The following two articles in China Dialogue, a China ecological forum, illustrate how the usually gloomy narrative is quietly changing -
2016: The changing narratives of China’s environmental story -
"In July, a team of British and Chinese scientists published the results of their research in Nature Geoscience that said they believed that China's coal consumption had peaked around 2014 and that China's economic growth had, in fact, already decoupled from coal consumption".
"In 2016, with the ongoing reform of local government performance evaluation systems, many provinces such as Jiangxi and Anhui began to compile a "natural resources balance sheet" and to carry out "natural resources audits for departing officials", incorporating natural resources protection into performance indicators for local officials. ..... The game between China's central and local authorities over environmental governance may remain, but the narrative of "local government neglecting environmental protection" could be quietly changing."
"In November 2014, the joint statement on tackling climate change made by President Xi Jinping and President Obama alerted the world that the pattern of mutual accusations between China and the US had become a thing of the past in international climate politics. In the statement, China, for the first time, released a timetable to peak carbon emissions".
"The most dramatic event of 2016 occurred in November following the US presidential election, when Donald Trump, a man who does not believe in climate change and who has threatened to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency, was elected president. The world began calling for China to lead the international climate process. This would have been unimaginable just three year's ago".
China raises its low carbon ambitions in new 2020 targets
"..... the Strategic Energy Action Plan (2014-2020), which, at the time of its publication was already considered ambitious in curbing coal consumption and CO2 emissions beyond international expectations".
"However, this time round, policymakers seem even more determined to squeeze out coal’s share in the country’s energy mix, lowering its 2020 percentage in primary energy consumption from 62% to 58%".
"The country is also aiming higher for renewables: installed capacity of wind energy and solar energy should reach “more than 210GW” and “more than 110GW”, respectively, by 2020; higher than what was declared at the end of 2014".
However, locational overcapacity remains a key challenge as a great deal of installed capacity has not been effectively utilized for lack of sufficient smart grids. -
"A combination of transmission bottlenecks and market set-up has prevented large chunks of renewable electricity from reaching the grid. In 2015, 15% of China’s wind energy was wasted, a record high. Based on the Energy 13FYP, the problem seems to have pressed policymakers to put more emphasis on reining in curtailment, as opposed to further expansion of installed capacity. It has also prompted them to plan more new renewable electricity capacity in China’s eastern regions, where electricity demand is concentrated, reducing the need to transmit renewable energy across the country."
Nevertheless, warts and all, there is now clear evidence that the tide of China's ecology is beginning to turn.