Editor’s note: China demonstrated its development blueprint for the next five years at the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held in October 2022. To further elucidate the plan to the world, CGTN has created the “China Blueprint: Opportunities for the World” series. This is the fourth piece focusing on the Chinese path to modernization.
In his report to the 20th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, highlighted the task of “advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.” Ecological conservation plays a fundamental and strategic role in this. The modernization of ‘harmony between humanity and nature’ is one of the basic features of the Chinese path to modernization and is also reflected in its essential requirements and goals.
At the heart of ecological conservation in China lies the tenet of avoiding the old path of “economic development comes before controlling environmental pollution” and pushing for mutually reinforcing relations between the environment and development by changing the philosophy and model of development, to ultimately achieve the harmonious coexistence between man and nature.
The very idea of promoting ecological progress is the insight of the CPC in its long quest for sustainable modernization and is rooted in China’s long-standing cultural traditions. Unlike the anthropocentrism of Western society that relied on powerful technology to conquer nature after the Industrial Revolution, Beijing has been upholding the traditional wisdom of ‘harmony between man and nature since ancient times, emphasizing the need to respect nature, follow its laws, and protect it. Traditional Chinese culture does not regard mere material wealth as the primary goal of a good life.
China has travelled an arduous road of discovery in its understanding of the relationship between the environment and development. 10 years ago, China faced serious environmental pollution, with some of its major cities, including Beijing, often experiencing severe smog. Food safety issues caused by soil and water pollution were also a serious threat to people’s health.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has made a major shift in its understanding of ecological conservation. The concept of lucid waters and lush mountains as invaluable assets was put forward, catapulting the task of ecological conservation to an unprecedented strategic height.
China has taken unprecedented special actions for environmental governance and ecological restoration, including the battle against pollution, water and soil governance, agricultural non-point source pollution control, Yangtze River protection strategy, ecological ‘red lines,’ national parks, clean energy, energy conservation and emission reduction, just to mention a few.
In September 2020, President Xi announced at the United Nations General Assembly that “China will scale up its intended nationally determined contributions by adopting more vigorous policies and measures. China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”
In September 2021, Xi stressed again at the same venue that “China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.” This has greatly boosted global confidence in tackling climate change.
Major strides towards building a beautiful China
Over the past decade, China’s environmental protection endeavors have seen sweeping, historic and transformative changes, resulting in bluer skies, greener mountains and cleaner water in our homeland. A major step has been taken in building a beautiful China. According to the data from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, the proportion of Grade I-III water sections in China has increased by 23.3 percentage points to 84.9 percent over the past decade. The proportion of Grade I-III water sections in state-monitored rivers entering the sea rose by 25 percentage points to 71.7 percent.
In 2021, the percentage of days with good air quality in China reached 87.5 percent. Soil pollution risks were effectively controlled, and the goal of ‘zero import’ of solid waste was achieved. The area of nature reserves accounts for 18 percent of China’s land area. Over the past decade, two-thirds of China’s incremental energy consumption has come from clean energy. National carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP fell by 34.4 percent, and the share of coal in primary energy consumption dropped from 68.5 to 56 percent.
What is more exciting is that in terms of the green economy and green technology innovation, which represent future global competitiveness, China leads the world when it comes to the scale of renewable energy development and utilization, as well as the production and sales of new energy vehicles.
Therefore, over the past decade, China has essentially broken away from the traditional development philosophy and model of ‘economic development comes before controlling environmental pollution’ as were established by Western countries after the Industrial Revolution, and explored a new development paradigm in which environment and development are mutually reinforcing, providing strong support for building a beautiful China.
A new chapter in China’s ecological conservation endeavors
Xi Jinping’s report to the 20th CPC National Congress has made a new strategic plan for ecological conservation and opened a new chapter in China’s ecological conservation endeavors on all fronts. At the strategic level, ecological conservation, which is an important feature, an intrinsic requirement and an important goal of the Chinese path to modernization, will be fully integrated into the strategies and actions for promoting China’s economic and social development.
Xi’s report has taken a step further by setting out strategies for green transformation, pollution control, ecological protection and climate change. In particular, it says that “we will carry out coordinated industrial restructuring, pollution control, ecological conservation, and climate response, and we will promote concerted efforts to cut carbon emissions, reduce pollution, expand green development, and pursue economic growth.”
In essence, this means that under the new development philosophy, a mutually reinforcing relationship between the environment and development, as well as a coordinated relationship between cutting carbon emissions, reducing pollution, and expanding green development shall be built. This is a goal that even modernization in developed countries has failed to achieve in the past.
If the Industrial Revolution is a major opportunity for developed and industrialized countries, then ecological conservation endeavors offer a new historical opportunity for China. China will surely go down its oath to modernization in a way that is in harmony with nature, thus achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and contributing to the common prosperity of the world.
This article was contributed by Zhang Yongsheng, director of the Research Institute for Eco-civilization at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.