The Chinese government has paid close attention to ecological and environmental issues for years. Contrary to popular belief, sustainability and environmental protection are long-term strategies vital to the country’s health and wealth.
China started framing environmental protection as a fundamental national policy in the 1980s. It established sustainable development as a national strategy in the 1990s. At the turn of the century, the government proposed a “Scientific Outlook on Development” that is people-centered, fully coordinated, and environmentally sustainable. Since 2012, the government has incorporated Eco-civilization into the national blueprint, which outlines a commitment to “innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development.”
President Xi Jinping has pointed out that green is gold and that moving towards a new era of eco-civilization and building a beautiful China are key to realizing the Chinese Dream of rejuvenating the nation.
Since its reform and opening-up thirty years ago, the country has seen its economy grow at an annual average of 9.8 percent. It has successfully transitioned from a low-income to a high middle-income country with significant economic achievements, almost having reached levels of industrialization and urbanization that took one to two hundred years in developed countries.
Meanwhile, China has paid a heavy environmental price, with the emergence of problems such as soot pollution, ozone depletion, fine particulate matters (PM2.5), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Pollution from different sources – production and households, urban and rural, industry and transport – appear to be intertwined with each other.
For years China was notorious for denuding its forests of vegetation to expand its economy. The economy grew, but water sources were tainted, air polluted and animal habitats demolished. Only a few years ago, just two percent of China’s forests were undisturbed. Deadly floods in 1998 caused by the lack of trees prompted the government to finally take action. They implemented the National Forest Conservation Program.
Some local citizens were paid to monitor forests and report illegal logging activity. The Chinese government claims that the conservation and reforestation plans are working.
Scientists from the University of Michigan evaluated the Chinese government’s conservation measures using images from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. They studied data between 2000 and 2010 and found forest cover has grown rapidly in 1.6 percent of China. That may not sound like much, but it’s about 61,000 square miles. Meanwhile. 0.38 percent of the nation suffered from deforestation – that’s around 14,400 square miles.
The research isn’t simply a green light for China to continue every current policy.
China is importing more wood now, from countries such as Vietnam, Madagascar, and Russia, which the scientists warned causes deforestation in those other countries.
China plans to cover nearly a quarter of the country in forest by 2020, according to an announcement made via a United Nations report. The goal is part of a larger plan to build an ecological civilization that will serve as a model for future projects around the world.
“The outdated view that man can conquer nature and ignore the bearing capacity of resources and the environment should be completely abandoned,” said Zhu Guangyao, executive vice president of the Chinese Ecological Civilization Research and Promotion Association. “Conscientious efforts should be made to live in harmony with nature.”
“If China succeeds in implementing targets outlined in its ecological blueprint, then it will have taken a major step towards shifting to a greener economy,” Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director, said.
To address the dilemmas between economic development and resource/environmental constraints, the government has most recently proposed a policy of pursuing green development and building an Eco-civilization, which involves management of the relationship between humans and nature in a comprehensive, scientific, and systematic manner. It embodies the green is gold perspective of values, development, and governance. It goes beyond and does away with the traditional development patterns and models, guiding the transformation of the production methods and the lifestyle of the entire society.
As China firmly supports and actively implements the concept and actions of sustainable development at the global level, its effort to build an Eco-civilization will make a significant contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The country’s practices and experiments to promote an Eco-civilization will not only contribute to addressing its own resource and environmental challenges but also serve as demonstrations for other developing countries that may wish to avoid the dependence on, and the lock-in effect of traditional development pathways. This is conducive to promoting the establishment of a new global environmental governance system and benefitting the noble course of sustainable development for all people, men and women.