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Making Green History?

Last weekend, the Communist Party of China adopted a ‘Historic Resolution’, only the third time in its 100 year history. The full text was released this week, and it turns out it contains a special chapter about the environment.

The resolution doesn’t just share the good news. The environmental chapter (chapter 9) opens with a sober assessment:

“Since the launch of reform and opening up, the Party has paid increasingly greater attention to ecological conservation and environmental protection, a major area in which we are still falling short. China faces increasingly grave problems in the form of tightening environmental and resource constraints and ecological degradation. In particular, environmental pollution and ecological damage of various kinds are becoming increasingly commonplace, impairing our country’s development and people’s wellbeing. We will pay an extremely heavy price unless we reverse the trend of ecological and environmental deterioration as soon as possible.”

It follows with some of the key area’s progress, touches on some rather specific successes such as the air, water and soil action plans, the establishment of national parks, the drawing of ecological conservation redlines, etc. It also points to improvements in environmental governance and law, such as the designation of the river, lake, and forest chiefs, holding officials accountable for their environmental performance, and improvements in environmental laws and regulations. It even highlights how supervision has been strengthened, including the central environmental inspections.

On climate change, it repeats China’s pledge to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

The environment is also referred to in other parts of the ‘historic resolution’. For example, chapter 3 about economic development says:

“The Central Committee noted that applying a new development philosophy represented a profound shift affecting China’s overall development. The GDP growth rate could not serve as the sole yardstick of success for development. Rather, it was imperative to achieve high-quality development in which … eco-friendly growth prevails, …”.

In other words, economic growth must be high quality, and that means it’s got to be eco-friendly.

Chapter 4, about reform and opening up, even mentions greening of the Belt and Road Initiative:

“China has promoted high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). We have … worked to build the BRI into an initiative of peace, prosperity, openness, green development, and innovation that brings different civilizations closer, and a widely welcomed public good and platform for international cooperation in today’s world.”

The many references to the environment in the resolution are a reflection of the strong emphasis President Xi has placed on the environment since his first term started in 2012.

Over the past 30 years, CCICED has made important contributions to all of the above achievements, and I’m confident it will continue to do so in the critical decades to come. It will be interesting to see how things develop in the next 30 years – if successful, history may indeed look back at this time as the turning point for the environment. At the very least, the ‘historic resolution’ is clear about the importance of getting this right.

The views expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and not necessarily those of CCICED.

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