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Achieve Modernization Based on Harmony Between Humanity and Nature

Source: Xi Jinping The Governance of China IV Updated: 2023-09-08

Achieve Modernization Based on Harmony Between Humanity and Nature*

April 30, 2021

Today we gather here for the 29th group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. The theme of this session is strengthening our efforts in building an eco-civilization in the new era. Since the 18th CPC National Congress held in 2012, the Political Bureau has had two group study sessions on subjects related to building an eco-civilization. This is the third.

The goals of the session are to take on the new tasks and meet the new requirements that we face in building an eco-civilization in this new development stage, applying the new development philosophy, and creating a new development dynamic, to analyze the new developments in building an eco-civilization, and to achieve modernization characterized by harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress, we have strengthened the Party’s leadership in all our efforts to build an eco-civilization, and made a series of strategic plans to prioritize these efforts in our overall work. Pursuing eco-environmental progress is one of the five core tasks in the Five-sphere Integrated Plan; ensuring harmony between humanity and nature is a fundamental principle for upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era; promoting green development is a defining feature of our new development philosophy; preventing and controlling pollution is the target of our three critical battles along with fighting major risks and poverty; building a beautiful China is an integral part of our goal of making China a great modern socialist country by the middle of the century.

All these fully embody our understanding of the importance of building an eco-civilization and affirm the status of eco-environmental progress in the overall development of the Party and the state.

With unprecedented determination and effort, we have taken a host of actions of fundamental, groundbreaking and long-term significance: comprehensively strengthening the building of an eco-civilization, planning in a systematic manner the reform of the institutions for developing an eco-civilization, and taking a holistic approach to managing mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes, grasslands and deserts. Our achievements are unprecedented, and historic progress has been made in our understanding and approach in building an eco-civilization.

I have given instructions and directives on typical cases such as the environmental damage to the Qilian Mountains in Gansu Province, the illegal construction of villas at the northern foot of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi Province, and the illegal mining activities in the Muli Coalfield in Qinghai Province. Local authorities have investigated and held accountable the people who abused their power and committed dereliction of duty.

Over the past nine years, solid steps have been taken to build a beautiful China: Blue skies are returning; the country’s vegetation coverage has grown; a green economy is developing rapidly; energy and material consumption has been reduced; heavy smog has been contained; the number of black and foul water bodies has fallen; cities and rural areas have become more livable. The entire Party and the whole of society have come to a realization that clear waters and green mountains are invaluable assets and have acted upon this understanding.

According to satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States, from 2000 to 2017, China contributed about a quarter of the newly-added vegetation area across the whole planet. Our country has taken the lead in global climate change talks. It has been an active proponent in the signing, effecting and implementation of the Paris Agreement. China has announced the goals of achieving peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. Our country has won widespread approval for its achievements in building an eco-civilization.

Eco-environmental protection and economic development constitute a dialectical unity and are complementary. Through building an eco-civilization and promoting green, low-carbon and circular development, we can meet people’s growing demands for a beautiful eco-environment, achieve higher-quality development that is more efficient, equitable, sustainable and secure, and create a model of sound development featuring increased production, higher living standards, and healthy ecosystems.

The restoration and improvement of the eco-environment is a process demanding a long and arduous effort. It cannot be accomplished at one stroke; instead it requires perseverance and solid work. Currently, our country still faces many problems and challenges in building an eco-civilization. The foundations for eco-environmental stability and progress are not solid enough, and the turning point from quantitative to qualitative change is yet to come. The quality of the eco-environment still falls well short of the people’s expectation for a better life, of the goal of building a beautiful China, and of the requirements for forming a new development dynamic, promoting high-quality development, and building a modern socialist country.

Restructuring our country’s industry will take time. At present, traditional industries still account for a large proportion of our economy; strategic emerging industries and high-tech industries have not become the dominant driver for economic growth; there has not yet been a fundamental change in energy structure; the root causes of pollution in key regions and sectors have not been addressed; the tasks of achieving peak carbon dioxide emissions and carbon neutrality remain daunting; the limiting effect of resources and the environment on development is growing.

Green and low-carbon development is an international trend, and the green economy has become a critical area in global industrial competition. Some Western countries have taken every opportunity to vilify China on environmental matters and constantly make this an issue. This shows that major countries are in fierce contention on the eco-environmental front.

At the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee held in late October 2020, I emphasized that China’s socialist modernization has many distinctive features. One of these is that it is a modernization characterized by harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature – a modernization that synchronizes material progress and eco-environmental progress.

During the 14th Five-year Plan period (2021-2025), in its efforts to build an eco-civilization, our country has entered a crucial stage in which the country makes carbon reduction a strategic priority, builds synergy between reducing pollution and bringing down carbon dioxide emissions, pushes for a complete green transition in socio-economic development, and strives for quantitative-to-qualitative improvement of the eco-environment.

We must apply the new development philosophy in full, to the letter and in all fields of our work, maintain strategic resolve, and plan economic and social development with the goal in mind of achieving harmony between humanity and nature.

Implementing our fundamental national policy of conserving resources and protecting the environment, and acting on the principles of prioritizing conservation and protection and letting nature restore itself, we will develop spatial configurations, industrial structures, production models, and ways of life that are resource-saving and environment-friendly.

We need to make coordinated efforts to control pollution, protect ecosystems, tackle climate change, and ensure continuous improvement of the eco-environment, so as to achieve a modernization characterized by harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature.

First, we must persevere in promoting green and low-carbon development.

I have emphasized several times that eco-environmental problems are essentially the consequences of our development model and way of life. Establishing a sound economic structure that facilitates green, low-carbon and circular development, and promoting a thorough transition towards eco-friendly economic and social development are the fundamental solutions to China’s eco-environmental problems.

On March 15, I chaired the ninth meeting of the Commission for Financial and Economic Affairs under the CPC Central Committee, at which the basic approach to achieving peak carbon dioxide emissions and carbon neutrality was studied and major measures were planned.

We must focus on forming a synergy between reducing pollution and bringing down carbon dioxide emissions to promote a comprehensive transformation towards environment-friendly economic and social development, and expedite the structural adjustment of industries, energy, transport and land use.

We must strengthen territorial planning and land use regulation, observe the boundaries for basic cropland, for protected ecosystems, and for urban development, implement a strategy of functional zoning, draw red lines for ecological conservation and rigorously defend them.

We should address resource problems by focusing on utilization, and promote total volume management, sound allocation, comprehensive conservation, and recycling, to raise the utilization efficiency of all kinds of resources.

Taking industrial structural adjustment as the key, we must accelerate the development of strategic emerging industries, high-tech industries, and modern service industries, and promote clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient use of energy, to continuously reduce carbon intensity.

To solve the problem of insufficient scientific and technological support for green and low-carbon development, we must make greater efforts to research carbon capture, utilization and storage, zero-carbon industrial process reengineering, and facilitate the application of innovation achievements in green and low-carbon technologies. We should develop green finance to buttress innovation in green technology.

I have emphasized time and again that reducing carbon dioxide emissions and tackling climate change are an active rather than a passive choice. Achieving peak carbon dioxide emissions and carbon neutrality are solemn commitments that our country has made to the world. They require a broad and profound economic and social transformation. Achieving them will be no easy task.

Currently, some central departments and local governments still have a strong tendency to launch energy-intensive and high-emission projects. At the study session in January on implementing the decisions of the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee, attended by principal officials at the provincial and ministerial level, I particularly emphasized that we must avoid eight misunderstandings. One of them is giving the green light to energy-intensive and high-emission projects under the pretext of boosting domestic demand and expanding the domestic market.

Relevant central departments and local governments must be strict in giving approval and put a stop to projects that do not meet the standards. In the spirit of “leaving our mark in the steel we grasp and our print on the stone we tread”, Party committees and governments at all levels should work out clear timetables, roadmaps and work plans, and ensure that economic and social development is based on resource-efficient, green, and low-carbon transformation.

Second, we must fight a tough battle against pollution.

Now, people have higher expectations for the quality of the eco-environment and a lower level of tolerance for problems in this regard. We must concentrate our efforts on resolving prominent eco-environmental problems that directly affect people’s lives, and ensure that people truly feel the improvement of the eco-environment.

We must control pollution in a targeted, well-conceived and law-based manner, maintaining the intensity and expanding the scope of our efforts to improve the quality of air, water and soil. We should strengthen coordinated control of different pollutants, especially fine particles and ozone, and coordinated control measures of different regions, with the goal of largely eliminating severe air pollution.

We should coordinate the management of water resources, the water environment, and water ecosystems. Pollution prevention and control and ecological protection for rivers, lakes and reservoirs should be strengthened, our bays should be clean and beautiful, safety of drinking water should be guaranteed, and black and fetid water bodies in cities should be eliminated.

We must press ahead with soil pollution prevention and control, and effectively manage the risk of pollution of farmland and land for construction. We should sort, reduce and recycle garbage, make a greater effort to control plastic pollution, and collect and dispose of hazardous waste and medical waste. We should take more solid steps to prevent and control heavy metal pollution, and attach importance to controlling pollutants of new types. We should extend pollution control to towns and rural areas, and intensify the prevention and control of non-point source agricultural pollution to notably improve rural living environments.

Third, we should improve the quality and stability of ecosystems.

This is not only an essential requirement for increasing the supply of high-quality ecological products, but also an important means to mitigate and adapt to the adverse impact of climate change. “Vegetation is a valuable asset of a country.” A good eco-environment itself holds economic and social value. We should adopt a holistic approach to improving ecosystems, promote the integrated conservation and restoration of mountains, rivers, forests, farmlands, lakes, grasslands and deserts, and lay greater emphasis on taking comprehensive and systematic measures to deal with problems by addressing their root causes.

We should create a framework of protected areas with a focus on national parks, and improve the supervision system for protected areas and for ecological conservation red lines.

A sound mechanism for realizing the market value of green products should be established to ensure that those who protect and restore the eco-environment get reasonable rewards and those who damage it pay a corresponding price.

We should promote the comprehensive treatment of desertification, stony desertification, and soil erosion, and carry out large-scale greening programs. We should promote the rehabilitation of grasslands, forests, rivers, and lakes, enforce the 10-year ban on fishing in the Yangtze River, and improve the systems of crop rotation and fallowing.

We need to carry out major biodiversity conservation projects, strengthen regulation and control over alien species, and work to ensure the success of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Fourth, we should actively promote global sustainable development.

To protect the eco-environment and address climate change is a challenge for all of humanity. Guided by the vision of building a global community of shared future, we should actively participate in global environmental governance, and increase international cooperation in climate change response, marine pollution control, and biodiversity conservation, among others. We should earnestly implement international conventions, actively undertake environmental governance obligations commensurate with China’s national conditions, development stage and ability, and provide more public products for the world.

We should continue to boost our institutional rights, achieve a balance between obligations and rights, and demonstrate that China is a responsible major country.

China should play a leading role as a large developing country, strengthen South-South cooperation and cooperation with neighboring countries, provide financial and technical support within its means for other developing countries to help them improve their environmental governance capacity, and work together with them to build a green Belt and Road.

China is committed to the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities. It firmly upholds multilateralism, effectively responds to the attempts of some Western countries to corral its progress, and resolutely safeguards its development interests.

Fifth, we must modernize our national governance system and capacity in the eco-environmental field.

We must improve a modern environmental governance system that is led by Party committees, guided by the government, and supported by enterprises as the main players, in which social organizations and the general public are active participants, and we must form systems and mechanisms for integrated planning, implementation and performance assessment.

We should make in-depth efforts to advance the reform of the system for developing an eco-civilization, strengthen legal and policy support for green development, and improve the property rights system and the laws and regulations relating to natural resources and assets.

We must improve the management of the binding targets for environmental protection, energy conservation and emissions reduction, and establish a sound and stable fiscal investment mechanism. A pollutant permit system should be implemented across the country to encourage the trading of pollutant discharge rights, energy use rights, water use rights and carbon emissions rights. A sound risk management mechanism will also be put in place.

We should make great efforts to promote eco-environmental progress, increase citizens’ awareness of resource conservation, environmental protection, and a healthy ecosystem, encourage simple, moderate, green, and low-carbon ways of life, and transform the initiative to build a beautiful China into conscious action by all.

On May 18, 2018, at the National Conference on Eco-environmental Protection, I pointed out that China has entered a critical period in which it is under heavy pressure and faces a series of heavy tasks in building an eco-civilization. It is a period of tough challenges for the provision of more high-quality eco-friendly products to meet people’s growing demand for a beautiful eco-environment; but it is also a window of opportunity when conditions are right and the country has the ability to solve prominent eco-environmental problems.

Party committees and governments at all levels must strengthen their political acumen, understanding and capacity to deliver. Bearing in mind the priorities of the state, they should shoulder the responsibility of building an eco-civilization, strictly implement the central authorities’ policies, and ensure that the decisions and plans of the Central Committee on the eco-environment are carried out effectively.

* Speech at the 29th group study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee.

(Not to be republished for any commercial or other purposes.)