Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has taken seriously the issue of environmental protection from a global and strategic standpoint, introducing a series of new thoughts, strategies, and requirements for the construction of ecological civilization, deepening reforms, and strengthening law enforcement in ecological preservation and environmental protection. China’s environmental conditions have been historically and fundamentally improved, with solid steps taken in implementing the Beautiful China Initiative.
I. The thought on ecological civilization has improved China’s environmental protection system
1. Guiding role of Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization
The 18th CPC National Congress incorporated “ecological civilization” into the five-pronged development of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 18th CPC National Congress established the new development concept that features innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared development.
The 19th CPC National Congress reaffirmed that China would adhere to the harmonious coexistence between man and nature, which was included as one of the 14 basic strategies for developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era; and set the goal of building a “Beautiful China”.
At the same time, the Party Constitution has incorporated the concept that “lush mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets” together with the New Development Concept, Ecological Civilization and the Beautiful China Initiative, all of which have contributed enormously to China’s ecological preservation and environmental protection.
At the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection held on May 18, 2018, General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered an important speech, answering major theoretical and practical questions such as “why build an ecological civilization, what kind of ecological civilization to build, and how to build an ecological civilization”. The Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization was officially established as the fundamental guidance for the country’s campaign to build a “Beautiful China” and achieve harmonious coexistence between man and nature.
2. Improvement of the environmental protection system
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, theOpinions on Accelerating the Construction of Ecological Civilizationand theGeneral Plan for Reforming the Ecological Civilization Systemhave been released. More than 30 laws and administrative regulations in the field have been formulated or revised, and a legal and regulatory system covering all fields of environmental protection has been established.
3. Greater contribution to global environmental governance
Since the 18th CPC National Congress, China has actively promoted and led the global negotiation process on climate change that resulted in the eventual signing of the Paris Climate Agreement. China also made the solemn commitment to peak its carbon emission by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. In addition, China is actively promoting the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China held the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity which led to the announcement of the Kunming Declaration; organized the 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (COP14); and built the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC) and the Belt and Road Initiative Environmental Big Data Platform, contributing Chinese concept and wisdom to global environmental governance.
II. China has launched a full fight against pollution and greatly improved its environmental quality
1. Important victory of the fight for “blue sky, lucid water, and clean soil”
In 2021, the share of coal in China’s primary energy mix dropped to 56.0%, down 12.5% from 2012; the proportion of clean energy consumption increased to 25.5%; the installed capacity of and electricity generated by photovoltaic and wind power ranked first in the world; the rate of clean heating in northern areas reached 73.6%; steel plants with a total of about 680 million tons of crude steel capacity are under low-carbon transformation; 1 billion kilowatts of coal-fired power units have achieved ultra-low emission, making China the country with the world’s largest clean coal-fired power system; coal-fired boilers of less than 35 steam tons have been phased out in key regions, and boilers with a capacity above 65 steam tons have been renovated for ultra-low emission.
As of 2021, polluted rivers in 295 cities at the prefecture level or above had been treated; all 10,638 rural water sources nationwide supplying 1,000 tons of water per day or serving more than 10,000 people were designated as protected areas; pollution surveys were completed covering all the tributary mouths on the Yangtze River, the outfall of the Yellow River in the Bohai Sea, the river mouths on the upper stream of the Yellow River and some sections of its middle reaches. A special campaign to rectify sewage treatment facilities was organized covering all the industrial parks along the Yangtze River, and 1,064 industrial parks had built centralized sewage treatment facilities.
Soil pollution surveys of agricultural land and corporate land in key industries have been completed, and all 2,783 agriculture-related departments at the county level have completed the classification of arable land by soil quality. Since 2018, China has launched a campaign against smuggling of used electronic products from overseas for four consecutive years, bringing down such imports to zero. At the same time, the “waste cleaning” campaign along the Yangtze River Economic Belt has been organized for three consecutive years, cleaning up 56.8 million tons of solid waste.
2. Environmental quality continues to improve
In 2021, the average percentage of clean-air days in 339 prefecture-level cities and above hit 87.5%, 6.3 percentage points higher than in 2015; 218 cities met the air quality standards, accounting for 64.3%, up 35% over 2015. The average concentration of the six basic pollutants had decreased year by year, of which, the concentration of PM2.5 was 30 μg/m3, down 34.8% from 2015; the concentration of O₃ was 137 μg/m3, down for the second consecutive year. Air pollution prevention and control have improved significantly in major regions, and the proportion of clear-air days in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the Yangtze River Delta increased by 13.5 and 8.0 percentage points respectively against 2015, far outperforming the national average.
III. Strengthened efforts in ecological protection and effective results in ecological restoration
1. Steady improvement of ecological conditions
The Ninth National Forest Resources Inventory (2014-2018) shows that, as of 2018, China’s forest coverage had reached 22.96%, forest area had hit 220.5 million hectares, and forest accumulation had amounted to 17.6 billion cubic meters. Compared with the Eighth National Forest Resources Inventory (2009-2013), forest coverage increased by 1.33 percentage points, forest area increased 12.8 million hectares and forest accumulation increased 2.4 billion cubic meters, and the forest area and forest accumulation have grown steadily for 30 consecutive years. In terms of grassland resources, from 2013 to 2021, the Chinese government invested more than 170 billion yuan to incentivize the ecological protection of grassland, nearly 267 million hectares of grassland was put under protection. China also launched a restoration campaign for its grassland, designating a total of 253 million hectares of grassland for protection, and natural grassland coverage had reached 56.1%. In terms of wetland resources, from 2013-2021, the Chinese government invested 16.9 billion yuan for more than 3,400 wetland preservation projects, adding or restoring more than 800,000 hectares of wetlands, designating 64 wetlands of international importance, and wetland protection and restoration have entered a new stage.
The nature reserve system in China has continued to improve. A total of 10 national park pilot projects were rolled out, construction of the first batch of national parks and the integration of nature reserves was kicked off, and a nature reserve system centering on natural parks has basically been established. At present, the total area of nature reserves accounts for about 18% of the country’s land territory, with 5 national parks and 41 world geoparks, and the number of world geoparks has steadily ranked first in the world.
2. Great progress in ecological protection and restoration
China has actively implemented the “green land” campaign and advanced key projects such as the Three Northern Protected Forests, Natural Forest Protection, Returning Cultivated Land to Forests and Grasses, Returning Grazing Land to Grasses, and Containing Sandstorm Sources of the Beijing-Tianjin area. Total afforestation area reached 59.4 million hectares from 2013 to 2021, including 32.2 million hectares of artificial afforestation, accounting for 54.2% of the total. Voluntary tree-planting activities were carried out in all forms across the country. Quality of forests was significantly improved, with an average of 8.3 million hectares of forest added each year. China has also designated 152 national forest cities and a great number of forest villages.
From 2013 to 2021, a total of 17.27 million hectares of desert was harnessed; a total of 1.9 million hectares of forestation was added to the north of the Beijing-Tianjin area, fixating 66,000 hectares of sand dunes; the total area of sandy land under closed-off protection reached 1.8 million hectares; 41 national demonstration areas for desertification containment and 125 national desert parks have been built.
IV. Better living environment with green and low carbon lifestyle becoming new trend
1. Continuous improvement of living environment in both rural and urban areas
In 2020, total investment in urban environmental infrastructure reached 523.6 billion yuan, an increase of 36.2% over 2012, among which investment in sewage treatment and recycling and waste treatment increased 2.7 times and 5.4 times respectively; daily treatment capacity of urban sewage plants reached 192.7 million cubic meters, up 64.2% over 2012; sewage treatment rate hit 97.5%, up 10.2 percentage points; harmless treatment capacity of domestic waste reached 963,000 tons/day, an increase of 115.9% over 2012.
In 2020, green coverage in urban built-up areas reached 42.1%, up 2.5 percentage points over 2012; green space rate in built-up areas hit 38.2%, up 2.5 percentage points over 2012.
Improvement of rural habitat is in full swing. China has held firmly to the bottom line of drinking water safety. In 2021, tap water penetration rate in rural areas reached 84%, 8 percentage points higher than in 2015. A “toilet revolution” was rolled out in rural areas, and over 40 million rural toilets have been upgraded since 2018. In 2021, the penetration rate of sanitary toilet exceeded 70%.
2. Green lifestyle is leading the trend
Low-carbon travel is becoming more convenient with an improved public transportation system. In 2021, mileage of urban rail transit in operation reached about 8,736 km, an increase of about 3.2 times over the end of 2012; public buses driven by new energy had accounted for more than 66% of all public buses running in cities; 318 cities at or above the prefecture level now support one-card-for-all public transportation means. China also had a total of more than 19 million shared bikes, with an average daily order volume exceeding 45 million. New energy vehicles have shown a momentum of explosive growth, too, as of the end of 2021, the number of new energy vehicles had reached 7.8 million, an increase of about 5.6 times compared with the end of 2016; accounting for 2.6% of the total number of vehicles, up 2.0 percentage points; sales of new energy vehicles reached 3.5 million, an increase of about 5.9 times.
Green lifestyle has become the new fashion. China has promoted the garbage sorting campaign in an orderly manner, and sorting of domestic garbage has been fully practiced in cities at or above the prefecture-level. As of the end of 2021, a total of 263,900 residential communities in 297 cities had carried out domestic garbage sorting. Since the launch of the “clean plate” campaign in 2013, the social atmosphere of saving food has been created, and theAnti-Food Waste Lawhas provided additional legal support for the campaign.