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Xi Jinping:Pushing China’s Development of an Ecological Civilization to a New Stage

Submit Time:18-10-2019 | Zoom In | Zoom Out

Author:Xi Jinping | Source:English Edition of QiuShi Journal April-June 2019|Vol.11,No.2,Issue No.39

Abstract:


I. Recognizing the importance of stepping up development of an ecological civilization
Building an ecological civilization is vital for sustaining the development of the Chinese nation. The Chinese people have always revered and loved nature, and China’s 5000-year-long civilization embodies a rich ecological cultural component. The Book of Changes states, “We look at the ornamental figures of the sky, and thereby ascertain the changes of the seasons. We look at the ornamental observances of society, and understand how the processes of transformation are accomplished all under heaven,” and, “the ruler divides and completes the course of heaven and earth; he furthers and regulates the gifts of heaven and earth, and so aids the people.” The Dao De Jing states, “Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Dao. The law of the Dao is its being what it is.” The Mencius states, “If the seasons of husbandry be not interfered with, the grain will be more than can be eaten. If close nets are not allowed to enter the pools and ponds, the fish and turtles will be more than can be consumed. If the axes and bills enter the hill-forests only at the proper times, the wood will be more than can be used.” The Xunzi states, “Axes must not enter the forest when the plants and trees are flourishing, lest their lives be cut short.” The Manual of Important Arts for the People, a sixth-century agricultural encyclopedia, states, “Act according to the seasons and the nature of the land, and you will enjoy great success through little effort.” These concepts all stress the importance of uniting heaven, earth, and man, following the rules of nature, and using what nature has to offer with patience and restraint, and show that our ancestors well understood the need to properly handle the relationship between man and nature.

Environmental concepts were elevated to the level of state institutions in China at a very early time in history. A special organization overseeing the mountains, forests, rivers, and marshes was established, and it instituted relevant policies and decrees through the warden system. In the Rites of Zhou, it is recorded that wardens were responsible for protecting the natural environment by restricting access to certain areas and enforcing relevant prohibitions. During the Qin (221-206 BC) and Han (206 BC-AD 220) dynasties, there were separate officers responsible for forests, rivers, shorelines, gardens, and farmlands, and the warden system in fact carried on all the way to the Qing Dynasty. Many of China’s dynasties had laws for the protection of nature, and violators of these laws faced severe punishment. For example, the order issued by King Wen of Zhou (1152-1056 BC) on the attack of Chong said, “It is forbidden to destroy houses, close wells, cut trees, or disturb animals. Those who do not comply with this order shall be put to death.”
A civilization may thrive if its natural surroundings thrive, and will suffer if its natural surroundings suffer. The natural environment is the basis of human survival and development, and changes to it directly impact the rise and fall of civilizations. The four great ancient civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, India, and China all began in regions with thick forests, abundant water, and fertile soil. The surging Yangtze and Yellow rivers formed the cradle of the Chinese nation, and nurtured our country’s development into a magnificent civilization. Meanwhile, environmental degradation, particularly severe desertification, led to the decline of ancient Egypt and Babylon. Some areas of China also went through painful lessons in ancient times. For example, the desert sands swallowed up the once glorious and lush kingdom of Loulan. The Hexi Corridor and the Loess Plateau also once boasted adequate vegetation and water, but excessive deforestation to open up land for cultivation caused severe environmental damage, which in turn aggravated economic decline. The gradual shift of China’s economic centers to the east and south of the country since the middle of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was largely a result of environmental changes in western China.

On May 4, 2018, we held a ceremony marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. During the ceremony, I made a point of saying that in studying Marx, we must study and practice Marxist thought on the relationship between man and nature. Marx and Engels believed that “man lives on nature,” and that humans produce, live, and develop through their interactions with nature. If humans treat nature kindly, then nature will repay that kindness. However, “If man, by dint of his knowledge and inventive genius, has subdued the forces of nature, the latter avenge themselves upon him.” In Dialectics of Nature, Engels wrote, “The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centers and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons.”
With history as a mirror, one can understand the rise and fall of a state. The reason why I have repeatedly emphasized the importance of taking environmental issues seriously and handling them properly is that China’s environmental capacity is limited, our ecosystems are vulnerable, and we have still not achieved a fundamental reversal of environmental conditions that cause heavy pollution, significant damage, and high risk. Meanwhile, our unique geographical surroundings have exacerbated interregional imbalances. The land to the southeast of the Heihe-Tengchong Line accounts for 43% of China’s total area, but is home to about 94% of its population. Dominated by plains, rivulets, low mountains, hills, and karst landforms, this part of China is under immense environmental pressure. The land to the northwest of the line accounts for 57% of China’s total area, but is home to only about 6% of our population. Dominated by grasslands, the Gobi Desert, oases, and snowy plateaus, the ecosystems in this part of the country are extremely fragile. This is a very important aspect to consider when we talk about China’s national conditions.

Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC held in 2012, we have made building an ecological civilization a major component of coordinated implementation of the five-sphere integrated plan and the four-pronged comprehensive strategy. We have carried out a long list of creative, forward-thinking, and fundamentally important work and introduced a whole series of new concepts, ideas, and strategies, and thus the notion of an ecological civilization has increasingly taken root in the hearts of the people. As our efforts to control pollution have intensified, we have seen unprecedented progress in terms of the frequency with which new systems for environmental governance have emerged, the rigor with which oversight and enforcement has been carried out, and the rate at which the environment has improved. Therefore, our efforts to promote environmental protection have gone through a historic turnaround with wide-ranging implications.
I have always seen our environmental work as being extremely important. When working in places such as Zhengding, Xiamen, Ningde, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Shanghai, I always made environmental work one of my prime areas of focus. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, I have delivered several comments and instructions on incidents that caused serious damage to the environment as well as on promoting well-coordinated environmental conservation and avoiding excessive development in the Yangtze River Economic Belt. I have requested that competent authorities be rigorous in their investigation and handling of environmental issues and not let up until these issues have been completely resolved. By doing so, we will ensure that pristine environments are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and that the security and stability of all types of natural ecosystems are maintained.

Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, we have comprehensively boosted reform and accelerated the development of top-level design and a system of institutions for an ecological civilization. In this process, we have introduced the Guidelines on Accelerating Ecological Civilization and the Integrated Reform Plan for Promoting Ecological Civilization, and formulated more than 40 reform plans regarding ecological development. We have thus made comprehensive and systematic arrangements for building an ecological civilization covering areas such as overall objectives, basic concepts, main principles, key tasks, and institutional safeguards. We have launched and implemented systems with functions including the assessment of ecological development targets, the audit of natural resource assets under an official’s purview when officials leave their posts, and the enforcement of accountability for environmental damage. Meanwhile, the system of main functional zones has gradually improved. Faster progress has been made with environmental governance systems including those for vertical management of monitoring, supervision, and enforcement activities conducted by environmental protection agencies at the sub-provincial level, and for controlling the quality of environmental monitoring data. We have also made progress with regard to emission permits, the river and lake chief systems, and the prohibition on importing foreign refuse into China. Meanwhile, the formulation and implementation of economic policies on environmental issues such as green finance reform, the drafting of balance sheets for natural resource assets, the levy of environmental protection taxes, and compensation for environmental protection has progressed smoothly. Our efforts to control air pollution in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and protect the environment in the Yangtze River Economic Belt have gradually shown results. We have also drafted and revised laws including the Environmental Protection Law and the Environmental Protection Tax Law, as well as laws on nuclear safety and the prevention and control of air and water pollution. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the Supreme People’s Court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate have defined the criteria for determining criminal liability with regard to environmental pollution and ecological destruction and made punishments more severe, thus forming a powerful deterrent against such crimes.

The central environmental protection inspection system is a particular example of an institution that is solid and put to good use. It is prepared to take real action and do what is necessary, and once it looks into a particular issue it will not let go until the issue is resolved. It has therefore become a practical and effective tool for pushing local CPC committees and governments as well as their relevant departments to fulfill their environmental protection obligations.

We have put great energy into promoting green development, and achieved marked results. We have optimized the layout of China’s territorial space, and set red lines for environmental protection in 15 provincial-level units including Ningxia and those in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Economic Belt. Deeper progress has been made with supply-side structural reform, the industrial structure has constantly improved, a large number of highly polluting enterprises have withdrawn from operation in an orderly manner, and scattered, non-compliant, and polluting industries in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and its surrounding areas have been put under unprecedented scrutiny. We have seen positive changes take place in energy consumption patterns, and China has become the world’s largest user of new and renewable sources of energy. We have made effective progress with our efforts to conserve resources across the board, and the intensity of resource consumption has fallen markedly.

We have moved forward with implementation of three major action plans for preventing and controlling air, water, and soil pollution. China was the first major developing country in the world to launch a large-scale PM2.5 control program, and has also built the world’s largest wastewater treatment capacity. Average concentration of inhalable particulate matter (PM10) in 338 cities at or above the prefectural level throughout China fell by 22.7% between 2013 and 2017, average PM2.5 concentration in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region dropped by 39.6%, and that in Beijing decreased from 89.5 micrograms per cubic meter to 58 micrograms per cubic meter. The proportion of surface water body sections under the national monitoring program that met Grade I-III water quality standards rose to 67.9%, while the proportion of those failing to meet Grade V standard fell to 8.3%. Meanwhile, forest coverage rose from about 16.6% at the beginning of the century to about 22% today.

China has shown great initiative through its release of China’s National Plan on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, its implementation of China’s National Plan on Climate Change (2014-2020), and its submission of documents ratifying the Paris Agreement to the UN. China accounts for more than half of the elimination of ozone-depleting substances by developing countries, making it the world’s largest contributor to protection of the ozone layer. In 2017, the Belt and Road International Green Development Coalition was established with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme and other international organizations.

Through untiring effort, China has seen consistent improvement in environmental quality. However, we must be soberly aware that in our efforts to build an ecological civilization, we face grave challenges, immense pressure, and prominent contradictions. The situation remains extremely serious, since in order to make progress there are still many difficult obstacles that we must overcome, tough problems that we must face, and long-standing issues that we must resolve.

Although environmental quality in China is continuing to take a turn for the better and showing trends of steady improvement, the results are still tenuous. The situation is much like rowing a boat against the current; if we let up even slightly then we risk undoing all of the progress we have made. Our efforts to build an ecological civilization are now in a crucial phase in which we must carry forward despite heavy strain and immense pressure, a decisive stage in which we will supply more high-quality ecological goods to meet the growing demands of the people for a pristine environment, and also a period of opportunity in which we have the conditions and abilities necessary to resolve prominent environmental issues. China’s economy has already begun shifting from a stage of rapid growth to one of high-quality growth, and there are thus a number of both conventional and unconventional hurdles that must be overcome. This is a process of rebirth, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. If we do not act now, these issues will bring about even graver consequences as they become more difficult and costly to resolve, so we must grit our teeth and conquer the challenges that lie ahead.

Achieving moderate prosperity throughout society by 2020 is our Party’s solemn commitment to the people. We cannot say that moderate prosperity has been achieved while environmental quality remains poor, otherwise this statement would not win the people’s approval or stand up to the test of time. No matter the difficulty, we must not flinch or hesitate. In the battle to prevent and control pollution, we must have the determination to make painful changes, the courage to stand and fight, and the will to commit every last ounce of our effort. Party committees and governments at all levels must take the initiative to incorporate construction of an ecological civilization into plans for economic and social development. We must ensure that Party committees provide leadership, governments give direction, enterprises bear responsibility, and members of the public can participate, and firmly reject the old path of polluting first and fixing it later or any growth model that would damage or destroy the environment. To resolve environmental issues, we must fully exert the political strength of CPC leadership and China’s socialist system which can bring together the resources necessary to take on great tasks, take full advantage of the solid material foundations built up over 40 years of reform and opening up, and step up our efforts to build an ecological civilization.

II. Principles that must be upheld in strengthening development of an ecological civilization
The environment is a major political issue which bears upon the mission and purpose of the CPC as well as a major social issue which bears upon public wellbeing. The CPC has always attached great importance to ecological conservation, establishing resource conservation and environmental protection as fundamental state policies and making sustainable development a national strategy. As we have made further progress and gained socioeconomic development, our understanding of the overall plan for building Chinese socialism has grown. It started from the distinction between material and non-material culture before transforming into the “Three-Pronged” overall plan, which covered economic, political, and cultural development. This grew to four prongs with the addition of social development, and finally five prongs with the addition of ecological development. This was a process of great theoretical and practical innovation, which profoundly transformed how we think about and how we go about development.

The primary contradiction in Chinese society has transformed into that between imbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s growing needs for a better life, and now the people’s demands for a beautiful environment have already become an important aspect of this challenge, with the public eagerly awaiting faster improvements in environmental quality. The goal of the CPC is to help the people reach the better lives for which they are yearning, and its mission as the governing party is to resolve problems that are of the greatest, most direct, and most practical concern to the people. Public sentiment is the greatest test of political efficacy. We must actively respond to the people’s desires, hopes, and anxieties, vigorously advance development of an ecological civilization, provide more high-quality ecological goods, and consistently meet the people’s growing demands for a beautiful environment.

Humanity is a community with a shared future, and thus protecting the environment is a challenge and a duty which all of us around the globe must face together. If development of an ecological civilization goes smoothly, it will be an achievement of Chinese socialism, otherwise the reverse will be used as an excuse by forces with hidden agendas to attack us. After humanity entered the industrial age, traditional industrialization unfolded at an incredible pace. This created immense material wealth, but also accelerated the scramble for natural resources and disrupted the original balance and cycles within the earth’s ecosystems, and thereby caused the relationship between man and nature to become strained. Beginning in the 1930s, a number of Western countries experienced multiple environmental disasters. Shocking the world with the massive losses that they caused, these events led people to reflect deeply on the capitalist model of development. In over two centuries of modernization, no more than 30 countries have industrialized, with a combined population of less than a billion. China is the world’s largest developing country with a population of more than 1.3 billion, and therefore our efforts to build an ecological civilization and turn China into a strong and modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and beautiful will be global in their impact.

Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, our Party has thoroughly answered important theoretical and practical questions concerning the how, what, and why of ecological civilization, and introduced a whole series of new concepts, ideas, and strategies. To develop an ecological civilization in the new era, the following principles must be upheld.
The first principle is that harmonious coexistence between humans and nature must be upheld.
Man and nature form a biotic community with a shared future. The environment has no substitute, and we may not realize how truly precious it is until it is damaged to the point of being unsalvageable. To borrow the words of ancient masters, “Heaven, Earth, and I were produced together, and all things and I are one.” “Heaven does not speak, yet the four seasons move in order. Earth does not speak, yet the myriad beings come to life.” When humans use nature in a reasonable manner and protect it with care, then nature will typically reward them generously. However, when humans exploit nature indiscriminately and aggressively plunder its resources, then nature will be ruthless in its punishment. By harming nature, humans are ultimately harming themselves – this is an irrefutable truth. As Xunzi said, “Each of the myriad things must be in a harmonious relation with Heaven in order to grow, and each must obtain from Heaven the proper nurture in order to become complete.” There are numerous vivid examples of this, such as the Dujiang Weirs. This great water conservancy project was built more than 2000 years ago during the Warring States Period according to the flooding patterns of the Minjiang River and the topographical characteristics of Chengdu with its flat plains and rivers prone to overflow. It was beneficial not only at the time, but also for countless generations that have followed.

Throughout the process of development, we must prioritize environmental conservation and protection and put the restoration of nature first. We cannot think about what we can take from nature without considering how we can give back to it; we cannot think about development while ignoring our responsibility to protect the environment; and we cannot think about how we can use nature without looking at how he can restore it. We should protect our natural environment in the same way we would protect our own wellbeing, focusing on taking more positive measures that will provide solid foundations and long-term benefits, concrete steps that will help protect and restore the environment, and effective actions that will clean up our surroundings and reveal their natural beauty. This will allow the people to be close to mountains and waters and recall their rural roots with fond memories, ensure that pristine natural vistas are never too far away, and preserve the serenity, harmony, and beauty of nature.

The second principle is that our natural environment is precious.

This is an important concept for development, and a major principle for advancing modernization. The phrase “green is gold” has expounded the relationship between economic development and environmental protection and shown us the truth that by protecting the environment we are protecting productive forces, and that by improving the environment we are developing productive forces. It has therefore pointed out a new path for achieving coordination between development and conservation. Lucid waters and lush mountains are not only examples of natural and ecological wealth, but they are also social and economic assets. By protecting nature, we are safeguarding the value of the environment and increasing environmental capital, while also safeguarding the potential for future economic and social development, ensuring that our natural assets have lasting ecological and socioeconomic effects.
At their roots, environmental problems are problems with the ways in which we live and develop. In order to resolve them at the fundamental level, we must implement principled development that is innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared, and accelerate the formation of spatial patterns, industrial structures, modes of production, and lifestyles conducive to resource conservation and environmental protection. We must also keep economic activities and human activity in general within the limits of what our environment and natural resources can bear, giving the environment the time and space that it needs to rest and recuperate. We must move faster to define and enforce strict controls including red lines for environmental protection, minimum standards for environmental quality, and ceilings on resource utilization. We will absolutely not allow people to continue to engage in activities that violate these controls, follow old extensive models of growth, or seek short-term gain at the expense of future generations. In terms of red lines for environmental protection, we should establish a strict system of controls that covers important ecological spaces so that these spaces do not change in character, become smaller, or lose ecological functions. In terms of minimum standards for environmental quality, we should make it the basic requirement that environmental quality must not worsen and may only get better. We should strive for constant improvements on this basis, and strictly enforce accountability in areas with serious ecological degradation or where environmental quality has worsened. In terms of ceilings on resource utilization, we must consider not only the needs of people and the world today, but also those of the environment and future generations. We must keep a firm handle on the intensity with which we exploit and utilize natural resources, ensuring that we do not exceed the carrying capacity of these resources.

The third principle is that there is no welfare more universally beneficial than a sound natural environment.

In all things, we must act according to the will of the public. The environment is crucial to the wellbeing of the public, since blue skies and verdant surroundings allow us to feel the beauty and joy of life. Just as economic development is for the wellbeing of the people, so is environmental protection. In addition to creating more material and cultural wealth to meet people’s growing needs for a better life, we need also to provide more quality ecological goods to meet people’s growing demands for a beautiful environment. We must ensure that the environment benefits the people, stressing the resolution of prominent environmental problems that impact public health, accelerating the improvement of environmental quality, and providing more high-quality ecological goods as we strive to achieve social equity and justice and consistently meet the people’s growing needs for a beautiful environment.
Since developing an ecological civilization is a cause in which the entire public participates and has a stake, we must translate the idea of building a beautiful China into the conscious actions of all people. Every person is a protector, contributor, and beneficiary of the environment. No one can remain aloof, choosing to critique from the sidelines rather than participate. We must boost all people’s awareness of the need to conserve resources, protect the environment, and maintain our ecosystems, foster standards for ecological ethics and conduct, launch public activities promoting sustainability, and encourage all members of society to contribute to protecting the environment by cutting down on the amount of pollution they produce and energy and resources they consume as much as possible.
The fourth principle is that our mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes and grasslands together form a biotic community.

An ecosystem is an integrated natural entity made up of organic chains that are tightly bound and dependent on each other. Just as humans need the fields for food, the fields need the rivers, the rivers need the mountains, the mountains need the soils, and the soils need the forests and grasslands. This biotic community is the material basis for humanity’s subsistence and development. We must take all of the ways that we impact nature into account from a broad and long-term perspective, and avoid being penny-wise and pound-foolish, biting off more than we can chew or emphasizing one thing while neglecting another, for this would ultimately cause long-term environmental damage on a system-wide scale.

We must seek out a new path for environmental governance by treating it as a systematic project and looking at it from an overall perspective. Rather than continuing to treat superficial symptoms through stopgap measures with government departments each looking out for their own immediate problems while holding each other back, we must make plans that take all factors into consideration and simultaneously implement multiple comprehensive measures to ensure that our efforts to build an ecological civilization permeate all fields, regions, and processes. For example, to effectively control water pollution and protect our aquatic environments, we must take everything into account, such as entire bodies of water and the lands that surround them, both surface and subsurface sources of water, both rivers and oceans, both aquatic ecosystems and aquatic resources, and both the prevention and control of pollution and the protection of ecosystems. By doing so, we will attain the optimal results of systematic environmental governance. We must thoroughly implement integrated ecological protection and restoration for mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, and grasslands, carry out large-scale national greening campaigns, and accelerate comprehensive control of soil erosion and desertification. In promoting growth of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, we must ensure well-coordinated environmental protection, avoid excessive development, put the environment first, remain committed to green development, and make it a precondition that all related economic activities do not damage the environment.

The fifth principle is that the strictest regulations and laws must be applied in protecting the environment.

Environmental protection must have legal and regulatory backing. Most of China’s outstanding problems in environmental protection are related to inadequate systems, lax regulations, imperfect laws, lacking enforcement, and ineffectual punishment. We must accelerate innovation of regulations, ensuring that they offer more, have adequate peripheral support, and that they are rigorously enforced. By doing so, we will turn our regulations into rigid and inviolable constraints. We must use our regulations to check the use of power, protect blue skies and increase green coverage, and ensure accountability, thus guaranteeing that the CPC Central Committee’s decisions and arrangements on building an ecological civilization are firmly implemented and produce real results.

As Han Feizi said, “When those who uphold the law are strong, the state is strong; when they are weak, the state is weak.” Institutions depend on concrete enforcement and rigorous oversight. We have already introduced a series of reform measures and related institutions, and these must be implemented with the same intensity as central environmental protection inspections. The rigidity and authority of these institutions must be firmly established, leaving no room for choice, flexibility, or compromise. We must implement a system under which officials bear the responsibility for building an ecological civilization, and ensure that they are accountable through strict assessments. We must hold to account on a permanent basis those who cause serious consequences through blind decisions that disregard the environment. When dealing with actions that damage the environment, we must not be soft or make exceptions. Instead, we must keep a forceful grip on representative cases of environmental destruction and send out a signal that such behavior will be met with harsh punishment. Accountability must be ensured, no matter the person, place, or time frame being investigated. We must persist in getting to the bottom of these issues, and never let our institutions and regulations become “toothless tigers.”

The sixth principle is that joint efforts must be made in building a global ecological civilization.

Development of an ecological civilization concerns the future of humanity, and building a green living environment is humanity’s common aspiration. The whole world must work together to protect the environment and respond to climate change. No country can ignore these issues, and no country will fare well by going it alone. China has already become a major participant, contributor, and champion in the movement to build a global ecological civilization, advocating the cultivation of ecosystems in which Mother Nature and green development come first, and promoting joint efforts toward making the world cleaner and more beautiful. We must be deeply involved in global environmental governance, build China’s say and influence in the global environmental governance system, actively guide the transformation of the international order, and create solutions for environmental protection and sustainable development around the world. We must remain committed to being environmentally friendly, and take an active role in international cooperation on climate change. Finally, we must drive the Belt and Road Initiative forward, seeing that the principles and practices of ecological civilization benefit the peoples of all countries along the B&R route.


III. Waging a determined battle to prevent and control pollution

In the report to the 19th National Congress of the CPC in 2017, I said that we must focus on priorities, address inadequacies, and shore up points of weakness, and stressed that we must take tough steps to forestall and defuse major risks, carry out targeted poverty alleviation, and prevent and control pollution, so that the moderately prosperous society we build earns the people’s approval and stands the test of time. Now is the time for us to focus our strength and adopt more effective measures and policies to make sure that we are up to the fight in preventing and controlling pollution.

First, we must move faster to build systems for an ecological civilization.

In order to expedite the resolution of environmental problems during the historic convergence of the Two Centenary Goals, we must act quickly to establish the following ecologically focused systems: a cultural system in which environmental concepts and values are norms, an economic system aimed at integrating industries and ecosystems, a system of responsibilities and objectives centered on improving environmental quality, a system of institutions backed by modernized governance systems and capacity, and a safety system that emphasizes the maintenance of well-functioning ecosystems and the effective prevention and control of environmental risks.

By moving faster to build systems for an ecological civilization, we will bring marked increases to the quality and effectiveness of China’s economic development, and guarantee that spatial patterns, industrial structures, modes of production, and lifestyles conducive to resource conservation and environmental protection have totally taken shape by 2035. We will also see that fundamental improvements are made in environmental quality, that modernization of our national governance systems and capacity in the environmental sphere is basically achieved, and that the goals of the Beautiful China Initiative are essentially met. By the middle of the century, we will reach our objective of building a strong and modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, civilized, harmonious, and beautiful, and complete all-round improvements in the material, political, intellectual, social, and ecological domains. At that time, environmentally friendly ways of living and developing will be fully formed, humans and nature will coexist in harmony, modernization of our national governance systems and capacity in the environmental field will be fully realized, and our efforts to build a beautiful China will be successful.

Second, we must promote green development across the board.

Green is the symbol of life and the color of nature, but it also represents the foundations of a better life and the expectations of the people. Green development is an integral component of the new development philosophy alongside innovation, coordination, openness, and sharing, and is essential for achieving comprehensive transformation and establishing a modern and high-quality economic system. The objective of green development is to transform traditional wasteful models of production and consumption and make factors such as resources, production, and consumption match up and adapt to each other so that we may achieve coordination and integration between socioeconomic development and environmental protection and ensure harmony between people and nature.

Fostering green modes of development is the key to resolving our pollution problems. Environmental quality will only go up if emissions of pollutants at the source come down. We must adjust the economic and energy structures in order to both raise the level of economic development and reduce the amount of pollution released. We must carry out environmental assessments of major plans involving economic policies and the distribution of industries, optimize the distribution of territorial space available for development, and adjust the distribution of industries within regions and river basins. We must foster growing industries that promote energy conservation and environmental protection, clean production, and clean energy, and develop efficient agricultural industries, advanced manufacturing industries, and modern service industries. We must promote all-round conservation and recycling of resources, and ensure that the systems of production and everyday life overlap in their circular use of resources.

Green ways of living relate to the basic needs of ordinary people, like food, clothing, shelter, and transportation. We must advocate a green and low-carbon lifestyle of moderation and frugality and oppose extravagance and unjustifiable consumption. We must carry out extensive campaigns to build conservation-minded public offices, engage in activities to promote green modes of transportation, and develop eco-friendly families, schools, and communities. By revolutionizing our lifestyles to become more environmentally friendly, we will set off a shift toward greener production.

Third, we must make the resolution of environmental issues a priority for improving public wellbeing.

No matter how small or insignificant they may seem, any action that will benefit the people must be taken, and any issue that may endanger the people must be dealt with. In order for us to prevail in the battle to prevent and control pollution, we must fight a number of major and symbolic campaigns, concentrating our energy on overcoming prominent environmental problems that impact the people directly. At present, heavy smog, dark and fetid water bodies, growing heaps of urban waste, and deterioration of the rural environment have become problems that generate great public anxiety due to their serious harm to the lives of the people. These problems have also invited large amounts of comments and complaints from the people and even become significant factors that may lead to social instability, and therefore we must put every effort into finding solutions to them. We must pool our strength and mobilize the support of all involved, making the fight to prevent and control pollution a popular struggle in which we work as a team to push forward from one battle to the next.

We must make it a priority to win a decisive victory in the campaign to make our skies blue again. This is something that the people eagerly expect, as well as a commitment we have made to the international community as hosts of the 2022 Winter Olympics. We must strengthen joint efforts to prevent and control pollution, essentially eliminate heavy smog, and ensure that the people can once again see white clouds against a blue sky during the day and bright starts in a clear sky at night. In these efforts, we must focus on the main battlegrounds of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Region, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Fenwei Plain, putting particular emphasis on Beijing, and make it absolutely mandatory that we achieve marked improvements in air quality. We must adjust industrial structures, reduce excess and outdated production, and add new growth drivers. We must promote compliance with emission standards, reduce the amount of pollution discharged by key industries, and implement ultra-low emission upgrades in industries such as thermal power and steel. We must bring scattered, non-compliant, and polluting industries under control throughout the country, taking firm steps in which some are shut down, some are reformed and upgraded, and some are moved into industrial parks. We must adjust the energy mix, cutting the share of coal and speeding up the development of clean energy. As we resolutely advance clean winter heating in northern China, we must be responsive to local conditions and adopt multiple concurrent measures, using electricity or natural gas wherever appropriate. We must expedite the development of systems for the production, supply, storage, and sale of natural gas, improve the layout of natural gas sources, boost interconnectivity in the pipeline network, and guarantee adequate gas supply. At the same time, we should offer subsidies and pricing support to ensure that heating is still accessible and affordable to ordinary people after the switch from coal to gas or electricity. We must step up eliminating small coal-fired boilers, suspend operations of some heavily polluting coal power units, and speed up the retrofitting and upgrading of power plants. We must adjust the transportation structure, shifting freight volume from highways to railways. We must focus on managing pollution from diesel trucks and push forward the reorganization and improvement of freight transport operations, promoting higher quality and efficiency, franchising, and large-scale growth.

We must thoroughly implement our action plan for preventing and controlling water pollution. We must guarantee the safety of drinking water, and make progress on the key tasks of safeguarding water sources, dealing with dark and fetid bodies of water in urban areas, improving the overall environment of the Bohai region, and protecting and restoring Yangtze River ecosystems. We must eliminate essentially all of the unpleasant pollution in urban waterways, so that the people can once again sit on green banks and enjoy waters so clear that fish can be seen swimming around in them. There are many issues in water management that need to be resolved, but an extremely urgent one is the need to rectify deficiencies in the collection and treatment of urban sewage since there are far too many unfulfilled obligations in this regard. According to information gleaned through environmental inspections carried out by the Central Government, large amounts of untreated sewage are released directly into nearby bodies of water, even in municipalities directly under the Central Government, developed provinces along the coast, and special economic zones. We must set hard targets and put in every effort so that we can achieve complete coverage for wastewater pipe networks and make sure that all sewage is collected and treated as early as possible. If we instead try to deal with the problem while continuing to release sewage untreated, then we will be putting in twice the effort for half the result.

We must also see that our action plan for preventing and controlling soil pollution is comprehensively executed, and push forward the formulation and implementation of the Law on the Prevention and Control of Soil Pollution. We must prioritize key regions, industries, and pollutants, boost the management and restoration of areas affected by soil pollution, effectively forestall risks, and make sure that people have peace of mind about what they eat and where they live. We must enforce a comprehensive ban on importing foreign refuse, and significantly reduce the amount and variety of solid waste that we import. We must crack down illegal acts that damage the environment with dangerous waste, and firmly restrict the illicit transfer, dumping, use, or disposal of such waste.

Rural areas are like back gardens of cities, and the environment in these areas has a direct impact on the food on our plates and water in our cups. With this in mind, we must adjust the structure of agricultural input, cut down on the amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides used, apply more organic fertilizer, and improve systems for recycling and disposing of old and used plastic mulch. We must continue carrying out campaigns to improve rural living environments, see that environmental remediation covers all administrative villages in China, and fundamentally resolve the garbage, sewage, and lavatory problems of rural areas so that we may build a beautiful countryside and preserve pleasant rural landscapes for the people.

Environmental protection and pollution prevention and control are inseparable issues due to how closely they interact with one another. They function like a fraction, with pollution prevention and control as the numerator and environmental protection as the denominator. Just like with any equation, we need to consider both sides: we must subtract from the numerator by reducing pollution levels, and add to the denominator by expanding the capacity of the environment. We must rigorously enforce red lines for environmental protection, keep watch over our ecosystems including mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, and grasslands, and achieve oversight on environmental issues at every stage of their development. Rather than rushing to redevelop urban land made available after the removal of illegal structures, we should turn it into green space, thereby ensuring that the people have access to pleasant leisure spaces.

Fourth, we must effectively forestall environmental risks.

Environmental security is a key component of national security, and an important safeguard for the continuation of healthy socioeconomic development. It is imperative that we take precautions so that we are prepared for the worst before it happens. We must always maintain a high level of vigilance, prevent the accumulation and spread of all types of environmental risks, and ensure that we are well prepared to face environmental risks or challenges of any kind.
We must make management of environmental risks a regular practice, carefully constructing a multi-leveled environmental risk prevention system that monitors these risks at every stage. We must conduct strict prevention and control of key environmental risks such as those stemming from garbage incineration and p-xylene, forestall and defuse problems related to the so-called “not in my back yard” effect, prevent this effect from cropping up in environmental protection projects, and focus on raising our capacity to deal with environmental emergencies. We must strengthen supervision over nuclear and radiation safety by improving oversight systems, refining oversight mechanisms, and upgrading oversight capacity, thus making sure that there are absolutely no missteps in this regard.

Fifth, we must move faster to ensure that structural reforms in the ecological domain are implemented and take effect.
Structural reform promoting ecological advancement is an important aspect of comprehensively furthering reform. With the resolution of prominent problems in the environmental domain as our goal, we must focus on implementing reform measures that have already been launched while also formulating new reform plans in a timely manner. We must see that measures related to ecological structural reform are put in place as soon as possible so that they may serve their intended functions. Central government inspections on environmental protection must be given greater resources so that they can push deeper and become more authoritative. We should explore sustainable and market-based ways to realize the value of ecological goods that feature government leadership and participation from enterprises and all social sectors, launching trials and accumulating experience in this regard. We need to improve our systems for credibility assessment based on environmental protection performance, for mandatory disclosure of environmental information, and for imposing severe punishment on violators of environmental regulations.

In the current campaign to bolster reform of Party and government institutions, the CPC Central Committee decided to establish the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. There were two main considerations in this decision. The first was the need to consolidate roles in pollution prevention and control in order to end the confusing division of responsibilities between different ministries and provide support for the fight to prevent and control pollution. The second was the need to strengthen integrated oversight and firmly enforce environmental protection red lines in order to promote ecological conservation and restoration. We must strengthen unified supervision over environmental protection and link together environmental conservation and pollution prevention and control, integrating our efforts across the spectrum from the surface to the underground, from the banks and shores to the rivers and lakes, from the land to the sea, from the cities to the countryside, and from carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide. Government departments responsible for environmental issues must effectively perform their duties, and take steps to standardize monitoring and assessment, oversight of law enforcement, accountability inspections, and the formulation of environmental policies, plans, and standards. We must establish coordinated law enforcement teams for environmental protection. In line with the principles of consolidating enforcement teams, raising their efficiency, and shortening their chains of command, we must optimize the assignment of functions to these teams and carry out unified enforcement of environmental protection law. We must improve environmental management systems for drainage basins and sea areas in all regions, promote trials to establish interregional environmental protection agencies, and consolidate the responsibilities of relevant government departments and local governments with regard to air quality management. We must expedite the establishment of environmental oversight and law enforcement bodies for drainage basins, and build greater synchronicity between environmental oversight and government law enforcement in these areas. We must refine environmental management systems in sea areas, setting up oversight bodies for each of these areas.

Sixth, we must improve environmental governance.

Environmental governance is a systematic project that requires the coordinated application of measures from multiple fields, including the government, the market, the rule of law, and science and technology. We must fully utilize market-based measures in order to make environmental protection more market based and leverage greater social capital in this regard. We must refine resource and environmental pricing mechanisms, taking ecological costs into account in economic operations. We must use various methods to encourage cooperation between government and private capital. Funds needed for environmental protection must be appropriated, and we must not pinch pennies on investment. We must be committed to matching funding with the tasks of pollution prevention and control. We must boost research on factors contributing to heavy air pollution, taking further steps to bring these factors under control, and overcome key scientific and technical hurdles including those related to major projects for improving the overall environment of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region. We must carry out dedicated, forward-looking research on the management of ozone, volatile organic compounds, and new pollutants, conduct research on how to deal with major environmental problems that impact socioeconomic development, and expedite the application of research achievements, thereby offering support for scientific decision making, environmental management, targeted pollution control, and public services. We must implement a national strategy for actively responding to climate change, promote and guide the establishment of a fair and equitable global climate governance system featuring mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance China’s image as a responsible major country, and push forward the development of a human community with a shared future.

IV. Strengthening CPC leadership in building an ecological civilization

The battle to prevent and control pollution is one in which we must act with urgency to overcome burdensome tasks and difficult challenges. In this bitter and unrelenting fight, it is essential that we strengthen the leadership of the CPC. The Decisions of the Central Committee of the CPC and the State Council on Comprehensively Enhancing Eco-environmental Protection to Completely Win the Battle Against Pollution introduced comprehensive plans for pollution prevention and control. All government departments and local authorities must raise their awareness of the need to maintain political integrity, think in terms of the big picture, follow the leadership core, and stay aligned with the center, firmly uphold the authority and centralized, unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee, undertake their political duties in building an ecological civilization with determined commitment, and fully implement the Central Committee’s decisions and plans.

Local CPC committee and government leaders bear primary responsibility for environmental protection and overall responsibility for environmental quality in their administrative districts. Therefore, they should personally make arrangements for important tasks, conduct inquires into major issues, coordinate work in key processes, and supervise cases of note, ensuring that duties are performed and directives are put into effect at all levels. All relevant departments must properly fulfill their environmental protection obligations and stay on top of environmental responsibilities in their jurisdictions, with departments in charge of development, production, and industry working with the understanding that they are also bound to protect the environment. We must move quickly to introduce a list of environmental protection responsibilities for the relevant departments of the CPC Central Committee and the Central Government so that all departments abide by their duties, coordinate with each other to effectively divide tasks, and put forth a concerted effort. People’s congresses at all levels and their standing committees must make building an ecological civilization a focal point of their work, conduct compliance inspections, and regularly hear and deliberate work reports from governments at the corresponding level.

We must establish empirical and rational evaluation and assessment systems, making the results of these assessments an important basis for decisions on rewarding, punishing, or promoting officials at all levels. We must put in place the strictest checks on accountability. Ancient Chinese wisdom tells us that the purpose of reward and punishment is to uphold virtue and condemn evil. Only by having the will to strictly and earnestly hold officials that harm the environment to account and making them bear responsibility for the rest of their lives can we ensure that our rules do not become superficial threats that bend at will with no substance to back them up. There are some areas which have seen numerous and incessant environmental problems, and despite being exposed and admonished, the Party and government officials responsible have not only just escaped punishment, but even been transferred and promoted to more important positions. This is absolutely absurd, and cannot be allowed to continue. We must put a spotlight on certain representative cases of negative behavior, particularly those involving damage to the environment. By rigorously investigating and strictly handling these cases, we will ascertain the truth of the facts and warn others against engaging in similar behavior.

We must foster a strong environmental protection corps composed of capable and uncompromising members with strong political consciousness and a willingness to take on responsibility who will fight through any hardship in their devotion to the cause. In the fight to prevent and control pollution, there are some that must face uncomfortable realities. Party committees and governments at all levels must show care and support for the development of our environmental protection corps, and actively assist officials who are ready and willing to take action.

The great responsibility of building an ecological civilization has already fallen upon the shoulders of our generation. The entire Party and people of all ethnic groups throughout the country must rally closely around the CPC Central Committee and work together as one as we face the challenges ahead, vigorously promote an ecological civilization, and strive to achieve moderate prosperity throughout society and open a new stage in the development of a beautiful China!

This speech was delivered by General Secretary Xi Jinping at the National Conference on Environmental Protection, May 18, 2018.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 3, 2019)

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