Strive Hard for Ecological Civilization in the New Era

By Zhang Huiyuan

At the recent Central Economic Work Conference, it was pointed out that socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, as has China’s economy in shifting from rapid growth to high quality development. To promote high quality development the implementation of the eight major tasks should be accelerated, including the construction of an ecological civilization, which plays an important and unique role in promoting high quality development.

High quality and green development are the essential requirements for the construction of an ecological civilization

Green development has been recognized as a basic requirement and fundamental feature of building an ecological civilization, and has become a major driving force of sustainable international development. Since the global financial crisis an economic revolution centered on the green economy has swept the world, and green growth based on new technology has become a strategic choice for various countries to deal with the crisis and achieve sustainable development.

The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20) specified that the green economy is important in achieving sustainable development. One of the key points of high-quality development is ecological civilization, guided by green thinking, in seeking an overall improvement in the speed, quality and efficiency of development.

With the advent of a new era of socialism, China’s economic and social development is faced with a significant change. Higher requirements and standards are essential to further progress, since high quality development is an essential feature of the socialist ecological civilization for a new era.

The 19th CPC National Congress proposed that the major social contradiction in China has been transformed to that between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing need for a better life. This growing need means people expect a better ecological environment and quality ecological products, indicating a movement from focusing on the economics to providing more quality ecological products.

The key to this transformation lies in the promotion of high quality development. The Second Centenary Goal is that by the middle of this century, China should be built into a prosperous and strong modern and powerful socialist country with a democratic, civilized, harmonious, and beautiful civilization. A good ecological environment is a basic element of a beautiful China. But more importantly, we must firmly follow the path of civilized development featuring productive development, a prosperous life and good ecological environment.

China has achieved tremendous results in high quality development but is still faced with many constraints on resources and the environment

Over the past few years China has become a leader in tackling global climate change. Between 2011 and 2015, China’s carbon emission intensity s dropped by 21.8%, equivalent to 2.34 billion tons of carbon dioxide. In the same period, China made a tremendous contribution to reducing pollution and the green economy when it fulfilled its first-phase objective of eliminating HCFC and accumulatively eliminated over 270 thousand tons of ODS, accounting for more than half of the contribution from the developing countries.

Since 2016, China is no longer the number one sulfur dioxide emitter in the world. Instead, it has become the world’s largest producer, consumer and investor of renewable energy. In 2016, China contributed 41% of the global growth of renewable energy, surpassing the overall increase in the OECD. In addition, China voluntarily and proactively signed a series of important environmental protection treaties.

In addition to the Paris Agreement, in recent years China has also ratified and signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, to encourage other countries to actively join in.

Although great achievements have been made in building an ecological civilization in China, there are still many problems hindering high quality and sustainable development. Firstly, the level of green development is still low.

Taking energy consumption as an example, China’s energy consumption in 2016 was 1.4 times the world’s average and 2.1 times that of the developed countries. At present, the bearing capacity of China’s resources and environment has reached or is approaching its upper limit. New and old environmental problems coexist and ecological and environmental risks are prominent, creating a major stress-point in sustainable economic and social development, and obvious shortcomings in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

Meanwhile, ecological security is still under threat. The areas of forest, shrubbery and grassland ecosystems rated as low and poor quality account for 43.7%, 60.3% and 68.2% respectively. National issues such as soil erosion, land desertification, shrinking wetland, decreasing biodiversity, and frequent occurrence of ecological disasters have damaged manmade ecosystems. Now, along with substantial economic growth, the Chinese people have continuously raised their requirements for the quality of the ecological environment.

The problems of heavy polluted air, black and stinking water, and mountains of garbage worry the people, and threaten their quality of life. The gap between a growing need for a beautiful environment and a lack of high quality ecological products is prominent. Research shows that the total volume of major pollutant emissions in China will peak in the 2020’s but now it is still at a plateau.

Make the construction of ecological civilization a powerful force for high quality green development in the new era

2018 sees the start of a new development strategy for a new era. China should strengthen environmental governance and reform, drive deeper green development, and accelerate the construction of ecological civilization.

The key is to make our sky blue again. China’s industrial structure, with heavy and chemical industries as its mainstay, a coal-based energy structure, and a logistics structure dominated by road transport, is an important cause of air pollution. Therefore, China must make a sustained effort to achieve three structural adjustments, and in the meantime establish a joint prevention and control system managed by all, to strengthen the systematic, coordinated and targeted prevention and control of air pollution, and particularly to speed up efforts to solve the problem of heavy air pollution in key areas such as Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province.

In terms of the prevention and control of water pollution, the focus at this stage is to eliminate serious problems of black and stinking water. Emphasizing the overall clean-up of the watershed, a comprehensive clean-up of watershed environment and coastal waters will be implemented.

The focus of the prevention and control of soil pollution is to complete a full analysis as soon as possible, and strengthen the management, control, and treatment of soil pollution. Through systematic and comprehensive policies, and targeted implementation and development, the total emission of major pollutants has fallen, and the overall quality of ecological environment has been improved.

Ecological protection focuses on changing the erroneous emphasis on quantity, construction, and utilization instead of quality, management, and protection, so as to achieve the transformation of quantity, quality, functions and benefits in ecological protection and land greening.

Combined with the concept of a community of shared destiny, land greening actions should be accelerated to build a national ecological security barrier system through protection and restoration projects for key ecological systems in the mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes and grasslands.

Reform and innovation are the continuous drivers and fundamental guarantee for the construction of an ecological civilization. At present, China still needs to a proper regulatory system for ecological environment reform, and a basic system of pollution prevention and control.

A diversified, market-based ecological compensation mechanism as well as an investment and financing mechanism for ecological environmental protection should be established and improved. With clearly defined concrete construction plans, a diverse structure of governance involving the government, the market, and the public will be formed.

China’s unswerving efforts in the ecological environment governance and ecological civilization construction can contribute to the world with her unique experiences, lessons and wisdom in the building of a beautiful earth—-our common homeland.


Zhang Huiyuan (Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences)

Edited by Dong Lingyi.