Yangtze and Rhine River Basins 1950-2050

Mapping and comparing urbanisation, environmental pollution, climate adaptation and decarbonization

The comparative study on the river basins of the Yangtze in China and the Rhine in Europe describes the developments of habitat themes such as environmental pollution, biodiversity, urbanisation, climate adaptation and decarbonisation, on a river basin scale. There are many relationships and mutual dependencies between these themes. Think of water pollution moving downstream and hydropower plants that may generate clean energy but adversely affect biodiversity and water safety downstream. Also linked to river basins is the urbanisation that traditionally takes place along rivers. This urbanisation is inextricably linked to industry and therefore to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In many places, climate change is intensifying the problems surrounding all these issues. 

Comparison of developments and policy measures in the two river basins

Together with researchers from the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design (CAUPD), PBL has used expert interviews and GIS data analysis to compile this publication.

The study compares main developments and policy measures since 1950 for both river basins and, partly due to the necessary substantial investments, looks ahead to 2050. Maps of equal scale show where and how the habitat themes mentioned above have developed spatially.

In this way, the two river basins can be compared and lessons can be drawn from the environment policies on the themes addressed in both basins. What is striking here is that, in the Rhine basin, the large degree of urbanisation started much earlier, which also applies to environmental pollution and to when this was being addressed, and there is currently ample attention for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate adaptation. In contrast, in the Yangtze river basin, urbanisation and environmental degradation are more recent and must now be managed at the same time as decarbonisation and climate adaptation. 


PBL Authors
Arjan Harbers Jan Bakkes
Other authors
Charlotte le Vay
LYU Hongliang (CAUPD)


Publication title
Yangtze and Rhine River Basins 1950-2050
Publication subtitle
Mapping and comparing urbanisation, environmental pollution, climate adaptation and decarbonisation
Publication date
23 March 2023
Publication type
Page count
Publication language
Product number