Committing to the Development of an Ecological Civilization

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2013-11-07 14:51
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The report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) gave strong emphasis to the development of an ecological civilization, incorporating it into the overall plan for advancing socialism with Chinese characteristics. Representing another major theoretical innovation of the CPC and the deepening of its initiatives in practice, this move has important implications for the present as well as far-reaching historical significance.

I. The connotations of ecological civilization

A thorough and accurate understanding of what ecological civilization entails is essential for the promotion of ecological progress. The term ecological pertains to the state in which nature exists, whereas the term civilization refers to a state of human progress. Thus, ecological civilization describes the level of harmony that exists between human progress and natural existence in human civilization. Ecological civilization, like material civilization, cultural and ethical civilization, and political civilization, is a historical concept. As such, ecological civilization is constantly undergoing a process of evolution from a lower stage to a higher stage as human civilization progresses.


The forests of the Greater Khingan Mountains, Inner Mongolia, set against a backdrop of blue skies and white clouds (photo taken on June 16, 2011). / Photo by Xinhua reporter Li Xin

The concept of “ecological civilization” is a response to the acute conflicts that play out between humans on the one hand and resources and the environment on the other, when industrial society reaches a certain stage of development. The introduction of this concept is the result of deep reflection over the relationship between humans and nature, and particularly over the escalating ecological crisis that traditional modes of industrialization have caused.

The CPC has always attached great significance to ecological issues. In the 1980s, the Party stated that in no way could China go down the “pollute first, clean up later” path of the past. In 1983, the Central Committee of the Party defined environmental protection as a basic state policy. In 1994, the Chinese government proposed the inclusion of sustainable development in China’s long-term plans for economic and social development for the very first time. In 2002, the report to the Sixteenth National Congress of the Party called for a “new approach to industrialization,” with a view to putting our society on track towards developed production, affluent standards of living, and sound environments. In 2003, the Third Plenary Session of the Sixteenth Central Committee of the CPC introduced the Scientific Outlook on Development, emphasizing the need to “ensure harmonious development between humans and nature.” In 2007, the report to the Seventeenth National Congress of the Party listed “developing an ecological civilization” as one of the five objectives for building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. In addition, the Seventeenth National Congress also saw the incorporation of “harmony between humans and nature” and “developing a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society” into the Party Constitution for the first time. In 2012, the report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the Party incorporated “ecological progress” into the overall plan for building socialism with Chinese characteristics, which now consists of promoting economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress. The report also presented a detailed explanation of the overall requirements, key tasks, and right approaches for promoting ecological progress. Although the CPC was not the first to propose the concept of “ecological civilization,” it has undoubtedly accomplished an unprecedented feat by revealing the essence of this concept, enriching its connotations, elevating it to the level of a national strategy, and promoting it throughout the whole society as a principle of the Party’s governance.

At its core, ecological civilization is about properly balancing the relationship between people and nature. The relationship between people and nature is the most fundamental relationship that exists in human society. Like all other creatures, people are creations of nature, and rely on nature for their survival and development. Nature is the foundation and the precondition for the emergence, existence, and development of human society. Therefore, humans are in no way the masters of nature, and in no way are they able to command nature as they please. On the other hand, humans are different from other creatures. Through their social activities, humans are able to purposefully utilize and transform nature in order to improve their modes of survival and development, which gives rise to human civilization. Therefore, humans are not mere “servants” of nature, capable only of passive adaption. Nature is both rich and generous. But at the same time, it is also vulnerable, and requires balance. With the growth of populations and the improvement of living standards being irreversible trends, the impact that humans have on nature is becoming increasingly great. However, humans are, after all, a part of nature, and their activities should not go beyond the limits of what nature permits. In other words, the activities of people should not result in nature irreversibly losing its capacity for self-restoration; otherwise, people will risk undermining their own survival and development. Ecological civilization is all about striking a balance between humans and nature. It is about taking in moderation, engaging in exploitation as well as protection, and promoting dynamic balance between development, populations, resources, and the environment, so as to constantly raise the level of harmony that exists between humans and nature.

The essential requirement of ecological civilization is that we respect, accommodate to, and protect nature. With regard to showing respect for nature, we need to acknowledge deep down in our hearts that we are nature’s children, not its dominators. Instead of arrogantly placing ourselves above nature, we should always revere, be grateful to, and reciprocate nature. With regard to accommodating to nature, we need to make sure that human activities comply with the objective laws of nature instead of violating them. Of course, accommodating to nature does not mean we should place ourselves at the mercy of nature, halt our development, or even return to a primitive state of living. Rather, accommodation means that we should give full play to our initiative and creativity, and exploit nature in a scientific and rational manner on the basis of objective laws. With regard to protecting nature, we need to take care of nature and give back to nature whilst we take what we need to survive and develop. Protecting nature means that we must confine human activities to the limits of what nature can cope with, and give nature the space that it needs to recover, to recuperate, and to regenerate its natural resources. To do this, we need to find a balance between taking from and giving back to nature. We need to repay old debts, avoid accruing new ones, and work to prevent the occurrence of ecological deficits and irreversible ecological damage as a result of human activities.

Ecological civilization has two features. Firstly, ecological civilization is a common issue for people all over the world. As we only have one earth, ecological crisis naturally poses a threat and a challenge to all of humanity and ecological issues have a bearing on the whole world. Therefore, no country is able to achieve ecological progress without the ecological progress of other countries, and the balance between humans and nature must be approached on a global basis. Secondly, ecological civilization is a dynamic historical process. The relationship between humans and nature has been a challenging issue at every stage of human development. Therefore, the development of an ecological civilization is an undertaking that knows no boundaries. In seeking to balance our relationship with nature, our efforts represent a constant process of resolving clashes through the accumulation of experience and understanding. Very often, the resolution of old problems is followed by the emergence of new ones; this is a perpetual cycle that facilitates the advancement of ecological civilization from a lower level to a higher level, in turn promoting the constant development of human society as a whole. In developing an ecological civilization, people must make conscientious efforts to live in harmony with nature. Doing so will allow us to create sustainable modes for the survival and development of human society.

In order to achieve the kind of ecological civilization that the CPC proposes, we must act in accordance with the Scientific Outlook on Development by adopting a new approach to industrialization, one that is sustainable, that allows for the recycling of resources, and that is characterized by low input, low energy consumption, low emissions, and high output. In doing so, our aim will be to develop China’s geographical space, industrial structures, and modes of production and living that are conducive to the conservation of resources and the protection of the environment. The ecological civilization that the CPC advocates is an advanced form of civilization, one that is characterized by the harmonious coexistence, sound interaction, and sustained development of human society and nature. Its essence is “to build a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society that takes into consideration the capacity of resources and the environment, that complies with the laws of nature, and that aims for sustainable development.” This advanced form of ecological civilization is both an essential requirement as well as a rational choice of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Through the establishment of the socialist system and socialist values, we have discarded the traditional notion that all initiatives in an industrial society exist for the purpose of capital appreciation, and have set forth the idea that all initiatives should be targeted towards promoting the overall development of people (of both current and future generations). In addition, being much more than a simple “night watchman,” the government of a socialist country is able to consciously make up for the shortcomings of the market economy in accordance with objective laws, making an advanced form of ecological civilization not just a necessity for development, but also a choice that can be realized through arduous efforts.

II. The strategic importance and practical urgency of promoting ecological civilization

The development of an ecological civilization is a sacred cause, one that has a direct bearing on every aspect of China’s efforts to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to achieve socialist modernization, and to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Therefore, we must fully understand the strategic importance and practical urgency of developing an ecological civilization from an overall strategic perspective.

The resolute promotion of ecological civilization is a necessary means of mitigating environmental and resource constraints and maintaining the sustained and sound development of China’s economy and society. At present, the world is experiencing an increasingly large number of global ecological issues, from energy and water crises to abnormal climatic phenomena and the extinction of species. These problems can all be felt in China to differing extents. Having yet to fundamentally change a traditional growth model characterized by high input, high energy consumption, and heavy pollution, China has paid a high price for its rapid economic growth. The escalating clashes between population, resources, and the environment are increasingly constraining China’s development. First, resource constraints are increasing. Due to its large population and relative shortage of resources, China’s reserves of important resources such as fresh water, farmland, forests, coal, petroleum, iron ore, and bauxite per capita fall short of the world average. Since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, the rapid progression of China’s industrialization and urbanization and the country’s extensive growth model have given rise to increasingly prominent imbalances between the supply and demand of energy and resources. As China’s industrialization and urbanization progress further, the per capita consumption of various types of energy and resources will continue to increase for some time to come. As a result, energy and resources will become an increasingly prominent bottleneck constraining China’s economic and social development, and the country will face serious challenges with regard to food security, energy security, and water security. Second, environmental pollution is becoming more severe. China’s traditional growth model has led to the excessive discharge of major pollutants, with environmental capacity being exceeded in some cases. In addition, the worsening trend of water, soil, and air pollution has yet to be fundamentally curbed. Third, ecosystems are deteriorating. The quality of our forest ecosystems is not high. At the same time, we are facing a number of very serious problems such as grassland deterioration, soil erosion, desertification, the frequent occurrence of geological disasters, the shrinkage of wetlands and lakes, land subsidence, and natural coastline erosion. Fourth, climate change is an outstanding problem, with overall greenhouse gas emissions being at a high level and emissions still increasing rapidly. The above problems indicate that China’s resources, environments, and ecosystems are no longer able to cope with China’s traditional growth model. Only by promoting ecological progress and striving for green, circular, and low-carbon development can we fundamentally mitigate the resource and environmental constraints that threaten our development, and thereby lay down solid foundations for the sustained and sound development of our economy and society.

The resolute promotion of ecological civilization is an essential requirement for guaranteeing inter-generational equity and achieving lasting and sustainable development for the Chinese nation. Nature is the support system for humanity’s life. In addition to having nurtured our ancestors before us, nature is sustaining us now, and will continue to give life to our later generations well into the distant future. During the long course of history, we are all just passersby; each generation is merely a temporary caretaker of our planet’s resources and environments. The United Nations once warned us with a very thought-provoking proverb, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” In order to ensure inter-generational equity in ecological terms, we need to take into consideration both the wellbeing of the current generation and the interests of future generations. We can neither squander our heritage, nor can we leave future generations with nothing. We have no right to deprive future generations of their right to satisfy their own needs just to satisfy our own needs. Nor can we allow future generations to bear the consequences of our excessive resource consumption and the damage that we cause to the environment. Only by vigorously promoting ecological progress will we be able to preserve the capacity of the planet’s resources and environments to sustain humanity into the distant future. This is the only way to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities for survival and development, the only way to realize lasting and sustainable development for the Chinese nation, and the only way to guarantee that Chinese civilization is passed down from generation to generation.

The resolute promotion of ecological civilization is an inherent part of our efforts to put people first and meet the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people. Since the launch of the reform and opening up drive, the material and non-material living standards of China’s urban and rural residents have improved significantly. At the same time, people’s needs have constantly been changing and becoming more advanced. In addition to meeting people’s needs for agricultural products, industrial products, and services, we also need to meet their increasingly pressing needs for ecological products. The satisfaction of people’s ever-growing demands for ecological products has increasingly become an important benchmark for gauging living standards, and the quality of ecological environments has become an important index for measuring public wellbeing. Despite this, however, the shortage of ecological products has undermined efforts to improve public wellbeing in China, having a negative impact on people’s sense of wellbeing. Our goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects dictates that major efforts must be made to promote ecological progress. In particular, we must guarantee the provision of safe food, clean drinking water, fresh air, green surroundings, and amicable living environments for the people, and satisfy the demands of both urban and rural residents for ecological products. These efforts not only demonstrate the Party’s principles of putting people first and exercising state power for the people, but also constitute an active response to the ever-growing needs of the people for ecological products. Moreover, these efforts represent what we aspire to in our goals of improving public wellbeing and building a beautiful and happy China. 

The resolute promotion of ecological civilization represents a major advancement in the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress come together to form an organic whole. Economic progress represents the central task and the foundation; political progress represents the direction, and also serves as a guarantee; cultural progress represents the soul and the lifeblood; social progress represents a supporting pillar, and also the final objective; and ecological progress represents the groundwork and a precondition for success. These five mutually reinforcing aspects form the overall layout for the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics. It should be pointed out that ecological progress represents a natural housing and an environmental foundation for progress in other aspects. Playing an indispensable role in this layout, ecological progress permeates and runs through the entire process of economic, political, cultural, and social progress, emphasizing the bottom line that development should not inflict damage on the ecological environment. The absence or lagging behind of ecological progress will give rise to a number of problems: imbalances between population, resources, environment, and development will render our economic growth unsustainable; intra-generational and inter-generational imbalances in ecological terms will lead to inequity and imbalance in political and cultural progress; and the degeneration of living and development conditions will make it impossible to achieve social progress, the aim of which is to guarantee and improve people’s wellbeing. Of course, ecological progress cannot be achieved without economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Therefore, we need to devote efforts to all five aspects in order to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. Only then will we be able to balance the relationships that exist between people, and the relationship that exists between humans and nature. By accomplishing this balance, we will be able to achieve a new approach to modernization that is characterized by the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature and the coordinated development of economy and society, and stride towards a new era of socialist ecological civilization. Our efforts to promote ecological progress not only represent the improvement, enrichment, and major advancement of the theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics, but also constitute a refinement of the form and concepts of human civilization, as well as the way that we perceive our path. These efforts not only have a major and profound bearing on the development of China, but also represent important contributions to human civilization as a whole.

It is essential that we heighten our sense of danger and crisis. Driven by a strong sense of responsibility towards our country, our people, our future generations, and the Chinese nation, we must devote ourselves to the promotion of ecological progress with bitter resolve.  

III. Priority tasks in promoting the development of an ecological civilization

A comprehensive plan for the promotion of ecological progress was outlined in the political report to the Eighteenth National Congress of the CPC. The report clearly states that we must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into every aspect of economic, political, cultural, and social progress; step up efforts to develop a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society; and strive to build a beautiful China, so as to realize lasting and sustainable development for the Chinese nation and make due contributions to global ecological security.

In order to promote ecological progress, we must observe the following important principles whilst taking the Scientific Outlook on Development as our guide. First, we must continue to regard respecting, accommodating to, and protecting nature as essential requirements, work to use resources in a more efficient way, and improve the quality of our ecological environments, thereby achieving a new approach to modernization that is characterized by the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature. Second, adhering to the fundamental principles of giving priority to conservation, protection, and natural restoration, we should strive to achieve green, circular, and low-carbon development. In doing so, we need to develop China’s geographical space, industrial structures, and modes of production and living that are conducive to the conservation of resources and the protection of the environment. Third, continuing to put people first, we must regard meeting the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people in a sustainable manner as the purpose and ultimate goal of our initiatives. On that basis, we must ensure that our efforts to achieve ecological progress are made for the people, and dependent on the people. We need to create sound working and living environments for the people, and leave to our future generations a beautiful homeland with green fields, clean waters and blue skies. Fourth, we must continue to draw on reform and opening up, and scientific innovation as fundamental driving forces, establish a sound framework of institutions with regard to ecological progress, and develop a long-term mechanism to ensure the progression of ecological civilization. At present, and for a period of time to come, we must lay emphasis on the following key initiatives as we work to promote ecological progress.

1. We need to effectively promote the implementation of our strategy of development priority zones and optimize our country’s developmental layout. The State Council has promulgated the National Plan for Developing Priority Zones. The sound implementation of this plan will allow us to approach ecological progress in a comprehensive and systematic manner, thereby ensuring that our national development is characterized by coordination between population, resources, and the environment. First, we need to strengthen supervision over the implementation of the plan. We need to ensure that local authorities make the appropriate regional plans in accordance with the strategy of development priority zones, and we also need to clearly define the respective responsibilities of the central government and governments at the provincial, municipal, and county levels. The departments of the State Council need to carry out their respective initiatives under the guidance of the plan, strengthen their supervision and inspection of the plan’s implementation, and coordinate overall considerations concerning population distribution, economic layout, and land use in order to fully implement the plan. Second, we need to provide stronger policy assurances. We need to accelerate the implementation of fiscal and tax, investment, industrial, and land policies that facilitate the development of priority zones. The central government needs to increase transfer payments designed to equalize access to basic public services in major agricultural production areas, central and western regions, poverty-stricken areas, key ecological function areas, and nature reserves. In addition, it also needs to enhance the capacity of governments to provide public services in areas where development activities are prohibited or limited, with a view to promoting balanced development between regions. Third, we need to create a scientific and rational framework of urbanization, agricultural development, and ecological security strategies. By integrating the notion of ecological progress throughout our new approach to urbanization, we need to pursue a mode of urbanization that is characterized by clearly defined functions, the rational distribution of industries, prominent regional advantages and features, and accommodation to the capacity of resources and the environment. We need to promote regionalization, specialized production, and large-scale operation in agriculture. In addition, we need to maintain the quantity and the quality of farmland in our country, and ensure adequate supply of agricultural products. By doing so, China’s agricultural development will not only demonstrate the new trend of centralizing the farming of major agricultural products in areas where they are ideally suited, but will also reflect the actual state and features of our natural agricultural resources. In addition to the above, we need to effectively protect areas that have a bearing on national ecological security, restore and enhance the ecological functions of key ecological function areas, and form an ecological security layout that is comprised primarily of forest vegetation, and also includes grasslands. Fourth, we need to make overall plans for land and sea development. Based on a stronger awareness that we are a major maritime nation, we must attach equal importance to our terrestrial territory and territorial sea while bearing in mind the relatively independent nature of the maritime system, and strike a balance between land exploitation, maritime exploitation, and the protection of coastal belt. We also need to step up the development of modern marine industries, make constant efforts to boost the marine economy, protect the marine ecological environment, enhance our capacity to provide diversified marine ecological products, and resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests, with a view to establishing China as a leading maritime nation.

2. We need to accelerate the change of our growth model and promote the transformation of modes of production. Only by accelerating the transformation of our growth model will we be able to address the root cause of excessive resource consumption and the discharge of pollutants, and fundamentally mitigate the conflicts that exist between economic growth, the conservation of natural resources, and the protection of the environment. First, we need to adjust our industrial structure. We need to make major efforts to develop service industries and strategic emerging industries so as to raise their share in the national economy. At the same time, we must work faster to eliminate backward production capacity, center industries around competitive enterprises, and encourage the overseas relocation of surplus production capacity in an orderly manner. Second, we must use resources economically and intensively. In a bid to overcome resource constraints, we need to step up the conservation and comprehensive utilization of resources in all regards, significantly lower the intensity of our energy, water, and land consumption, effectively cap our total water usage, exploit mineral resources in a rational manner, and strictly control the use of land. At the same time, we need to revolutionize the way that we produce and consume energy, devote major efforts to the development of new and renewable energies, and cap our overall energy consumption, with a view to guaranteeing China’s energy security. Third, we need to promote green, circular, and low-carbon modes of production. All industries are expected to make fundamental changes to their modes of production in line with the requirements of conserving resources and protecting the environment. In industrial production, we need to completely discard an extensive growth model that is characterized by high input and heavy pollution, and make constant efforts to promote energy conservation and emissions reduction. At the same time, in accordance with the principles of reducing waste and resource consumption, reusing resources, and recycling waste, we need to promote clean production and develop a circular economy. In agricultural production, we need to actively develop ecological agriculture and organic agriculture, and steadily enhance our overall agricultural production capacity in order to guarantee food security. Moreover, we need to drastically reduce the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers with a view to improving agricultural ecologies.

3. We need to urge rational consumption habits in order to foster civilized lifestyles. Though consumption habits and lifestyles may appear to be trivial, they are in fact significant social issues, not only having a direct impact on resources and the environment at all times, but also having an indirect bearing on modes of production. Therefore, each and every one of us needs to make an effort in this regard, bearing in mind that every little thing counts. First, we need to establish sound consumer attitudes. By carrying out publicity and educational initiatives, we must ensure that China’s resource shortages and fragile environments are known to the people. This will help us to raise public awareness with regard to environmental protection and ecological issues. With that as a basis, we must urge the people to save every drop of water, every unit of electricity, every piece of paper, and every grain of rice. By fostering a social atmosphere in which frugality is applauded and wastefulness is looked down upon, we will strive to make resource conservation and environmental protection a mainstream value for 1.3 billion Chinese people. Second, we need to develop rational consumer habits. Advocating green and resource-conserving modes of consumption, we must urge people to consume in a way that is both rational and scientific, so as to bring about healthy and frugal lifestyles that are conducive to the reduction of pollution. At the same time, we need to improve the capacity of urban and rural areas to provide public services, use price leverage to encourage people to adopt green lifestyles and commuting in an environmentally friendly way, and boost the consumption of energy-conserving, low-carbon, and environmentally friendly products. Moreover, we need to enforce mandatory standards on energy saving, and promote the wide use of renewable energies and environmentally friendly materials. We also need to step up our efforts to develop green and low-carbon communities, and encourage individuals, households, and enterprises to curb waste and uncivilized behavior. Third, we need to create clean living environments. In order to make our living environments greener, cleaner, and more beautiful, we should engage in major efforts to support green transportation; widen the use of clean energy sources such as natural gas, methane, solar energy, and wind power; reduce vehicle exhaust emissions, industrial discharges, and wind-borne dust from construction sites; promote the sorting and recycling of garbage; and strengthen the concentrated disposal of hazardous waste. A particular emphasis should be placed on the rectification of rural environments. We will carry out rural cleanup projects, and adopt a garbage disposal mode in which domestic waste is gathered on a per household basis, collected by village authorities, and transported by town level authorities for concentrated disposal. These efforts will allow us to create new rural communities characterized by centralized residence, sound ecological environments, and function-based public services.

4. We need to strengthen ecological protection and restoration in order to create a sound ecological environment. We need to lay emphasis on both protection and restoration, do more to repair ecological damage, devote more resources to ecologically fragile areas, and work to achieve a sound balance between natural ecosystems and human habitations. First, we need to strengthen the monitoring of the environment and the prevention of natural disasters. In strengthening our monitoring of the environment, we need to impose strict standards on environmental quality control, and improve the means by which we conduct monitoring in order to lay down foundations for the prevention and control of pollution. We also need to strengthen the development of monitoring, early warning, and information release systems for meteorological, geological, and seismic disasters. By improving measures for the prevention and mitigation of natural disasters, we will be better able to respond to such adversities. Second, we need to strengthen the protection of ecosystems. Particular emphasis should be given to the protection of natural forests, and to building upon advances that have already been made in the restoration of forests and grasslands from farmland and the restoration of grasslands from grazing land. At the same time, we also need to give particular emphasis to the protection of forest and grass vegetation, rivers, lakes, and wetlands, and to safeguarding wildlife and biodiversity. We need to strengthen our protection of water sources, and take steps to accelerate the reinforcement of aging reservoirs and sluices, the implementation of key projects for farmland irrigation, and the relocation of people in disaster-prone areas. Moreover, solid steps should be taken to promote urban and rural afforestation and develop major ecological screens, in order to make ecosystems more stable. Third, we need to carry out major ecological restoration projects, and step up efforts to resolve outstanding environmental problems that are detrimental to public health, such as water, soil, and air pollution. At the same time, we need to take comprehensive steps to control desertification, rocky desertification and soil erosion; work harder to prevent and control water pollution in key watersheds and areas; make efforts to restore and improve the water ecosystems of ecologically fragile rivers, lakes, and areas; and intensify our efforts to control heavy metal pollution and soil pollution. By adopting a range of measures, we also need to effectively control greenhouse gas emissions. Fourth, we need to enhance our capacity to produce and supply ecological products. Considering that ecological products are of direct benefit to the general public, we need to intensify our protection of ecological resources, such as forests, water sources, wetlands, and grasslands, and by doing so enhance our capacity to supply ecological products.

5. We need to devote major efforts to promoting progress of science and technology in order to underpin ecological progress. Above all else, we will need to rely on progress of science and technology to resolve the problems that we face with regard to resources and the environment. Progress of science and technology will allow us to constantly enhance our capacity to use resources efficiently, control pollutant discharge, and recycle waste. First, we need to accelerate innovation with regard to key technologies. Keeping pace with new technological advances around the world, we need to strengthen basic research and applied research, and place an emphasis on making key breakthroughs in regard to energy conservation, clean energy, and circular economies, so as to gain the edge in international new technological competition. We need to make active efforts to develop technologies in several areas, such as core technologies with regard to the manufacturing of major equipment for advanced coal-fired power plants and nuclear power plants, key energy-conserving technologies in major energy-intensive industries, and integrated technologies for clean production in heavy-polluting sectors, in order to ensure that our energy consumption and pollutant discharge per unit of GDP in the manufacturing of major industrial products reaches or comes close to world-class standards. In response to new trends in international development, we need to make breakthroughs in key technologies with regard to air pollution control in city clusters, non-conventional pollutant control, and waste recycling, thereby reducing pollutant emissions and leaving China with more room to maneuver in cutting carbon emissions. Second, we need to promote the widespread use of advanced technologies, establish closer links between innovation, application, and promotion, and establish a mechanism for collaboration between enterprises, universities and research institutes, with enterprises playing the dominant role. We need to formulate supporting policies to promote the low-cost and large-scale exploitation and utilization of renewable energies such as solar power, wind power, and bioenergy. By employing measures such as pricing, accelerated depreciation, and government subsidization, we need to step up our efforts to eliminate or upgrade backward production capacity and backward technologies, and promote the development of green industries such as the energy conservation industry, resource recycling industry, environmental protection industry, and renewable energy industry. Through these efforts, we will ensure that enterprises are able to benefit from the industrial application of new technological advances, and that people are able to widely enjoy the ecological benefits brought about by progress of science and technology.

6. We need to continue to make innovations with regard to institutions and mechanisms in order to improve the institutional framework of ecological civilization. The promotion of ecological civilization is a lengthy process, one which requires a standardized, permanent, and stable institutional environment that can give rise to binding long-term mechanisms. First, we need to deepen pricing reform for resource products. We need to make appropriate adjustments to the prices of resource products in order to encourage the economical use of resources. In working to renew mechanisms for the pricing of resource products, we need to optimize mechanisms for the pricing of electricity from hydro, nuclear, and renewable energy sources; improve reform schemes for the tier-based pricing of household electricity; take steady steps to promote public bidding among power plants for the right to supply electricity to power grids; and proceed with price reforms for electricity transmission in an orderly manner. In addition, we also need to continue with trials for pricing reforms, thereby improving a mechanism whereby prices are determined through consultation between the government, enterprises, and consumers. Second, we need to intensify the reform of resource and environment taxes and fees. Taking into consideration the interrelated relationship between prices, taxes, fees, and rent, we need to appropriately raise resource tax, promptly introduce environmental taxes, and improve the means by which these taxes are calculated. In addition, we need to actively explore ways of increasing the cost of environmental pollution through the collection of taxes and fees, with a view to reducing the discharge of pollutants. Third, we need to improve resource compensation and trading systems. On the basis of having project developers take responsibility for environmental protection while end-users assume responsibility for compensation, we need to step up efforts to establish an ecological compensation mechanism, look into setting up a dedicated national fund for ecological compensation, and promote the establishment of a reserve fund system for the sustainable development of resource-based enterprises. We need to develop third-party agencies to verify energy savings and carbon emissions, and encourage enterprises to actively participate in energy efficiency trading and carbon emission trading. We also need to improve the water rights system, launch water rights trading, and standardize the transfer of water rights. In addition, we need to deepen the reform of a cap-and-trade system for pollutant discharge rights. Fourth, we need to establish a sound statistical evaluation system. We need to establish a system of goals that demonstrate the requirements of an ecological civilization, and integrate resource consumption, environmental damage, and ecological benefits as criteria in our systems for the appraisal of economic and social development. We also need to raise awareness of ecological civilization among leading officials, look into setting different evaluation goals for different priority zones, attach more weight to ecological performance indexes in appraisals, and gradually improve systems for the performance assessment and appointment of officials. Fifth, we need to strengthen relevant laws and regulations. We need to improve the system of accountability for ecological and environmental protection and the system of compensation for environmental damage. Moreover, we need to strengthen environmental monitoring, improve systems for information release and public participation, establish the strictest possible system for environmental law enforcement, and increase the cost of violating environmental law, thereby regulating social behavior on the basis of a strong legal system.

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No.9, 2013)

Author: Vice-Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China

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