"China is dedicated to properly addressing the relationship between development and protection, strengthening the environmental protection in the process of development and advancing economic development in the process of environmental protection."
At 14:20 on June 21 local time, Premier Wen Jiabao, who was attending the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, went amidst the drizzle to Chinese Pavilion near the meeting venue and attended the 20th anniversary side event of China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), and discuss with the Council members and environment ministers about China's and the world's path to sustainable development.
The athletes' village in Rio de Janeiro at the southeast corner of the venue is the exhibition area of the UN Conference. Somewhere in the exhibition area, under a white tent with black eaves, white walls, and a moon-shaped entrance, is the Chinese Pavilion known as Chinese Corner, resembling a garden in south of Yangtze River.
CCICED was established when the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio two decades ago. Consisting of high-profile international and Chinese personages and renowned experts in the fields of environment and development, the Council provides policy recommendations on major issues relevant to environment and development in China. Nearly 100 policy study programs have been conducted by approximately 1,000 experts over two decades, and more than 140 policy study reports have been produced, putting forward more than 200 policy recommendations. Premier Wen Jiabao has an irrevocable commitment to the Council and acted as the Council Co-chairperson between 1998 and 2002. He attended 15 annual general meetings over the last twenty years.
At the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held on June 20, Premier Wen elaborated on the position and proposition of the Chinese Government on sustainable development, and came forward with four measures in support of the world's sustainable development, which was spoken highly by the delegates. The environment ministers of some countries requested to attend the side event to be held in June 21 as soon as they heard the news.
Premier Wen paid extreme attention to the side event scheduled today. According to the original plan, Premier Wen was to give a keynote speech, but he suggested hearing out what the Council members have to say, as many of them are dear old friends.
No later than he took a seat, Wen said we have always been confident in China's sustainable development and environmental protection effort, though the Council members were reshuffled again and again over the last two decades. The secret of the Council's vital vigor lies in its lasting theme, "sustainable development in China". He said, "I'd like to take this opportunity to hear what you have to say."
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner was the first to voice his opinions. He was a Council Member in the second, third and fourth phases of the Council and is the Vice-chairperson of the fifth phase. He said CCICED has become a good platform for the communications between China and the world. The Council study topics changed from pollution control to government administration and then to the development of green economy nowadays, along with the economic development. The contents are rich. China has become the world's second largest economy in the world and will definitely contribute to promoting the world's sustainable development.
Wen commented that Steiner's remarks were brief but involved several important issues. The evolvement of China's environmental protection effort over the past two decades could be summarized as from pollution control, environmental management, to shift of economic development mode. During the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2010-2011), we would make greater effort to promote the shift of economic development mode and economic restructuring and try to make new breakthroughs in the development of green economy. CCICED not only promotes the environmental cooperation between China and other world countries, but also generates significant international influence. China is a responsible country. We should adhere to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and shoulder the due responsibilities as a large developing country.
WWF Director General Jim Leape is also a Council Member. He said that the Rio Summit has stressed the idea of "natural capitals", because the more developed the world is, the more it needs natural capitals including forests, water and land; and that China's idea of "ecological civilization" is very close to the idea of "natural capitals" he referred, however, he still preferred the idea of low-carbon economy.
The Chinese know very well as how to tap the natural resources efficiently. China feeds one fifth of the world population with 9% of the world's farmlands and per capita freshwater accounting for 28% of the world average. This is the very reason why we paid such great attention to the intensive use of water and land resources. The idea of ecological civilization is a macro concept relevant to the ideas of political civilization, economic civilization, and social civilization, and its nature lies in the harmonious coexistence of man and nature. Low-carbon economy is one of the essential features of ecological civilization.
According to Premier Wen, the annual average growth rate of China's economy reached 9.9% since the reform and opening-up policy was introduced. We have highly valued the development of ecological civilization in the development course. The energy consumption per unit of GDP had been down by 19% during the 11th Five-Year Plan period (2006-2010). On this basis, we set the goal to bring it down by 16% during the 12th Five-Year Plan period. This goal has been adopted by the National People's Congress and is an obligatory target.
The international organizations and environmental enthusiasts have been devoted to the Council's affairs, and the Chinese Government has heard the Council's policy recommendations with an open mind, so they have been cooperating tacitly since the Council was established two decades ago. Martin Lees, the former Secretary General of Roman Club and one of the co-founders of the Council, said emotionally that it is a rare cooperation mechanism in the world and hoped that Council would be run in a healthier way and that other countries would learn from its precious experience.
Wen said that the research subjects of the Council over the past two decades were relevant to China's realities. As far as pollution control is concerned, it covered water pollution, air pollution, soil pollution, and marine pollution treatment, which encompassed all of the major fields possibly subject to pollution. The Council members have done a great deal of surveys and researches and came up with pertinent recommendations, which have become the decisions of the Chinese Government.
The delegations at the side event voiced their opinions, with the expectations on China's and the world's sustainable development. Premier Wen had honest and heated communications with them.
Corrado Clini, Italian Minister for the Environment, Territory and Sea said that the world countries reached many consensuses on sustainable development at the Rio Summit and that it is time for action. China has incorporated sustainable development into the national strategies and the world benefits from China's progress. CCICED should be developed into one of the important platforms of the Rio Conference.
Premier Wen responded that the reason we are gathering here to discuss major issues about the world sustainable development is to take actions. There are three major tasks ahead of us. The first is development. We seek to provide employment and livelihood to 1.3 billion populations through development. There is nothing to talk about without the basis of development. The second task is to achieve the poverty relief goals. Over 200 million Chinese populations have shaken off poverty over the past three decades. It is a marvelous achievement. Last year we mapped out the new poverty relief outline and notched up the poverty line. According to the new outline, there are still 120 million Chinese live under the poverty line. We need to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas and among regions. We will always keep agricultural modernization in mind during the urbanization and industrialization process, keep the improvement of rural residents' living conditions in mind while improving those of urban populations. The third task is to achieve green development and sustainable development. We need to promote the economic and social development, constantly improve people's living standards, and achieve energy-conservation and environmental protection goals and pursue green development and sustainable development. It is a major and long-term task confronting China.
Delegations flipped their place card to try to voice their opinions. And Premier Wen asked Danish Environment Minister Auken to speak.
Auken raised a question: Cities are very important to sustainable development, would you talk about the effective actions to be taken for the sustainable development of cities?
Responding to the question from a Minister coming from Copenhagen, Premier Wen said that I would not forget the mermaid in Copenhagen, nor the experience at the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change. More attention should be paid to the environment-friendly and sustainable development of cities, with accelerated urbanization processes. Three matters are very important, first is that great effort needs to be made to develop urban public transport; second is to solve the garbage treatment problems in urban areas; and the third is to give equal treatment to rural migrant workers and prevent slums.
Ben Knapen, Dutch Minister for European Affairs and International Cooperation, raised a question on new energy: The price for solar energy panels has plummeted in recent years, how to enable the sustainable development of this area?
Premier Wen responded that Netherlands boasts strengths in wind energy and solar energy and maintains good cooperation with China. The development of solar energy and wind energy has been also fast in China in recent years, and the energy output ranks the first in the world. However, China has also encountered some problems. The first problem is technology, that is, how to put the solar power and wind power to the grids. The second is the pricing of electricity from solar and wind sources, which involves the reform of the pricing mechanism. The third is the trade barriers. Some of the world countries adopt "anti-dumping and anti-subsidies" measures against the solar energy products exported from China. However, we still consider the solar energy and wind energy having great potentials, which of course, necessitates restructuring.
According to the original plan, the one-hour meeting was due and Premier Wen was scheduled for another important event. However, perceiving that the delegations wish to continue, Premier Wen gave one more chance for voicing opinions.
Tubiana, President of French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, said she wished France had an organization similar to CCICED. The world economy is in downturn with slowdown investment, how does China support sustainable development and green economy from the financing perspective?
Premier Wen responded that if there was a similar organization, China would definitely be a member. The international financial crisis continues to plague, and the European debts problems are daunting. Everybody develops a headache speaking of financing. However, financing is still necessary but should be heading to a right direction, and the banks need to back up the development of green economy. China has already taken a raft of measures in support of sustainable development, for example, the fiscal subsidies and financing supports of banks given to energy efficient home appliance and vehicles as well as the allowances rebate scheme for home appliances and cars.
Finally, Premier Wen asked German Minister for the Environment Altmaier to voice his opinions. Altmaier said he would make it brief considering the tight schedule. China and Germany play an important role in the international economy and they look out for each other. The question is how do both countries enhance cooperation and finance the development of green economy?
Premier Wen responded that there would be intergovernmental negotiations in the coming August, and the environmental issue would be an integral part of the negotiations. Germany has mapped out a renewable energy plan, and to achieve the goals set in the plan needs financial and fiscal supports. To develop green economy, on the one hand, the financial sector needs to have a strategic vision, and on the other hand, the government needs to give fiscal supports. He hoped that the heads of the central banks of both countries could attend the negotiations.
The meeting was extended for another 20 minutes. Premier Wen rose to his feet and shook hands with the Council members to say goodbye. He expected that the members would come up with more and better policy recommendations and that the world economy would be heading towards the goal of sustainable development by overcoming whatever difficulties ahead.
(This English version is for your reference only.In case any discrepancy exists between the Chinese and English context, the Chinese version shall prevail.)