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Writing a New Chapter on Building an Eco-environmental Protection in the New Era

By Ministry of Ecology and Environment Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-09-14

Building an ecological civilization is vital to sustain the Chinese nation's development. At the 29th group study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered an address in which he summarized China's remarkable achievements in building an ecological civilization since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012 and explained in-depth the great significance of this endeavor as well as of promoting green, low-carbon, and circular development. In his speech, General Secretary Xi also analyzed the new circumstances facing China's efforts to build an eco-environment and set out comprehensive arrangements for related key tasks during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).

I.  China's historic achievements in the eco-environmental field

From the overall strategic perspectives of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and realizing the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at its core has put eco-environmental progress a priority for our Party and the country since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012. It has launched a series of creative, forward-thinking, and fundamentally important initiatives and made comprehensive efforts across the areas of theory, law, institutions, organization, and conduct to strengthen environmental protection in all fields, regions, and processes. This has led to historic, transformational, and comprehensive changes to the theory and action of ecological conservation in China. In addition to achieving the universally rare combination of rapid economic development and long-term social stability, China has achieved an internationally acclaimed environmental miracle.

The concept of eco-environmental protection has been embraced by the Chinese people.

General Secretary Xi has devoted painstaking efforts to eco-environmental protection and has personally participated in its planning and implementation. From mountains to lakes and rivers, from desert oases to forests and snowfields, he has travelled the length and breadth of China to explain the concept of making eco-environmental progress and answer key theoretical and practical questions, such as why and how to achieve ecological conservation, as well as what kind of eco-environment to achieve. Taken together, these ideas constitute Xi Jinping's thought on eco-environmental protection. The importance of making eco-environmental progress to the overall cause of the Party and the country has significantly increased. Eco-environmental protection is one of the areas of focus of the five-sphere integrated plan (the others being economic, political, cultural, and social development); maintaining the harmonious coexistence of human and nature has been identified as a basic principle that underpins our endeavors to uphold and develop Chinese socialism in the new era; green development has become an integral part of China's new development philosophy; the prevention and control of pollution has been designated one of the "three critical battles" along with forestalling and diffusing major risks and carrying out targeted poverty alleviation; and building a more beautiful China has been designated an objective for creating a strong and modern socialist country by the middle of this century. Consequently, the consciousness and initiative of the whole Party and the entire country regarding the promotion of green development have significantly improved, the idea that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets has become a consensus that is driving action of the Party and throughout society, and there is a growing trend toward leading a modest, environmentally friendly, and healthy lifestyle.

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Black-necked cranes in Lhunzhub County, Xizang Autonomous Region, February 22, 2022. The region's population of black-necked cranes—a national Class I protected species—has been increasing yearly thanks to a host of measures adopted to boost ecological conservation and enhance biodiversity protection. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER JIANG FAN

Progress in green and low-carbon development is accelerating.

All regions and departments are fully and faithfully applying the new development philosophy and incorporating reaching peak carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality into overall arrangements for ecological conservation and overall economic and social development. They are also setting minimum standards for environmental protection and quality as well as upper limits on resource utilization, and promoting spatial patterns, industrial structures, production methods, and lifestyles that conserve resources and protect the environment. As a result, green development is increasingly the foundation of high-quality economic and social development. In 2021, China ranked first in the world for renewable energy exploitation and utilization as well as production and sales of new energy vehicles, and it launched the world's largest carbon market. By the end of 2020, China's CO2 emissions per unit of GDP had fallen by 48.4% compared to 2005, exceeding the target of 40%-45%. The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics was the first carbon-neutral winter games in Olympic history, with more than a thousand hydrogen-powered buses travelling between venues which were all powered by 100% clean energy and meeting green building standards, demonstrating China's firm commitment to and solid progress in transitioning toward green and low-carbon development.

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Early-winter scenery on Yunyang Island in the city of Shiyan, Hubei Province, November 24, 2021. In recent years, the city has made positive strides in ecological conservation by promoting the development of beautiful and eco-friendly villages and enhancing afforestation efforts. PEOPLE'S DAILY / PHOTO BY YANG XIANYOU

China's environment has improved significantly.

In 2021, the national average concentration of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in cities at and above the prefecture level was down 34.8% compared with 2015, and the proportion of surface water throughout the country meeting Grade I-III quality standards increased to 84.9%. The rates of safe utilization of contaminated arable land and sites were both above 90% for the country as a whole. A complete ban has been instituted on foreign garbage entering China, which has successfully achieved the goal of zero imports of solid waste and put an end to developed countries using China as a garbage dump. Efforts to safeguard our eco-environmental security are continuously being consolidated, and environmental emergencies are being handled appropriately. China's nuclear facilities have a good safety record, and radiation accidents are at their lowest level in history. We are implementing integrated protection and restoration of mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, grasslands, and deserts, forest cover has reached 23.04%, and the first group of national parks has been established. Achievements including the trunk stream of the Yangtze River reaching the Grade II quality standard, changing the conservation status of giant pandas from "endangered" to "vulnerable," and the northward migration and subsequent return of Asian elephants from Yunnan Province are all a testament to China's remarkable progress in environmental protection.

China's institutional framework for eco-environmental protection has improved.

China views furthering reform of the system of eco-environmental protection as a vital element of continued reform of, and upholding and improving, Chinese socialism, and it is striving to build a complete institutional framework for eco-environmental protection. We have established sound systems for the assessment and accountability of objectives related to eco-environmental protection and compensating localities for prioritizing ecological conservation. We have appointed river, lake, and forest chiefs, made both Party committees and government agencies responsible for environmental protection, and made all officials assume responsibility for environmental protection in addition to their prescribed duties. The government has formulated and revised more than 30 laws and administrative regulations related to the environment, including the Environmental Protection Law. It is also continuing the reform of the vertical management of monitoring, supervision, and enforcement activities of environmental protection agencies below the provincial level as well as of comprehensive administrative law enforcement for environmental protection, to guide eco-environmental protection. Since the launch of a pilot project on central inspections of environmental protection in 2015, there have been two rounds of inspections covering 31 provinces (autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the central government) and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, as well as inspections of six enterprises managed by the central government and two relevant departments of the State Council. Major and representative cases of environmental damage have been resolutely investigated and dealt with, and prominent environmental issues of deep concern to the people have been resolved.

China has become more involved in global environmental governance.

China is committed to multilateralism and is striving to build a fair and equitable system of global environmental governance featuring mutually beneficial cooperation. China encouraged the signing, entry into force, and implementation of the Paris Agreement. We have announced our intentions to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, and to no longer build new coal-fired power stations overseas, demonstrating our willingness to assume the responsibilities of a major country. We successfully held the first part of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15), opening a new chapter in global biodiversity governance. China is promoting environmental protection in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and advocating an international alliance for green development among Belt and Road countries as well as the establishment of a big data platform for BRI environmental protection. China is also engaging in South-South cooperation to help developing countries improve their environmental governance and standards of living and wellbeing. In 2013, the governing council of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) adopted a draft decision on promoting China's concept of ecological civilization. In 2016, UNEP released the report "Green is Gold: The Strategy and Actions of China's Ecological Civilization." The theme of COP-15 in 2021 was "Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth," making it the first global conference of the UN to adopt the theme of ecological civilization. All of this demonstrates that Xi Jinping's thought on eco-environmental protection has received a positive response and widespread recognition from the international community.

II.  Strengthening eco-environmental protection under new circumstances

China has entered a new stage of development and embarked on a new journey of building a modern socialist country. In-depth implementation of the new development philosophy, accelerating the construction of a new development dynamic, and achieving high-quality development and a high quality of life have all posed new tasks and requirements for strengthening eco-environmental protection.

Strengthening eco-environmental protection under new circumstances is required to modernize the harmonious co-existence between human and nature.

Civilizations thrive when their natural surroundings thrive, and they suffer when nature suffers. Human development must respect nature, adapt to nature, and protect nature; otherwise, nature will retaliate. Nobody can circumvent this law. As a large country with a population of more than 1.4 billion, China has limited environmental capacity and fragile ecosystems. To become a modern society, China must avoid the high-consumption, high-pollution model, as the pressure it exerts on resources and the environment is unsustainable. Rather, we must plan our economic and social development in a way that ensures harmonious coexistence between human and nature, protect the natural environment like we protect our own wellbeing, and continue to pursue a model of sustainable development featuring increased production, higher living standards, and healthy ecosystems.

Strengthening eco-environmental protection under new circumstances is required to meet the people's desire for a better life.

There is no public good or welfare fairer or more universally beneficial than a sound natural environment. People's desire for a beautiful environment is a major aspect of the new principal challenge in Chinese society. Especially since the achievement of a moderately prosperous society in all respects, people have developed even higher expectations for a beautiful environment and less tolerance for environmental problems. Restoring and improving the environment is a process that will require long-term and committed efforts. It will not be accomplished overnight. We must adopt a people-centered concept of development, concentrate on overcoming prominent environmental problems that impact the people directly, and continuously improve the quality of the eco-environment and people's sense of gain, fulfillment, and security regarding the environment.

Strengthening eco-environmental protection under new circumstances is required to promote high-quality development.

China has started the transition from a phase of rapid growth to one of high-quality development. The latter reflects China's new development philosophy, and its most salient feature is environment-friendly development. China is a developing country still undergoing industrialization and urbanization, so our industrial and energy structures have not changed fundamentally. The tasks of reaching peak carbon emissions and achieving carbon neutrality are arduous, and the environment faces ever greater resource and environmental pressures. We must implement the new development philosophy fully and faithfully, maintain our strategic resolve to strengthen eco-environmental protection, and promote the green transformation of every aspect of economic and social development. We must also expedite reform of the quality, efficiency, and driving forces of economic development and base our economic and social development on the efficient use of resources as well as green and low-carbon development.

Strengthening eco-environmental protection under new circumstances is required to build a global community of shared future.

Climate change, biodiversity loss, greater desertification, and frequent extreme climate events in recent years are threatening human survival and development. In the face of environmental challenges, humanity shares a common future, in which the prosperity or suffering of one affects all. As a responsible major country, China is working hard on eco-environmental protection, has resolutely abandoned the development model of damaging and even destroying the environment, and is seeking to solve environmental problems through promoting green development. These are central tenets of China's modernization path. This is not just about taking care of our own issues; it also serves as an alternative to the traditional development path for other developing countries. It is a prime example of the application of Chinese wisdom and solutions to global environmental problems. We must play our role as a participant, contributor, and leader in the movement to build a global community committed to eco-environmental protection, continuously amplify China’s voice and influence in the system of global environmental governance, and bring about greener, healthier, and more robust global development, so as to create a clean and beautiful world together.

III. Shouldering the political responsibility of strengthening eco-environmental protection

During the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), China's efforts for eco-environmental protection have entered a critical stage. Reducing carbon emissions is a major strategy during this stage, so we are promoting reductions in both pollutants and carbon emissions, encouraging the green transformation of every aspect of economic and social development, and striving to reach the tipping point from quantitative to qualitative environmental improvements.

We must increase our promotion of green and low-carbon development.

Environmental issues are ultimately attributable to our growth model and lifestyle. Building an economy based on green, low-carbon, and circular development and promoting the green transformation of all aspects of economic and social development are basic strategies for solving China's environmental issues. We need to make reducing both pollutants and carbon emissions the general starting point for promoting the green transformation of economic and social development, utilize fully the leading, optimizing, and transformative role of environmental protection, and promote the restructuring of industry, energy, transport, and land use. We must take care of work related to peak carbon and carbon neutrality, promote the transition from controlling the total volume and intensity of energy consumption to controlling the total volume and intensity of carbon emissions, and deepen the development of our national carbon market. We need to curb the commissioning of high-energy-consuming, high-pollution-emitting, and poor-quality projects, accelerate research on and applications of green and low-carbon technologies, optimize and upgrade traditional industries, and cultivate new green and low-carbon drivers of growth.

We must increase our efforts to prevent and control pollution.

The focus of China's fight to prevent and control pollution has shifted from a resolute struggle to a war of attrition, as the issues involved have become entrenched, more expansive, and more demanding. We need to consolidate our achievements in pollution prevention and control, adopt targeted, scientific, and law-based approaches to the control of pollutants, and never let up in our efforts, but rather expand and intensify them. We will set even higher standards in our fight for blue skies, clear waters, and pollution-free land. We must strengthen the coordinated control and coordinated regional governance of multiple pollutants, bolster the coordinated control of PM 2.5 and ozone, and basically eliminate severe air pollution. We need to coordinate the management of water resources and water environments and improve the coordinated management of onshore and offshore pollutants to protect our rivers, lakes, and bays. We must promote the prevention and control of soil pollution, and effectively deal with soil pollution risks on agricultural land and construction land. We will steadily promote the construction of No-Waste Cities and strengthen governance of new pollutants. We will extend pollution control to townships and rural areas, strengthen control of agricultural non-point source pollution, and strive to improve the living environment in rural areas.

We must increase our efforts to ensure eco-environmental security.

Eco-environmental security is a major part of national security and an essential require- ment for sustainable and healthy economic and social development. Proceeding from the principle of maintaining the integrity of ecosystems, we must promote integrated efforts to protect and restore mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, grasslands, and deserts, improve supervision over nature reserves and red lines for ecological conservation, and implement major projects on protecting biodiversity. We also need to strengthen control of alien species and continue to improve the quality and stability of ecosystems. We must standardize the management of environmental risks, be vigilant toward high-risk areas, such as those containing hazardous waste, tailings ponds, and chemicals, and strengthen work to predict, prevent, and respond to environmental risks, in order to minimize the environmental impact of emergencies and protect the health of our people. We need to continue to put safety and quality first and implement the strictest safety standards and regulatory measures to ensure that our nuclear and radiation safety procedures are infallible.

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Children water young saplings during a public-benefit tree-planting event at the Fifth Season Longshui Fenggang Ecological Farm in Beijing, March 12, 2022. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LI HE

We must increase our participation in global environmental governance.

The challenges facing international sustainable development are increasingly complex, and there is a growing trend toward the politicization of environmental issues, so China simultaneously faces cooperation, competition, and challenges in international environmental governance. We should disseminate Xi Jinping's thought on eco-environmental protection, promote the Chinese concept and China's plans for eco-environmental protection, and work with others to build a shared future for all life on earth. We must adhere to the principles of shared yet differentiated responsibilities, equity, and respective capabilities, practice genuine multilateralism, and strengthen international cooperation in areas such as responding to climate change, controlling marine pollution, and protecting biodiversity. We must undertake international obligations that are commensurate with our national conditions, stage of development, and capabilities, while resolutely safeguarding our development rights and interests. We will seek to make the BRI a green initiative, continuously deepen South-South cooperation as well as cooperation with neighboring countries, and work with others to realize the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

We must increase our efforts to create a modern system of environmental goverance.

The system of environmental  governance represents an important part of the modernization of China's system of national governance and its ability to govern, and it also provides fundamental support to the advancement of environmental protection. It is necessary, therefore, to further the reform of the system of eco-environmental protection, and improve the modern environmental governance system whereby Party committees provide leadership, governments offer direction, enterprises, social organizations, and members of the public all participate in environmental protection. We will continue to carry out central government environment inspections and consolidate the political responsibilities of Party committees and governments at all levels concerning eco-environmental protection. We will improve laws, regulations, and rules on environmental protection and punish illegal acts that damage the environment. We need to accelerate the development of law enforcement and a supervision system for all stationary pollution sources centered on an emissions permit system, whereby enterprises bear primary responsibility. We need to improve economic policies related to the environment and encourage more private capital toward environmental causes. We will advocate modest and environment-friendly lifestyles and consumption patterns, and lead citizens in fulfilling their environmental responsibilities. We will also implement the Party's organizational guidelines for the new era, promote full and strict governance over the Party, and quickly muster powerful forces behind the cause of environmental protection.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 11, 2022)