IN July, 2,400 guests from 35 countries and regions attended the Eco Forum Global Annual Conference Guiyang 2018 in Guiyang, a national forest city in southwest China. The theme of the conference was “Embracing a New Era of Eco-civilization: Green Development with High Priority to Ecology.”
Participants exchanged views on China’s ecological progress and global green development at over 30 themed sessions.
Lucid Waters and Lush Mountains are Invaluable Assets
This was the conclusion drawn by Xi Jinping as early as 2005, when he was the provincial Party committee secretary of Zhejiang. In recent years, people across China were exploring “how to turn lucid waters and lush mountains into assets” with their innovative practices by understanding the need to keep a balance between the ecosystem and economic development, as well as people’s ever increasing demands for a better environment.
On July 10, 2018, cleaners work on the Taihu Lake in Changxing of Zhejiang Province.
At the forum, Li Zaiyong, executive vice governor of Guizhou Province, gave a briefing on the progress made by the province in ecological protection over the past decade. According to Li, Guizhou has always put ecology and green development first and has had a lot of tentative, useful practices in balancing development between urban and rural areas as well as human activities and ecological environment. With a decade of efforts, the provincial GDP surged from RMB 280 billion in 2007 to RMB 1,350 billion in 2017. Over the same period, its forest coverage rate had risen to 55.3 percent from 35.9 percent. All these proved that improving ecology had facilitated the province’s sustainable economic growth.
Internationally, there are also many innovations underway in ecological restoration. At the forum, independent consultant Michael Bennett mentioned biodiversity mitigation banks. He said that there were 99 such banks in 33 countries which help to protect, restore, and create diversified habitats to offset impacts on wetlands, species, and forests by developers. He took New York City as an example, which had invested US $1.7 billion in the protection of its basin ecology and the control of wastewater discharge. As a result, filtration is rendered unnecessary in New York City’s urban water supply.
Michael Bennett also said that in recent years, the Chinese government was innovating its mechanisms to transform the role of the government. It aims to become a supervisor and creator of ecological products and services instead of a pure purchaser.
In 2017, 13 regions across China were selected as the first pilot sites to practice the “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets” scheme. In the eyes of Huang Runqiu, vice minister of Ecology and Environment of China, the practices in these areas are quite useful, fully demonstrating the golden truth of those words by President Xi. For example in Huzhou City of Zhejiang Province, two institutes have been specially set up for the development of eco industries and eco culture. In Sihong County of Jiangsu Province, institutional reform was underway in light of the county’s three redefined functional zones: urban region, rural area, and the zone for ecological preservation.
Circular Economy and Green Growth
The building of green cities is a worldwide challenge. An “exploiting, using, discarding” model is what Zhang Hai from the secretariat of the Conference summarized humanity’s previously established lifestyle as. The colossal amount of waste has already given urban managers worldwide a headache, therefore, a circular economy city focusing on “re-planning, re-storing, re-cycling” will promote the efficient use of resources, benefiting billions around the world.
Staff from the Housing and Urban-Rural Development Bureau of Sihong County in Suqian City of Jiangsu Province check the water quality near a sewage disposal plant.
Liupanshui City in Guizhou Province took a steady step in this field. Just like the other resource-dependent cities, which took off in the 1950s, Liupanshui confronted its worst ecological challenges when suspended solids in the air were 5.4 times that of the national average, and its forest acreage accounted for only 7.55 percent of the total area. Li Gang, mayor of the city, says that in recent years, the Liupanshui government coordinated its ecology, production, and activities of people’s daily life to manage them in a systematic way. As a result, pollutant discharge has reached the required standard, waste recycled, and damage to the environment repaired. By the end of 2017, the city’s forest coverage rate reached 56.94 percent, and the rate of good air quality in the city reached 94 percent.
Turku in Finland is a perfect example of what a circular economy is. Minna Arve, mayor of the city, informed the conference audience of the specific measures taken. First, a strict waste sorting methodology applied with garbage disposal fees charged, and next, recycling waste water and solid waste through new technologies, and lastly, promoting a shared economy, in which more manufacturing equipment and living facilities are shared to enhance efficiency.
Yokohama in Japan is another pioneer in this field which disposes off urban waste in an innovative way. The director of the Resources and Waste Recycling Bureau of the city said the city is now carrying out a 3R Dream Plan: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It collaborates with its citizens and businesses to reduce food wastage, reuse second-hand books, furniture, and tableware, and recycle home appliances among others.
Green Industry and Rural Revitalization
The countryside has a natural advantage in ecological development. Statistics from the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) show that presently, there are 4.6 billion mu (15 mu =1 hectare) of forests, 6 billion mu of grasslands, 0.8 billion mu of wetlands, and 0.8 billion mu of manageable sand in China. They work as a guarantee for a productive countryside and create jobs for farmers and herders.
The key to rural revitalization lies in transformation of this ecological advantage into local industrial strength. When speaking of rural green industries, Peng Youdong, vice chairman of NFGA, said that the supply-side structural reform had been deepened nationwide in the forestry industry with the “businesses+ cooperatives+farmers” mechanism introduced and improved; such green industries had boomed as tourism, economic forests, wood oil plants, and flowers, meeting people’s ever growing needs for a better life.
In the eyes of Feng Jiaping, vice president of Chinese Forestry Industry Association (CFIA), a competitive green industry can change the destiny of a village or even a country. He cited three examples from China and Sweden. Baisha Village of Lin’an is situated in southeast China’s Zhejiang Province. As 96 percent of its land surface is covered by forests, the villagers seized the opportunity to develop its tourist industry; as a result, the annual per capita disposable income reached RMB 50,000. Another successful story happened in the Loess Plateau in the north of Shaanxi Province. In the 1990s, its 27 counties were built into apple orchard bases, which solved the soil erosion problem, and also brought a return on investment as a quarter of the apples sold in China and one in seven in the world are grown here.
Another example is Sweden, where oil was dominant in the 1970s as the primary energy source. Sweden set the development of bioenergy from forest biomass as a national strategy and three decades later, bioenergy surpassed oil as the leading energy source, making up 31.7 percent of its total energy consumption. This success brings Sweden new opportunities in different areas till this day and provides critical blueprints to redesign and rebuild human society to pursue sustainable lifestyles in harmony with the environment and the ecosystem. Such steps are essential for securing a habitable planet and functional ecosystem for future generations.