Ecological civilization in China – dreams or nightmares?

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) prepared a report entitled “Green is gold: The strategy and actions of China’s ecological civilization”.  In this report, one may find that forests will cover nearly a 25% of China by year 2020 and the share of days per year with good air quality in cities will increase to over 80%. Read more how China is going to become an ecological civilization in next few years! 

Ambitious forest cover plan

This quite ambitious plan was presented by UNEP at the second UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. At the Assembly, UNEP released a series of reports, where many countries had a chance to present their pathways to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the first universally binding climate change agreement signed in December in Paris. Except China, the reports assessed also Bhutan’s use of its novel Gross National Happiness Index, Germany’s attempts to build a circular economy, Costa Rica’s use of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) or Botswana’s Natural Capital Accounting.

China’s goals

The report analyzed the environmental dimension of China’s 13th five-year plan. In addition to forest cover ambitious plan, the report stated also reduction in water consumption by 23 percent, in energy consumption by 15 percent and in carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 18 percent among its goals. 

Zhu Guangyao, executive vice president of the Chinese Ecological Civilization Research and Promotion Association, commented China’s future goals in the following way:

The outdated view that man can conquer nature and ignore the bearing capacity of resources and the environment should be completely abandoned. Conscientious efforts should be made to live in harmony with nature, allowing for a new approach to modernization characterized by such co-existence.”

Last but not least, China is planning in addition to restore 35 percent of the natural shorelines, reclaim more than half of the desert, and increase prairie vegetation coverage by 56 percent.

“Ecological civilization” dreams in China may come true

Due to significant air pollution in China, such long-awaited changes have been expected for a long time both by local citizens and tourists as well.

Mr. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said:

“If China succeeds in implementing targets outlined in its ecological blue print, then it will have taken a major step towards shifting to a greener economy that uses resources more efficiently, limits the risks of climate change and improves the health of its people.”

What has been done so far?

One may say that these targets are too ambitions for China. It seems that it is not the case here.

According to the UNEP report, by the end of 2014, China had built 10.5 billion m2 of energy-saving buildings in urban areas, what is about 38 per cent of the total area of urban residential buildings.

Moreover, China’s production of electric and hybrid vehicles also increased by 45-fold between 2011 and 2015.

In addition to that, China has also built the largest air-quality monitoring network in the developing world with 338 Chinese cities at the prefectural level and above now capable of monitoring six different air quality indicators.

Looking at these achievements, the “eco-civilization” plan, which assumes increase in forest coverage to more than 23 per cent by 2020 and the share of days per year with good air quality in cities at the prefectural level will exceed 80 per cent, seems very feasible.

Let us see, what the future holds! 

Photo credit: Chen Jiawen presentation entitled “Forestry Green Economy Development and Bamboo Industry Policy in China”. State Forest Administration, April 2015, China

Source: UNEP. 2016. Green is gold: The strategy and actions of China’s ecological civilization. Available at:

One thought on “Ecological civilization in China – dreams or nightmares?

  1. I stayed and travelled in China for some months in 2009 for my MSc thesis. At that time I was investigating the policies of the Chinese government on tree plantations and afforestation programmes. I must say that I was impressed about the ambitious “green” programmes of the government. I had the feeling that the country is taking a turning point towards a more sustainable development. I reckon that there is still a lot to do for recovering environmental losses within the countrs due to the exponential industial growth of the past decades, particularly about biodiversity (i.e., China should consider planting different tree species than poplar clones), but I am quite confident about China’s “ecological civilization”.
    (find here below the link of my work I did during my MSc, in italian with English summary )

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