New law provides legal guarantee for Yellow River protection

By ZHAO YINREN, JIN HAI / 04-06-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Part of the Yellow River Basin which flows through Aba Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Photo: Zhang Lang/CNSphoto

Following the Yangtze River Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China, the Yellow River Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as the Yellow River Protection Law), came into effect on April 1, 2023. This is China’s second piece of legislation concerning a river’s basin. Exclusively targeting the Yellow River Basin, it is a comprehensive law of fundamental and guiding significance which will provide strong legal guarantees for its ecological protection for the benefit of harmonious coexistence between man and nature. 

Flood prevention has been difficult 

A basin is a natural unit of water concentration and collection tank. A particular natural geographic unit, it is an entire area through which the main streams and tributaries of a water system flow. Within a basin there exist many geographical elements including land, soil, vegetation, landform, rocks, etc. Human economic and social activities, such as development and utilization of water resources, land use, etc. are also present in basins. Therefore, it is quite necessary to exercise management over the basins of particular rivers. 

The Yellow River flows through nine provinces and regions, and the soil on both banks is loose and porous. Aggravated by soil and water loss, disastrous floods can occur easily. Flood prevention and management has always been difficult with regards to the water governance of the Yellow River. For many years, ecological protection pertinent to the Yellow River basin has been discussed in Chinese laws and regulations, but has not been highly targeted and has had only a weak connection between the legal systems. Given this, it is urgent to formulate effective laws to enhance the governance of the Yellow River basin in a more systematic way. 

New mechanism of coordination 

Sustainable development around and within the basin should not come at the expense of high pollution, consumption and emission. Instead, it needs to be realized by respecting and conforming with nature in a resource-conservative and environmentally friendly way. The Fourth Article of the Yellow River Protection Law clearly stipulates that a planning and coordination mechanism for the ecological protection and development of the Yellow River on the national level will be established. For the first time, such a mechanism has been set up in the institutional sense. It is also stipulated that provinces and autonomous regions within the basin can establish their own coordination mechanisms and corresponding organizations to implement them according to their own needs. Institutionally, this has formed a new mechanism of river basin governance—coordinating major matters on the national level and other related matters through inter-provincial cooperation. 

From the perspective of regional governance, the new mechanism adheres to the principle of considering the basin in its entirety. It makes detailed plans and arrangements about the conservation, development and utilization of water resources as well as the prevention and control of water disasters in accordance with the law. In addition, the Yellow River Protection Law stipulates greater coordination in sectors of water supply in both cities and villages, flood control and silt reduction, hydropower generation, discharge of water and sediment in reservoirs. The aim is to fully utilize the benefits of water resources by establishing a comprehensive discharge system.

In addition, the Yellow River Protection Law stipulates that a system of joint meetings of inter-provincial river and lake chiefs (government officials are hired as river chiefs at provincial, city, county, and township levels) will be established. River and lake chiefs at all levels shall be responsible for the management, protection and other work of river courses and lakes. Judicial, procuratorial organs and other functional departments that are responsible for the Yellow River management can help form a normative mode of ecological protection on a regular basis through information sharing, professional consultation and early emergency warnings. 

Zhao Yinren and Jinhai are a lecturer and a professor from the School of Law at Hohai University, respectively. 

Edited by BAI LE