Heavy smog in Shanghai on January 30, 2018, when the Air Pollution Index reached 235, a level considerred "very unhealthy." Photo: VCG via Getty Images

This week China formally inaugurated its new Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) to replace the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The MEE consolidates regulatory functions that were spread over seven or eight different ministries and administrations.

Why it matters: The fragmentation of regulatory authority is a major reason China has struggled to combat the severe environmental degradation that has attended its rapid economic rise. The consolidation, part of a larger government reorganization announced in March, aims to address that deficiency by making the Chinese government more coherent and effective.

The MEE will have authority over all types of pollution: surface and underground, urban and rural, onshore and offshore. It will also take over the responsibility for carbon dioxide emissions and have direct oversight of local authorities.

Yes, but: Despite its more centralized authority, the MEE will still have to contend with a broader political environment characterized by comparatively weak laws and inadequate legal institutions.

In the past, when dealing with repeated airpocalypses and severe soil and water contamination, regulators have often had to rely on higher authorities under President Xi Jinping to bring local officials into line. These authorities direct repeated and heavy-handed inspections and have punished thousands for their failures to fulfill their environmental responsibilities, thereby elevating the clout of the environmental regulators.

What's next: The MEE will apply this heightened clout to its broader scope of responsibilities. Though it will be a few months before the organizational revamp takes full effect, the regulator's augmentation already marks a milestone for environmental protection in China.

Dali L. Yang is the William C. Reavis Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 p.m. ET: 32,626,165 — Total deaths: 990,134 — Total recoveries: 22,523,822Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 12:30 p.m. ET: 7,040,313 — Total deaths: 203,918 — Total recoveries: 2,727,335 — Total tests: 99,488,275Map.
  3. States: U.S. reports over 55,000 new coronavirus cases — "We’re not closing anything going forward": Florida fully lifts COVID restaurant restrictions.
  4. Health: Young people accounted for 20% of cases this summer — The long-term pain of the mental health pandemicFewer than 10% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies.
  5. Business: Millions start new businesses in time of coronavirus.
  6. Education: Summer college enrollment offers a glimpse of COVID-19's effect.

America on edge as unrest rises

Louisville on Wednesday. Photo: Jon Cherry/Getty Images

Rarely have national security officials, governors, tech CEOs and activists agreed as broadly and fervently as they do about the possibility of historic civil unrest in America.

Why it matters: The ingredients are clear for all to see — epic fights over racism, abortion, elections, the virus and policing, stirred by misinformation and calls to action on social media, at a time of stress over the pandemic.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
3 hours ago - Health

The long-term pain of the mental health pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A less visible but still massive trauma caused by the coronavirus is becoming clear: our mental health is suffering with potentially long-lasting consequences.

Why it matters: Mental health disorders that range from schizophrenia to depression and anxiety exert a severe cost on personal health and the economy. Addressing that challenge may require out-of-the-box solutions.