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Bolstering Security through the Green Transition

It is just a few days before the Annual General Meeting of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development. Members, advisors and experts are reviewing the 2022 recommendations to the State Council. Considering all the turbulence in the world and in China today, ‘security’ is likely to be a central theme.

In the past months, China’s economy has been under tremendous strain from both international and domestic pressures, which has led to a marked shift in attention towards solving immediate problems. As Shanghai and Beijing are just coming out of lock down, the power shortages in late 2021 are still fresh on people’s minds, financial problems in the real estate sector persist, and global supply chains are uprooted by the Ukraine conflict. This has resulted in an economic dip, which is coupled with a dip in total carbon emissions, although most likely temporary. Around the country, there are urgent calls for measures providing economic relief, no matter what their impact might be on the much-needed green transition.

Xi Jinping’s Reminder about Ecological Civilization

In this context, it is interesting that last week the full text of a speech made by Xi Jinping in April 2021 was published in “Quishi”, a publication of the Communist Party of China. In the speech, President Xi urgently reminds officials of the importance of the green transition, and admonishes some local governments for propping up their faltering economies with high carbon emissions projects:

I specifically emphasized the need to guard against eight misunderstandings, one of which is to take the need to grow domestic demand and grow the domestic market as an opportunity to deploy large-scale projects with high energy consumption and high emissions. Relevant departments and local governments must maintain strict control, and projects that do not meet the requirements must be resolutely taken down!

Another excellent paragraph is this one:

Practice has shown that ecological environmental protection and economic development are mutually reinforcing. Building ecological civilization and promoting green, low-carbon and circular development not only meets the people’s growing needs for a beautiful ecological environment, but also promotes higher quality and efficiency, as well as more equitable, more sustainable and safer development, embarking us on a civilized development path with economic development, affluent life and good ecology.

Economic pressures are much worse now than they were in April 2021, and the fact that the article is published now suggests that President Xi considers the core principles around a steadfast commitment to the green transition is just as valid today as it was then.

For those who are interested, I recommend reading the unofficial translation of the speech which I attach below, prepared by myself with much help from Google translate. The speech is neatly organized into climate action, the war on pollution, ecosystems and biodiversity, global green development and environmental governance, and modernizing China’s environmental governance.

China’s carbon emissions

One of the most pressing efforts now is to shift towards controlling total carbon emissions.

Given the great global interest in climate action, I’ll take this opportunity to provide some updated estimates on actual emissions, and share some reflections on expectations for the coming years.

GDP growth in 2021 was 8.1%, and emissions intensity reduced by 3.79%. From this, we can deduct that total emissions rose by about 4%. But this figure for the whole of 2021 masks the strong downward trend in the second half of the year and the first quarter of 2022, during which China has experienced major downward economic pressures.

According to a recent analysis of China’s economic data by the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, carbon emissions may have dropped 1.4% in the first three months of 2022, compared to the prior year. Emissions started dropping in the second half of 2021. According to the report, the recent emissions decline was driven by decreased output in cement, steel and power industries, as well as COVID lockdown measures.

As I argued in September 2021, achieving the emissions targets for the 14th five-year plan would imply that China will enter a carbon peaking plateau in the coming years. The economic slowdown makes it even harder for China to achieve its targets. This is because the targets were set for emissions intensity per GDP, so if GDP growth is slow, then the implied cap on total carbon emissions by 2025 is also lower.

 

The really big question is what will happen with China’s emissions in the second half of this decade. China’s CO2 intensity target for 2030 still leaves space for a substantial increase in emissions in that period. However, UN secretary-general Guterres has asked for the world to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is a formidable task, which can’t be achieved without increased ambitions from all major countries.

My personal sense is that avoiding growth in emissions in the second half of this decade may also be better for China’s smooth transition towards carbon neutrality in 2060. Like trying to turn a huge ship, it is very difficult to transform such a large economy. The more that can be done in the early years, the better. In addition to that, future reductions in emissions may be even harder to achieve, so it may not be wise to leave an increased burden for after 2030. Of course, the trick will be to do things in a way which also benefits the economy in the near term.

Could China’s economy be sufficiently stimulated in a way which provides energy security and sustained economic development, and also accelerates the green and low carbon transition, resulting in an early peak in total emissions?

How to do that is the trillion RMB question.

 

 

Annex: Unofficial translation of speech by delivered by General Secretary Xi Jinping on April 30, 2021 at the 29th collective study session of the Political Bureau of the 19th Central Committee, published in June 2022 by Qiushi

Vigorously Developing a Modern Harmonious Coexistence between Man and Nature

Xi Jinping

Today, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee conducted the 29th collective study, the content of which is to strengthen the construction of my country’s ecological civilization under the new situation. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee has conducted collective studies on topics related to the construction of ecological civilization twice. This is the third time. The purpose of arranging this study is to grasp the new tasks and new requirements for the construction of ecological civilization in entering a new stage of development, implementing new development concepts, and building a new development pattern, analyze the new situation faced by the construction of ecological civilization in my country, and promote the modernization of harmonious coexistence of man and nature.

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, we have strengthened the Party’s overall leadership over the construction of ecological civilization, placed the construction of ecological civilization in a prominent position in the overall work, and made a series of major strategic arrangements. In the overall layout of “five in one”, ecological civilization construction is one of them; in the basic strategy of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, adhering to the harmonious coexistence of man and nature is one of them; in the new development concept, green development is one of them; in the three major battles, pollution prevention and control is one of them; in the goal of building a powerful modern socialist country by the middle of this century, ‘beautiful China’ is one of them. This fully reflects our understanding of the importance of building an ecological civilization, and clarifies its important position in the overall development of the party and the country.

We have comprehensively strengthened the building of an ecological civilization, systematically planned the reform of the ecological civilization system, and integrated the management of mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, grass and sand, and carried out a series of fundamental, pioneering and long-term tasks. The building of civilization has undergone historical and comprehensive changes from recognition to practice. I have successively issued instructions and guidance on important cases, such as the ecological destruction of the Qilian Mountains in Gansu, the illegal construction of villas at the northern foot of the Qinling Mountains in Shaanxi, and the illegal mining in the Muli mining area in Qinghai. In the past 9 years, the blue sky and white clouds have reappeared, green landscapes have continuously expanded, the development of the green economy has accelerated, energy and material consumption has been continuously reduced, heavy smoke and haze have been effectively suppressed, black and odorous water bodies have been significantly reduced, the urban and rural environment has become more livable, and solid steps have been taken towards the construction of a beautiful China. The idea that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets has become the consensus and action of the whole party and the whole society. According to NASA satellite data, between 2000 and 2017, about a quarter of the world’s new green areas came from China. Our country leads the global climate change negotiation process, actively promotes the signing, entry into force and implementation of the Paris Agreement, announcing that carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality will be achieved before 2060. The achievements of our country’s ecological civilization construction have also been widely recognized by the international community.

Practice has shown that ecological environmental protection and economic development are mutually reinforcing. Building ecological civilization and promoting green, low-carbon and circular development not only meets the people’s growing needs for a beautiful ecological environment, but also promotes higher quality and efficiency, as well as more equitable, more sustainable and safer development, embarking us on a civilized development path with economic development, affluent life and good ecology.

Restoring and improving the ecological environment is a process that requires long-term and arduous efforts, and cannot be accomplished overnight. At present, the construction of ecological civilization in our country is still facing many contradictions and challenges. The foundation for a stable and sound ecological environment is not yet solid, and the inflection point from quantitative change to qualitative change has not yet arrived. There is still a great gap between the current situation, as compared to people’s expectations for a better life, as compared to an ecological environment of good quality, as compared to the goal of building a beautiful China, and as compared to a new development pattern, promoting high-quality development, and building a modern socialist country. There is a process of adjustment of our country’s industrial structure. The proportion of traditional industries is still relatively high, strategic emerging industries and high-tech industries have not yet grown into leading forces of economic growth, the energy structure has not been fundamentally changed, pollution problems in key areas and industries have not been resolved, and achieving carbon peaking and carbon neutrality is a huge and difficult task. Promoting green and low-carbon development is a clear international trend, and green economy has become the pinnacle of global industrial competition. Some Western countries are playing the “environmental card” against China, putting pressure on our country in many ways.

At the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, I emphasized that our country’s socialist modernization has many important characteristics, one of which is that it is a modernization in which man and nature coexist in harmony, and we focus on the simultaneous advancement of material civilization and ecological civilization. During the “14th Five-Year Plan” period, China’s building of an ecological civilization has entered a critical period in which carbon reduction is the key strategic direction, synergies between pollution reduction and carbon reduction are promoted, the comprehensive green transformation of economic and social development is promoted, and the improvement of the ecological environment is changing from a focus on quantity to a focus on quality. It is necessary to completely, accurately and comprehensively implement the new development concept, maintain strategic focus, plan economic and social development from the perspective of harmonious coexistence between man and nature, adhere to the basic national policy of saving resources and protecting the environment, and insist on giving priority to conservation, protection, and natural restoration. The main policy is to form a spatial pattern, industrial structure, production method, and way of life for saving resources and protecting the environment, coordinating pollution control, ecological protection, and responding to climate change, promoting the continuous improvement of the ecological environment, and striving to build a modernization where man and nature coexist in harmony.

First, unremittingly promote green and low-carbon development. I have emphasized many times that ecological and environmental issues are ultimately issues of development methods and lifestyles. Establishing and improving a green, low-carbon and circular economic system and promoting a comprehensive green transformation of economic and social development are the basic strategies to solve China’s ecological and environmental problems. On March 15, I presided over the 9th meeting of the Central Finance and Economics Committee, and studied and deployed the basic ideas and major measures to achieve carbon peaking and carbon neutrality. It is necessary to realize the synergy of pollution reduction and carbon reduction as the general starting point for promoting the comprehensive green transformation of economic and social development, and accelerate the adjustment of industrial structure, energy structure, transportation structure, and land use structure. It is necessary to strengthen spatial planning and use management and control, implement spatial management and control boundaries such as ecological protection, basic farmland, and urban development, implement the strategy of main functional zones, and delineate and strictly observe ecological conservation red lines. It is necessary to improve resource utilization from the source, promote total resource management, scientific allocation, comprehensive conservation and recycling, and comprehensively improve resource utilization efficiency. It is necessary to grasp the key of industrial structure adjustment, accelerate the development of strategic emerging industries, high-tech industries, and modern service industries, promote clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient use of energy, and continue to reduce the intensity of carbon emissions. It is necessary to solve the problem of insufficient scientific and technological support for promoting green and low-carbon development, strengthen scientific and technological research such as carbon capture, utilization and storage technology, and zero-carbon industrial process reengineering technology, and support the transformation of green and low-carbon technological innovations. Green finance must be developed, and green technology innovation must be supported.

I have emphasized many times that we must reduce carbon dioxide emissions and address climate change not because others want us to, but because we want to do so ourselves. Achieving carbon peaking and carbon neutrality is a solemn commitment that China has made to the world, and it is also an extensive and profound economic and social transformation, which is by no means easy to achieve. Now, some departments and local governments still have a strong urge to launch high-energy-consuming and high-emission projects. At the seminar on the study and implementation of the spirit of the Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee held in January this year for leading cadres at the provincial and ministerial levels, I specifically emphasized the need to guard against eight misunderstandings, one of which is to take the need to grow domestic demand and grow the domestic market as an opportunity to deploy large-scale projects with high energy consumption and high emissions. Relevant departments and local governments must maintain strict control, and projects that do not meet the requirements must be resolutely taken down! Party committees and governments at all levels must demonstrate strong commitment and go the extra mile to achieve effective outcomes, clarify the timetable, roadmap, and blueprints, and promote economic and social development based on the efficient use of resources and green and low-carbon development.

Second, we must achieve total victory in the war on pollution. Now, the people have higher expectations for the quality of the ecological environment and lower tolerance for ecological and environmental problems. It is necessary to focus on overcoming the prominent ecological and environmental problems in people’s surroundings, so that all people can truly feel the improvement of the quality of the ecological environment. We must adhere to precise pollution control, scientific pollution control, and law-based pollution control, maintain strength, extend depth, and broaden breadth, and continue to fight for the defense of blue skies, clear water, and pure land. It is necessary to strengthen the coordinated control of multiple pollutants and regional coordinated governance, strengthen the coordinated control of fine particulate matter and ozone, and basically eliminate days with heavy air pollution. It is necessary to coordinate the management of water resources, water environment, and water ecology, strengthen the prevention and control of pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs and ecological protection, build beautiful bays, effectively protect the safety of drinking water for residents, and resolutely control urban black and odorous water bodies. It is necessary to promote the prevention and control of soil pollution, and effectively control the soil pollution risks of agricultural land and construction land. It is necessary to implement waste classification, reduction and recycling, strengthen the control of plastic pollution, strengthen the collection and treatment of hazardous waste and medical waste, strengthen the prevention and control of heavy metal pollution, and pay attention to the treatment of new pollutants. It is necessary to promote the extension of pollution control to towns and villages, strengthen the control of agricultural non-point source pollution, and significantly improve the rural living environment.

Third, improve the quality and stability of the ecosystem. This is not only an inevitable requirement to increase the supply of high-quality ecological products, but also an important means to mitigate and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. As the ancient saying goes, “the nation is well-off when grass and trees thrive”. A good ecology itself contains economic and social value. We must maintain a systems view, proceed from the integrity of the ecosystem, promote the integrated protection and restoration of mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, grass and sand, and pay more attention to comprehensive management, systemic management, and source management. It is necessary to speed up the development of a natural reserve system with national parks as the main body, and improve the supervision system for natural reserves and ecological conservation red lines. It is necessary to establish and improve the mechanisms to realize value from ecological products and services, so that the protection and restoration of the ecological environment can obtain reasonable returns, and there is a clear cost to damaging to the ecological environment. It is necessary to scientifically promote the comprehensive management of desertification, rocky desertification, and soil erosion, and carry out large-scale greening actions. It is necessary to promote the recuperation of grasslands, forests, rivers and lakes, implement a ten-year ban on fishing in the Yangtze River, and improve the system of fallow farming and rotation. It is necessary to implement major biodiversity conservation projects, strengthen the control of alien species, and hold the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Fourth, actively promote global sustainable development. Protecting the ecological environment and responding to climate change are common challenges faced by all mankind. We must uphold the concept of a community with a shared future for mankind, actively participate in global environmental governance, strengthen international cooperation in the fields of climate change, marine pollution control, biodiversity protection, etc., earnestly implement international conventions, and proactively take the initiative to undertake actions compatible with our national conditions, development stage and capabilities, governance obligations, provide more public goods for the world, continuously consolidate institutional power and reach a balance between rights and obligations, and show China’s image as a responsible major country. It is necessary to play a leading role as a major developing country, strengthen South-South cooperation and cooperation with neighboring countries, provide developing countries with financial and technical support within their capabilities, help improve their environmental governance capabilities, and jointly build a green Belt and Road Initiative. We must adhere to the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, fairness and respective capabilities, firmly uphold multilateralism, effectively respond to the attempts of some Western countries to “regulate” China, and resolutely safeguard our development interests.

Fifth, modernize the nation’s system and capacity for governance in the field of ecological environment. It is necessary to improve the modern environmental governance system overseen by the party, led by government, and participated in by enterprises, social organizations and the public, and build an institutional mechanism for integrated planning, integrated deployment, integrated promotion, and integrated assessment. It is necessary to further promote reform of the systems for ecological civilization, strengthen the legal and policy guarantees for green development, and improve the property rights system and laws and regulations of natural resources assets. It is necessary to improve the management of binding indicators for environmental protection, energy conservation and emission reduction, and establish a sound and stable financial capital investment mechanism. It is necessary to fully implement the environmental permiting system, promote the market-based trading of pollutant emission rights, energy use rights, water rights, and carbon emission rights, and establish and improve risk management and control mechanisms. We must vigorously publicize green civilization, enhance national awareness of conservation, environmental protection, and ecology, advocate a simple, moderate, green and low-carbon lifestyle, and transform the building of a beautiful China into conscious actions of all people.

On May 18, 2018, I pointed out at the National Conference on Ecological Environmental Protection that China’s building of an ecological civilization is in a critical period of superimposed pressure and heavy load, and has entered a beautiful ecological environment that provides more high-quality ecological products to meet the growing population of the people. The critical period that is needed has also come to a window period when there are conditions and the ability to solve outstanding problems in the ecological environment. Party committees and governments at all levels must improve their political judgment, political comprehension, and political execution, have a “great nation” in mind, shoulder the political responsibility for ecological civilization construction, resolutely enforce orders and prohibitions, and ensure that the Party Central Committee makes decisions on ecological civilization construction, and are effectively deployed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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