ecological civilization #YREB" text="Yangtze plays crucial role in achieving PRC ecological civilization"]

To take the YREB initiative forward, support is needed for institutional, legal and governance reforms; economic incentives for environmental protection; and innovative green finance and development mechanisms.

Our visit this week has served as a preliminary scoping mission for a proposed Special Policy Study, as well as facilitated our institutional objective of collaborating with the CCICED, the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning, the World Wildlife Fund, and other partners to promote sustainable development of the YREB.

Over the past days, our team has visited sites in Chongqing and Guizhou where river basin and integrated flood and environment risk management issues were assessed. We also explored private sector contributions to environmental protection and watershed management here in the Chishui River Basin.

The Chishui River is a unique and important tributary of the Yangtze, flowing through Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan provinces, and is the only free-flowing river across the entire Yangtze River basin. The river is rich in biodiversity and is the primary water source for many industries downstream which rely heavily on its unique qualities.

The health of the environment and ecological systems and the demand placed on natural resources we see across the Yangtze River basin are prime examples of the careful balance between growth and environmental sustainability that must be struck across the PRC.

[tweet="ADB support to #YREB focuses on 4 key areas, says VP @spgroff #PRC #Yangtze" text="ADB support to YREB focuses on 4 key areas"]

This field visit has been a tremendous opportunity for me and my team to see and appreciate first-hand the incredible scenery and beauty of this part of the country and to understand how local livelihoods and economic activities are closely intertwined with environmental health. It has also further underscored the importance of ADB’s investment program for the YREB.

Under a Framework Approach, ADB plans an initial assistance of around $2 billion, starting with a first phase supporting projects in line with the YREB master plan.

4 key focus areas include:

  1. Ecosystem restoration, environmental protection, and management of water resources.
  2. Green and inclusive industrial transformation.
  3. Construction of an integrated multimodal transport corridor.
  4. Reform of institutional and policy frameworks to increase the connectivity and cooperation across provinces.

These investments will also support improved water security, increased resilience to climate change, and enhanced connectivity – all the while focusing on improved livelihoods of people living along the PRC’s “mother river”. It goes without saying that the ADB is strongly committed to supporting the PRC as it moves forward in addressing these challenges and achieving the vision of an ecological civilization.