Green Development ：Ecological Governance with Chinese Characteristics
Ecosystem: Bedrock of Human Development
On the surface, a country’s ecosystem is similar to a person’s physical appearance or health, demonstrating morphology. But in nature, it determines the foundation and conditions influencing the country’s survival and development. Since the beginning of human civilization, production patterns and lifestyles of humankind have undergone tremendous changes. However, one thing remains constant: Natural resources have always been an indispensable foundation and guarantee for human survival and development. All natural resources are derived from the natural ecosystem. If the planet’s ecosystem suffers structural and fundamental damage, the natural resources it provides will become unavailable as well.
In China’s long history, the collapse of some kingdoms or tribes was directly attributed to ecological degradation. China is the most populous country in the world. If its ecosystem suffers considerable damage, the water, soil, air and wildlife resources sustaining the country’s 1.4 billion people would fall into shortage or even crises, eventually resulting in chaos, turbulence and even collapse of the nation. National development will then become empty talk.
A secure and stable ecosystem is the most fundamental prerequisite for the survival and development of any country. Nature may be able to recover from an ecological catastrophe, but the majority of living beings that depend on the ecosystem, especially humankind, can easily go extinct.
For this reason, the Chinese government adheres to the principle of respecting, protecting and adapting to nature these days. Chinese President Xi Jinping has formulated a five-sphere integrated plan in which ecological progress is embedded in the wider process of political, economic, cultural and social development. President Xi also calls for protecting the ecological environment “like protecting our eyes,” testifying to the Chinese leader’s wisdom and vision on green development.
Ecological Progress: Road for China’s Future
President Xi calls for building a society of ecological progress, which represents an upgrade of the concept of environmental protection based on ideas on the relations between man and nature from a philosophical and rational perspective.
By reviewing human history, it is clear that evolution towards civilization was driven by uncivilized realities. The reason for making ecological progress is attributed to mankind’s “uncivilized” treatment of nature. In the early days of human history, mankind utilized nature in ways that conformed to the operational law of the ecosystem or at least didn’t severely hurt the natural ecosystem. Along with the enhancement of humans’ capacity to explore nature, human society entered a period of “industrial revolution” before fully understanding the natural ecosystem, during which the mass production of machines, equipment and power resulted in destructive utilization and exploitation of nature. Moreover, the introduction of the concept of “capital” further fueled humankind’s “uncivilized” exploitation and utilization of nature.
A key strategy of China’s reform and opening up was to introduce Western production modes featuring industrialization. Consequently, such production modes motivated manufacturers to use fossil energy and all tools and means made available by “industrial civilization” to carry out large-scale exploitation of minerals, land, seas and other natural resources, resulting in destructive scars on the environment.
In its early days of industrialization, China had less awareness and capacity to constrain large-scale exploitation activities. Just as China was starting to develop heavy industry, Western countries were becoming aware of the ecological calamities arising from the first and second industrial revolutions and began to increasingly enhance their ability to mitigate environmental pollution via technological and legislative means, fostering new production patterns and lifestyles. They began to transfer their low-end, backward and polluting industries to developing countries, resulting in the shift of environmental pollution and ecological degradation. The natural ecosystems of developed countries have been increasingly restored, enabling them to regain blue skies, clear rivers and dense forests. However, they have done little to help developing countries improve their capacity to prevent pollution.
Now facing severe pollution, Chinese people aspire for clean water resources, fresh air, safe food and a healthy ecosystem. For China, one of the most urgent tasks is to properly treat nature and shift into a healthier lane of development. China should no longer cling to traditional production modes that rely on fossil energy and mineral resources, but seek adjustment and transformation of its development pattern.
Achieving this goal requires both conscious efforts and objective guarantees. Promoting ecological progress is to guide people to change their production modes and lifestyles and take a road towards green development.
So far, China has adopted measures to replace fossil energy and mineral resources with green energy like hydropower, bio-power, solar power, wind power and nuclear power in industrial production and social development. As a result, a number of new technologies and green industries have emerged.
First and foremost, promoting ecological progress requires transformation of development modes. The current reality is that coal remains the primary energy source in China’s economic development. Thanks to the spread of the “ecological progress” concept, China has made remarkable achievements in clean utilization of coal. Ecological progress also involves ecological, resource, marine, energy and pollution control strategies, which are all interconnected yet independent of each other, and each has a comprehensive and fundamental influence on national development. Developed countries began to adopt marine, resource and pollution control strategies long ago, and have formed a complete legal system that has become the de facto global norm. Even during Western colonial expansion, an ecological strategy was adopted alongside increasing environmental awareness. Relevant evidence can be found in Ecological Imperialism by American scholar Alfred W. Crosby. Later, especially after the 1950s, energy strategy was widely adopted by Western developed countries, which formulated and enacted a series of laws to support its implementation.
In the past, developed countries promoted their resource, ecological, marine and energy strategies through zero-sum games or even armed conflicts. In sharp contrast, President Xi aims at making China’s ecological progress rooted in “innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development.” China opposes conflicts and advocates cooperation, harmony, coordination and mutual benefits.
Legal Development Based on Actual Conditions
In recent years, China has attached great importance to building and improving the legal system concerning ecological progress. President Xi has made many important instructions on specific laws related to ecological progress. He pointed out that promoting ecological progress demands a revolutionary reform of production modes, lifestyles, ways of thinking, and values, which can only be accomplished by institutional evolution and rule of law. He also stressed that China should “implement the strictest environmental protection system.” He also urged enhanced protection of wild animals by strengthening legislation and law enforcement to better protect the ecosystem and people’s physical and mental health, foster better social mores and maintain a good international image of Chinese people. At two sessions of the Nuclear Security Summit he emphasized twice the importance of formulating a nuclear security law. Xi also made several important instructions on the formulation of laws on soil pollution prevention and control.
Over the past few years, China has made great achievements in building a legal system covering ecological protection as follows:
First, accelerated law-making. Since 2012, the proportion of draft laws related to ecological progress has increased in the legislation plan of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s top legislature. Draft ecological laws accounted for over 18 percent of all laws to be deliberated by the Standing Committee of the 12th NPC, the highest percentage in its history. Some draft laws on ecological progress will be included in the legislation plan of the Standing Committee of the 13th NPC. However, China is still way behind some developed countries in environmental legislation.
Second, a transition from concept-oriented to problem-oriented. Previously, China’s environmental legislation was strongly influenced by foreign legislation, and some new concepts and modes were introduced to China from overseas. Since these laws might not conform to China’s realities, their enforcement was not effective. In recent years, the NPC Standing Committee has formulated and revised some laws based on the country’s realities and needs, which have played important roles in promoting China’s ecological progress.
Third, after further improving laws on pollution prevention and control, China has begun to pay attention to formulating laws aiming to strengthen ecological protection and enhance resource utilization efficiency. For instance, the NPC Standing Committee has deliberated twice on the soil pollution prevention and control law (which is expected to be approved after the third deliberation this year) and revised the wildlife protection law by adding content about protecting biodiversity, genetic resources and wildlife habitats. It also amended the marine environment protection law and formulated the Law on the Exploration and Development of Resources in Deep Seabed Areas to strengthen conservation of the marine ecosystem. Moreover, relevant commissions of the NPC launched a feasibility study on the formulation of the law on integrated resource utilization in a bid to enhance resources utilization efficiency and establish norms and rules that cover the full life cycle of resource utilization from raw materials, production, sales and consumption to waste recycling.
Fourth, China is witnessing a shift from assimilation with international laws to participation in the formulation of international rules. In the past, when China ratified or joined an international convention, it placed greater emphasis on aligning itself with existing regulations of the convention. In most cases, however, developed countries seek to adjust international treaties and conventions before joining by amending or formulating relevant domestic laws. By so doing, these countries internationalize their domestic laws to better safeguard their national interests. In this context, the NPC Standing Committee has accelerated its pace in formulating relevant domestic laws according to the international conventions China has ratified such as the Law on the Exploration and Development of Resources in Deep Seabed Areas and the nuclear security law.