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Zhou Shengxian: Theoretical Innovation and Practice of Developing Ecological Civilization with Chinese Characteristics

Since the 16th Congress of the CPC, the Central Committee led by Secretary General Hu Jintao has upheld Scientific Outlook on Development to guide overall social economic development, stuck to the basic state policy of resource conservation and environmental protection and pressed ahead with the strategy of sustainable development. With much creativity, it identified the important proposition and strategic task of building ecological civilization which has provided a solid theoretical foundation for China to achieve harmonious development between man and nature, environment and economy and between man and society. This grand goal and strong impetus for practice opens up a new situation for socialism with Chinese characteristics.
I. Significance of Boosting the Development of Ecological Civilization
Taking account of the needs of both current and long-term development to work actively for current objectives and create favorable conditions for long-term development is a big issue that we need to handle correctly in the course of socialist modernization. It is of great significance to promote the building of ecological civilization and achieve sustainable development.
1. As the latest theoretical result of the CPC in its effort to address the relationship between economic development and resource and environmental protection, ecological civilization has charted the course for coordinating the development between man and nature.
Along continued deepening of the practice and understanding of socialist modernization and with the guidance of Scientific Outlook on Development, the CPC Central Committee led by Secretary General Hu Jintao has formed the strategic thought of building ecological civilization since the 16th CPC Congress. The 17th CPC Congress put building ecological civilization as a new requirement for establishing a well-off society in an all-round way and hence made some strategic arrangements. It stressed that we should purse a path to advanced development with production boom, affluent life and sound ecosystem, establish a resource-efficient and eco-friendly society and strike a balance between the speed of development and the structure and quality of development, between economic development and population, resource and the environment. All this aims to make our people live and work in a good environment and achieve sustainable development of the economy and the society. Building ecological civilization has directed the way to accomplish harmony between man and nature and achieve balanced development. Guided by this strategic thought, we have made solid progress in energy conservation and emission reduction, ecological development and environmental protection. As a result, energy consumption per unit of GDP has continued to decline and reduction of COD and SO2 in the 11th Five-Year Plan period was completed ahead of time. Additionally, such important ecological engineering as Grain for Green were carried out, laying a solid foundation for promoting green growth and sustainable development.
2. Promoting ecological civilization is a major move of the CPC to meet the people’s expectation which has enriched the content of China’s modernization drive.
Promoting ecological civilization demonstrate the Party’s policy of putting people in the first place, governance for the people and maintaining the fundamental interest of the greatest majority of the people. It is the due obligation of socialism with Chinese characteristics. With rapid social and economic development, people are having increasingly strong demand for clean water, fresh air, safe food and livable environment. Building ecological civilization aims to create a sound environment for the people, which not only caters to the need of improving people’s well-being, but also expands the fields and scope of our modernization drive.
The socialism with Chinese characteristics represents a society boasting developed economy, democracy, advanced culture and social harmony. Such a society also embraces a good environment. Doing a good job in economic, political, cultural, social and environmental development is the prerequisite to implement Scientific Outlook on Development and achieve balanced development. Only by putting the concept, principle and objectives of building ecological civilization into all aspects and the whole process of economic, political, cultural and social development can we push ahead with modernization and create a sound environment for the production and living of the people.
3. The path to ecological civilization with Chinese characteristics is the strategic choice of the Party in the face of world new development and will make primary contributions to the progress of human civilization.
Since people began to be aware of the environment in 1960s and 1970s, their understanding toward ecological and environmental issues has continued to deepen. This process was witnessed by the first UN Conference on Human Environment in 1972, UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and Rio+20 in June this year. Currently, sustainable development has dominated new trend, spawning green development, circular economy and low-carbon development.
Fully conscious of the new trend, the Party reflected on the defect of the development pattern of traditional industrial civilization, carefully reviewed the practical experiences of implementing Scientific Outlook on Development and transforming the mode of economic development and absorbed the wisdom of Chinese culture. It finally put forward the concept of ecological civilization and promoted its development energetically. This requires us to perceive and solve environmental issues from the new perspective of advance in civilization, to take stock of address the severe challenges of resource and environment from economic, political, cultural, social and technological fields. It intends to achieve harmony between man and nature, environment and economy and man and society at a higher level and provide better theoretical and methodological guidance for us to enhancing the capability of sustainable development.
Since the 17th CPC Congress, China has given full play to its catch-up advantage. It develops ecological civilization in the course of promoting industrial civilization and sticks to principle that information technology and industrialization should complement each other. As a result, this new path to industrialization proved to be a beneficial attempt with Chinese characteristics to further the process of human civilization.
II. The Basic Content, Distinct Feature and Key Tasks of Developing Ecological Civilization with Chinese Characteristics
CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao noted that the essence of developing ecological civilization was to establish a resource-efficient and eco-friendly society that is based on environmental carrying capacity, regulated by the law of nature and aims to achieve sustainable development. His remarks revealed the connotation and nature of building ecological civilization.
Ecological civilization integrates all the achievements in material, spiritual and institutional development in the process of man’s effort to create a good environment. To build ecological civilization does not mean that we will not improve our material life and return to the primitive state of living.
To follow the law of nature and respect nature is the premise of building ecological civilization. Aimed at achieving harmony between man and nature, environment and economy, man and society, we must take environmental carrying capacity as the basis and start from establishing a sustainable industrial structure, production and consumption pattern and enhancing sustainability. The essential requirement is to create a resource-saving and environment-friendly society.
The concept of ecological civilization is quite rich in content. In terms of value orientation, we must acquire advanced ecological ethics. Man is a most important component of nature. We must show respect for nature and instill such ideas related to ecological civilization as ecological culture, green awareness and green ethics in order to make them the part of the core value of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In terms of physical basis, we must create developed ecological economy. We will take green reform of traditional industries, boost the development of strategic emerging industries stressing environmental protection,energy conservation and low carbon technology and make them account for a larger share in the whole economic structure. In terms of incentives and restraint mechanism, we must have a full-fledged ecological system. Environmental equity and justice must be represented in socioeconomic decision making and management. We should make more effort in institutional innovation, establish and improve legislation, policy and mechanism. In terms of the bottom line of environmental protection, we must ensure reliable ecological safety. We need to prevent and control environmental risks effectively, promptly handle environmental emergencies and natural disasters in a proper manner, maintain stable ecological situation and avoid serious ecological crisis. In terms of fundamental purpose, we must improve the quality of ecology and environment persistently. It is our objective to ensure people’s access to clean water, fresh air and safe food. All this proves that our cognition on ecological civilization in term of value orientation, long-term goals, basic principle, main approaches and guarantee measures is quite complete. The central idea is to promote harmony between man and nature and achieve balanced development of economy, society and the environment.
If we are to make it, we must spur innovation, put great effort in the building of ecological civilization and persevere with the task. The concept and practice of ecological civilization bear distinct characteristics. In terms of values, it stresses care about and respect for the environment with an equal attitude and humanitarianism in order to balance the development of the economy, society and the environment. In terms of the approaches to accomplish it, it calls for a new path to resource conservation and environmental protection, conscious and self-disciplined way of life and production, an eco-friendly industrial structure, growth and consumption model and push for green prosperity. In terms of the long-term goals, it tries to expand the economic benefits and environmental rights and interests of the public so as to promote social harmony. In time span, building ecological civilization is a long-term and herculean process. We have to make up for the loss of industrial civilization on the one hand and do a good job in building ecological civilization on the other hand.
The key tasks of building ecological civilization include the following. First, we will accelerate the transformation of economic growth model, develop green economy, circular economy and low-carbon technology and foster environmental industry which will help contribute to formation of a resource-efficient and environment-friendly industrial structure, production and consumption model. Second, we will pay more attention to guarantee and improvement of people’s livelihood and focus on prominent environmental problems harming public health. Third, we will intensify energy conservation and emission reduction, step up control of water, air and soil pollution and strengthen supervision capacity for nuclear and nuclear radiation to largely improve environmental quality. Fourth, we will enhance integrated environmental management in rural areas to realize equal public service of ecosystem in rural and urban areas. Fifth, we will improve the system for environmental protection and disaster prevention and control and build an ecological barrier. Sixth, we will improve the incentive and restraint mechanism and create policy and legal systems in favor of the building of ecological civilization. Seventh, effort will be made to strengthen communications and education and promote the concept of ecological civilization in the society. Eighth, we will take active measures to address global environmental issues including climate change and biodiversity protection.
III. Major Problems Concerning the Progress of Developing Ecological Civilization with Chinese Characteristics
Over the past decade, especially since the 17th Congress of the CPC, all regions and departments have been seriously implementing the strategic arrangements of the Party and the central government on developing ecological civilization. The effort has ensured more coordinated development among economy, society and environment, stronger capability of sustainable development and improved environmental quality. The concept of ecological civilization has been widely embraced and the level of ecological civilization continues to elevate. There are some major problems that need to be handled carefully in the process of advancing the building of ecological civilization.
1. To pursue environmental protection in the course of economic development and strive for economic growth in the process of environmental protection.
Development is the very key to all the problems of China. We must keep to the strategic thinking that gives paramount importance to development and pursue development whole-heartedly in order to constantly cement the physical foundation for socialism with Chinese characteristics. Enhancing environmental protection is both a necessity for transforming the model of economic growth and an important means to drive economic growth.
The idea of pursuing environmental protection in the course of economic development and striving for economic development in the process of environmental protection reveals the relationship between socioeconomic development and environment. At the primary stage of socialism for the time being and in the long run, China will see co-existence of deficient economic development and environmental protection. If we pursue economic development and environmental protection separately, all our effort would be in vain.
China has reached a new stage where environmental protection will help optimize economic growth. Therefore, we must take account of energy conservation and industrial restructuring, pollution control and efficiency improvement, expansion of environmental industry and domestic consumption and protecting the environment and optimizing productivity distribution to accelerate the green transformation of economic development model.
2. To actively explore a new path with low cost, good benefits, low emissions and sustainability.
To advance ecological civilization, we must solve environmental problems through new thoughts and new measures. Developed countries in the west have practiced the model of "pollution first, management later", "grow the economy at the cost of environment" and "paying attention to end-of-pipe control". It is proved that China cannot follow their footsteps, nor can it afford to do so. For instance, some places went about environmental protection and pollution case by case or even repeated the mistake of pollution first and management later. Hence, they paid excessive environmental price for it.
Environmental protection is the main battlefield and fundamental measure for building ecological civilization. It is also the means and purpose of promoting sustainable development. To solve environmental problems we have no choice but to follow the new path to environmental protection which features low cost, good benefit, low emissions and sustainability, establish a macro strategic environmental system that fits in with China’s national conditions, a complete and efficient pollution prevention and control system, full-fledged environmental quality assessment system, environmental legislation, policy, technology and standard system, management and law enforcement supervision system and a social action system with all the citizens participating in it. The more active and penetrating we are in our exploration and practice of the new path to environmental protection, the more distinct and lasting the result of building ecological civilization will be.
3. To accelerate the pace of building a national economic system conducive to conservation of energy and resources and protection of the environment.
Problems with resources and environmental protection are essentially caused by the pattern of economic development model, economic structure and consumption pattern. All the fields of production, circulation, distribution and consumption are using resources and affecting the environment to some extent. Environmental problems can hardly be resolved fundamentally by promoting environmental policies in a certain sector or some areas. Instead, social economic development must be planned according to the environmental carrying capacity and the requirements on resource conservation and environmental protection must be implemented in all fields and every aspect of economic development. We must boost the development of green economy and low carbon technology in order to facilitate green development. Therefore, we need to speed up the development of circular economy and practice clean development. We will upgrade industrial structure and take green reform on traditional industries. We will establish a technical and production system beneficial to resource conservation and environmental protection and strive for benign circulation of ecosystem and socioeconomic system.
4. To focus on prominent environmental problems harming scientific development and public health.
Environmental protection should serve the purpose of scientific development and help safeguard people’s health. Under current circumstances, we must pay close attention to energy-intensive, heavy pollution and resource-guzzling projects, redundant production and overcapacity projects and keep a firm grip over them. Never should we relax our requirement on environmental protection and we should do our best to solve emerging environmental problems and resolve old ones.
It is people’s basic right to enjoy good environment and it is the basic pubic service for the government to provide such as environment. Currently, we still face quite a few big environmental problems like water, air and heavy metal pollution. Mass accidents caused by environmental problems have grown enormously. We must ensure people’s drinking water safety, focus on environmental problems concerning people’s well being such as heavy metal pollution, chemicals, hazardous waste, fine particles and POPs and intensify various special campaigns to regulate illegal polluting companies and safeguard people’s health. Environmental violations must be dealt with strictly.
5. To improve systems and mechanisms conducive to the development of ecological civilization.
Systems and mechanisms are of long-term effect that concerns the fundamentals, the whole situation and stability. We will establish integrated environmental management systems that function as an organic whole and operate with coordination and efficiency. We will establish and improve legal regulations and systems, strengthen planning and policy guidance, employ comprehensive instruments such as financial, taxation and pricing tools to improve eco compensation system, deepen price reform of resource-based products and perfect supporting economic policies on resource and environment. We will waste no time formulating and implementing indicator systems and assessment measures on ecological civilization and incorporate them into performance assessment of local governments. We will step up communications and education on basic national conditions, national policy and related laws and regulations to further instill the concept of ecological civilization.
The new era calls for a new theory and the new theory in turn will direct new practice. Once the masses grasp the strategic thought of ecological civilization, this theory must spur tremendous material force and achievements. Guided by Scientific Outlook on Development, we are sure to achieve green transformation as soon as possible and let people enjoy sound environment.
(From Qiushi Magazine, Vol. 19, 2012)

(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)

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