Yearender: 2020 in review, China pursues green growth despite COVID-19
The year 2020 witnessed a series of remarkable moves in China’s history, including a 10-year fishing ban along the Yangtze River, a total ban on importing solid waste, and the conclusion of a three-year action plan on fighting against air pollution.
China has put ecological protection at the heart of its policy considerations and made notable achievements in pursuing green growth this year, even in the face of the great pressure of navigating the COVID-19 slump.
These efforts indicate an evolving landscape of environmental conservation and regulation in China, as the world’s second-largest economy explores a sustainable development path in which economic growth and environmental protection can move forward hand-in-hand.
With environmental issues emphasized in the tone-setting annual economic meeting in mid-December, as well as Chinese leadership’s proposals for formulating the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, efforts on green economic growth are expected to secure an important position in China in 2021 and beyond.
YANGTZE RIVER FISHING BAN
In January, China started a 10-year fishing ban in key areas along the Yangtze River, a move that is widely regarded as a major step for the country in fighting the depletion of biological resources and the degrading of biodiversity in its “mother river.”
Starting from 2020, the ban will be observed in 332 conservation areas in the Yangtze River basin and will be expanded to all natural waterways of the river and its major tributaries from no later than Jan. 1, 2021.
Fishing will also be prohibited on the natural waterways of large lakes connected to the Yangtze, such as the Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake, for 10 years starting from no later than Jan. 1, 2021.
The ban is estimated to affect more than 110,000 fishing boats and nearly 280,000 fishermen in 10 provincial-level regions along the river. The Chinese government has promised to provide social security services, financial support and vocational training for fishermen to help them find a new way of earning a living after bidding farewell to boats and nets.
China also passed a law on Saturday to strengthen its protection of the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River Protection law, China’s first legislation on a specific river basin, will take effect on March 1, 2021.
SOLID-WASTE IMPORT BAN
Once the world’s biggest recipient of overseas trash, China announced in November that it would institute a sweeping ban on all imports of solid waste starting on the first day of 2021, with the dumping, stacking and disposal of waste products from overseas on Chinese territory also banned.
China began importing solid waste as a source of raw materials in the 1980s, and for years it has been the world’s largest importer. With a growing public awareness of environmental protection and the country’s transition to greener economic growth, China started phasing out imports of solid waste in 2017.
The country’s continuous efforts at reducing imported solid waste have achieved tangible results, with the amount imported plunging 41 percent year on year to 7.18 million tonnes by mid-November. Last year’s imports stood at 13.48 million tonnes, down from 22.63 million tonnes in 2018.
CUTTING CARBON EMISSIONS
China has spearheaded the global fight against climate change by mapping clear action plans and realizing its goals step by step.
Statistics from a white paper on China’s energy development show that by 2019, carbon emission intensity in China had decreased by 48.1 percent compared with 2005, exceeding the target of reductions in carbon emission intensity by 40 to 45 percent between 2005 and 2020.
During the Climate Ambition Summit, China announced new goals on addressing climate change, namely, lowering its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by over 65 percent from the 2005 level, peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality before 2060.
To that end, controlling carbon emissions has been included in China’s top policy priorities for 2021. The country will formulate an action plan for peaking carbon dioxide emissions before 2030, and offer support to areas with favorable conditions to enable them peak the emissions ahead of schedule, according to the annual Central Economic Work Conference recently concluded in Beijing.
BOOSTING NON-FOSSIL FUELS
As the world’s largest energy producer and consumer, China has made great efforts to cap its coal consumption and reshape its energy consumption structure, shifting it to a low-carbon and eco-friendly economy.
Preliminary calculations show that in 2019, the consumption of clean energy accounted for 23.4 percent of total energy consumption, an increase of 8.9 percentage points over 2012. Coal consumption accounted for 57.7 percent of the total, down 10.8 percentage points from that in 2012.
China looks to further improve its energy structure by tapping the potential of various types of renewable energy, including solar energy, wind energy, biomass, geothermal and ocean energy.
It has promised to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25 percent and bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts by 2030.
WAR ON AIR POLLUTION
The Chinese government declared a war on air pollution and formulated a three-year action plan in 2018 aiming at bringing back blue skies, listing a series of specific goals for the country to reach by 2020.
This “battle for blue skies” has yielded encouraging results. Official data show that, after three years of continuous efforts, the average PM 2.5 concentration in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and surrounding areas in autumn and winter was reduced by 32.7 percent, while the number of heavy air pollution days plunged by 62 percent from 37.4 to 14.1.
The progress on addressing air pollution resulted from a slew of tough measures. Residents in northern China have been encouraged to give up their stoves and switch to natural gas or electricity for winter heating. Many steel mills and coal-fired power plants, major emitters of air pollutants, were closed or underwent renovations to ensure low-pollution emissions.
The country also led the world in promoting the use of new-energy vehicles. China owns the largest number of buses powered by clean energy worldwide, with more than 1.6 million tonnes of fuel saved every year. The number of new-energy buses in China has more than tripled over the years, rising from 116,300 in 2015 to 409,700 in 2019.
China is a country with some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, and it has put biodiversity conservation high on its agenda. The State Council has set up the China National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation to strengthen inter-agency government coordination on protecting ecosystems, species and genetic resources.
The country has facilitated the formulation of laws and regulations on the protection of wild animals, national parks, wetlands and nature reserves to provide biodiversity protection with legal support.
China is also setting up a national-park system and has piloted 10 national parks across the country to protect ecosystems and endangered animals, including national parks for giant pandas, with the total pilot area topping 220,000 square km.
Meanwhile, China is fostering global cooperation on biodiversity conservation, with the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) taking place in Kunming, capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan in 2021.
Themed “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth,” the event will review the post-2020 biodiversity framework and set new global biodiversity targets for 2030.