At present, the global temperature is rising year-by-year, the atmospheric environment is deteriorating, sea levels are rising, and extreme climatic events are becoming more frequent. Climate change has brought huge obstacles to the sustainable development of humanity.
China is acutely aware of this destructive process. In the course of its rapid economic growth, the country has intensified its ecological protection efforts to retain lucid waters and lush mountains.
China’s environmental protection work began at the first National Environmental Protection Conference in 1973. At that time, the industrial wastewater emitted to the Guanting Reservoir in northwest Beijing caused the death of a large number of fish, which drew the attention of the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. At his initiative, the issue of environmental protection was placed firmly on the national agenda.
Coming together with its rapid industrialization after the reform and opening-up launched in 1978 was increasing pollutant emissions and deteriorating environment. To tackle environmental challenges, China then put in place an environmental protection system featuring well-defined responsibilities for stakeholders, corresponding accountability mechanism, and effective supervision measures. By 1995, China had curbed the rapid increase in the total discharge of major pollutants.
In the early 21st century, China declared resource conservation and environmental protection one of its basic national policies. Since then, the country has been working to use resources in its territory more efficiently, improve development quality and effect, reduce resource consumption and environmental pollution, and promote a sound economic structure that facilitates green, low-carbon, and circular development. While putting restrictions on high polluting, high water-consuming, and high energy-consuming industries, it overhauled traditional industries with cutting-edge technologies and phased out obsolete techniques and equipment. The country also doubled support to environmental protection industries, and devoted great energy to a clean, low-carbon, safe, and efficient energy system. Furthermore, it also launched campaigns to promote a green lifestyle and enhance people’s awareness of environmental protection.
The revised Environmental Protection Law, which took effect in January 2015, is a landmark in China’s endeavor of environmental protection. Following that, China speeded up transformation toward green development.
In the past five years, the country has taken great strides to achieve the goal of reducing total pollutant emissions and improving environmental quality. The efforts include the building of an inspection and accountability system for leading officials, strengthened environmental supervision and law enforcement, efficient use of resources, protection and restoration of wetlands, natural forests, and the Yangtze River, and pilot projects to address environmental pollution problems accumulated over a long period.
Thanks to the efforts, enterprises are now voluntarily pursuing business expansion while being cognizant of the need to protect the environment throughout the process. China has explored a successful growth model in which economic development and environmental protection are well balanced.
During the process, the Chinese government has continuously increased its investment in environmental protection and pollution control. In 2017, China’s total investment in pollution control reached RMB 953.9 billion (US $137.36 billion), a 7.2-fold increase over 2001, with an average annual growth of 14 percent. In 2020, the figure is expected to reach RMB 1.42 trillion (US $204.48 billion). Since 2000, about a quarter of the new green area in the world has been contributed by China. The country also pledged to reverse the desertification trend in more than 50 percent of its areas affected by desertification. By improving air quality, it has enabled the Chinese people to enjoy more blue sky days.
The 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025) is a time when China’s economy gears up from high-speed growth to high-quality development. It will also be a critical period to transform its growth model and optimize the economic structure. The process of rebalancing economic growth and environmental protection will continue. During the period, slashing the emission of major pollutants will remain a priority. China still has a long way to go in its environmental protection drive.