On 12 October, a notice outlined three adjustments to the responsibilities of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE).
First, the Ministry of Science and Technology’s role in organising policies to promote ecological and environmental development through science and tech has been transferred to the MEE.
This change is part of the State Council’s broader institutional reform efforts, which include creating a financial regulatory body and a national data bureau, and revamping the science and tech ministry.
On 16 March, China had announced that it will cut the number of positions in central government departments by 5% and redistribute them in “key areas and important work”.
The restructuring is the largest since 2018, when a shakeup affected more than 1.8 million staff at dozens of government entities. The latest reforms reflect China’s most pressing priorities, Reuters reported. While many departments’ staff, such as at the central bank, have downsized, the MEE’s administrative staff has grown from 478 to 504.
Secondly, the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei air pollution prevention and control leading group, along with its associated offices, will close.
Peng Yingdeng, a researcher at the National Urban Environmental Pollution Control Technology Research Centre, told Caixin the closure has to do with the significant air quality improvements that have been made in the region, particularly in Beijing. He also said strengthened governance measures and regional coordination mechanisms have now been established, and that the MEE’s Atmospheric Environment Department can smoothly handle regional coordination, minimising any impact of the group’s removal.
Lastly, the MEE bureau in charge of coordinating environmental protection has had its responsibilities modified from undertaking “the daily work of the State Council’s Leading Group” to undertaking “the specific affairs of the Central Leading Group”.
Chen Haisong, a professor at Wuhan University’s Institute of Environmental Law, told Caixin this change placed greater emphasis on the Party Central Committee’s leadership (as opposed to government body the State Council) over the bureau’s work. It can be understood as “the Party manages supervision work”.
“It has been led by the Central Committee, but the previous description was not very direct. After the adjustment, it is clearer”, Peng added.
Read China Dialogue’s report on the creation of the MEE in 2018.