2015 saw China transform its position on the world stage and leap through several environmental milestones while continuing to battle disasters and severe pollution problems. 

Here are five of the biggest environmental stories from China this year. 

1. Environmental Protection Law comes into effect 

 

One of the biggest stories of this year happened right at the beginning  as a revolutionary new law came into effect on January 1st of this year. The Environmental Protection Law put power into the hands of individuals and NGOs for the first time, allowing them to sue polluting industries and removing the upper limits on fines that made previous laws fairly toothless. Implementation of the law has been patchy, but it has led to pioneering wins for the environment and paved the way for stronger supervision and action against big polluters. 

2. China’s coal use declines for the 1st time this century

 

 

Coal demand in China has declined for the first time this century, which is good news for everyone. Data from 2014 showed a 2.9 % decrease at the beginning of the year and the numbers have just kept dropping. This is huge- especially as at the beginning of November, it was announced that 2015 was the year that global coal consumption made a turnaround, largely driven by China’s falling use. 

3. Chai Jing’s Under the Dome goes viral

 

In March this year, a self-funded independent documentary on China’s air pollution problem took China by storm. The film, created and presented by former CCTV anchor Chai Jing, was an instant viral sensation, racking up over 150 million views in the 3 days before it was censored and drawing comparisons with Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. A combination of lecture footage and on-the-ground interviews, Under the Dome was merciless in its criticism of China’s polluting industries and tapped into a building wave of discontent and awareness surrounding air pollution since the infamous ‘airpocalypse’ of 2013. 

4. China submits its INDC 

 

China submitted its INDC for the COP21 climate talks this summer ahead of schedule, making it the first of the big polluting developing nations to do so. The sumbission of the INDC was an important sign that China was ready and willing to play ball at the December talks- in stark contrast to its position in Copenhagen- and included solid targets for peak emissions, with the promise to try to make it earlier. The plan had a lot of room for improvement, but was another solid step in China's energy transition. 

5.  Beijing issues its first ever Red Alert 

 

Beijing’s smog hit the headlines again this year as another ‘airpocalypse’ engulfed an area of northern China bigger than Spain. It wasn’t the worst pollution the capital has ever seen- that dubious honour is still held by the original 2013 ‘airpocalypse’- but it was the first time authorities made full use of the ‘Alert’ system put into place in 2013. The Red Alert isn’t a long term solution, but it pushed pollution to the front of the national agenda in a way it never has before.