SCIO press conference on strengthening eco-environment protection for a Beautiful China

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People's Daily:

General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed the importance of properly handling several key relationships when continuing our efforts in ecological conservation at the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection. The first is the relationship between high-quality development and high-level protection. Mr. Huang, how should we understand this relationship? What has the Ministry of Ecology and Environment done in this regard, and what will be done in the future? Thank you. 

Huang Runqiu:

Thank you for your questions. In my view, reconciling the relationship between development and protection in the ecological environment field is a difficult and permanent global issue. General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized that development plans must be made on the basis of a harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature. High-level environmental protection should help China continuously create new driving forces and new strengths for development. High-quality development and high-level protection reinforce each other. Ecological protection should be integrated into implementing the new development philosophy, building a new development paradigm, and promoting high-quality development. First, high-level protection underpins high-quality development and is integral to high-quality development. Development that does not incorporate environmental protection does not align with the new development philosophy or high-quality development. Second, high-level protection can guarantee high-quality development, upholding the security bottom line through various measures, such as a more region-specific approach to environmental management and environmental impact assessment. Third, by synergizing the reduction of pollution and carbon emissions and improving environmental standards, high-level protection can press for the transformation and upgrading of industrial, energy and transportation structures, and thus boost high-quality development. Moreover, high-quality development through policy tools like increased fiscal investment, the development of green finance, and compensation mechanisms for ecological conservation can accelerate the construction of ecological protection programs and the development of environmental protection industries, thereby boosting high-level protection. 

In recent years, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has made efforts in the following aspects to advance high-quality development and high-level protection. 

First, we have enhanced ecological pollution prevention at the source. We have advanced a region-specific approach to environmental management, establishing about 40,000 units for environmental management, thereby setting a bottom line for high-quality development. As we improve our services for environmental impact assessment for various projects to boost socio-economic development, we carry out strict management on eco-environmental access, holding the security bottom line of high-quality development. We improved the laws, regulations, and standards regarding the ecological and environmental protection, enhanced supervision and law enforcement, and maintained a tough stance on cracking down on projects with high energy consumption, high emissions, and low efficiency. By the end of 2022, China had eased excess capacity and closed down outdated production facilities equating to about 300 million metric tons of steel, 400 million metric tons of cement, and 150 million weight cases of plate glass.

Second, we have focused on synergizing the reduction of pollution and carbon emissions. We have made efforts to improve the integration of environmental quality enhancement and carbon emission reduction, adjusting industrial structures to reduce emissions. The number of coal-fired boilers and furnaces across the country has been reduced from around 500,000 to less than 100,000 currently. Consequently, coal consumption has been reduced by over 400 million metric tons. Coal for non-industrial sectors has been replaced with cleaner energy in the power supply to around 37 million households in north China's rural areas, saving more than 70 million metric tons of coal for non-industrial sectors. Coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of 1.03 billion kilowatts have achieved ultra-low emissions. Meanwhile, 680 million metric tons of steel production capacity is in the process of achieving or has already achieved ultra-low emissions. We have also removed over 30 million old and high-emission vehicles from the roads.

Third, we have launched major programs for ecological and environmental protection. We have intensified our efforts to enhance the construction of environmental infrastructure, established pilot projects focused on the eco-environment-oriented development (EOD) mode, and fostered environmental protection industries. Last year, the revenue of national environmental protection industries reached 2.22 trillion yuan, proving these industries to be a crucial component of the green economy. We also expedited the treatment of foul-smelling and polluted bodies of water in urban areas, restored urban water ecosystems, and eradicated such bodies of water in cities at or above the prefectural level. These improvements enhanced not only the ecological environment but also the quality of urban life, thereby helping us achieve high-quality development.

Fourth, we have fostered new pacesetters for green development. We have advanced the ecological and environmental protection for implementation of major regional development strategies, including the integrated development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region and the development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt. Efforts have been made to improve regional coordination and establish a joint control mechanism to ensure synchronized protection and control. We have promoted ecological progress through examples. For instance, we have designated 468 ecological civilization demonstration zones in six rounds and 187 innovation bases for practicing the principle that lush mountains and lucid waters are invaluable assets. We continue to encourage various regions to explore innovative approaches to green, low-carbon and high-quality development.

Going forward, we will further implement the guiding principles from important speeches by General Secretary Xi Jinping and effectively deal with the relationship between high-quality development and high-level protection. We will coordinate industrial structural adjustment, pollution control, environmental protection, and climate change mitigation. We will prioritize ecological conservation, advance green and low-carbon development, and promote the efficient and intensive use of resources, so as to support high-quality development with a high-quality ecological environment. Thank you.

21st Century Business Herald:

The report to the 20th CPC National Congress noted that the goal of building a Beautiful China will be largely accomplished by 2035. What good practices and experiences have been promoted across the country in advancing the building of a Beautiful China? What measures will be taken in this regard? Thank you. 

Huang Runqiu:

Thank you for your questions. "Beautiful China" was a buzz phrase in news reports about the 20th CPC National Congress. The phrase was first mentioned in the report to the 18th CPC National Congress, articulated as "working hard to build a beautiful country." The 19th CPC National Congress included the vision in a two-step strategic plan for building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects by the middle of this century. The 20th CPC National Congress further laid out that we will make notable progress in building a Beautiful China in the next five years, and largely accomplish the goal by 2035.

General Secretary Xi Jinping has attached great importance to the issue and stressed the need to build a Beautiful China with blue skies, green lands and clear waters on multiple occasions. He always discusses local practices for building a Beautiful China during his inspection tours. This includes related initiatives made by Hainan, Qinghai, Hebei, Hunan and Jiangsu provinces and Ningxia Hui autonomous region. At the National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection, General Secretary Xi launched an initiative to comprehensively promote the building of a Beautiful China and accelerate the modernization of harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature.

Following the arrangements of the CPC Central Committee, the MEE has resolutely taken on the political task of ecological and environmental protection and worked to continuously promote the building of a Beautiful China.

In terms of policy research and arrangement, the MEE has strengthened strategic planning and top-level design. We have continued to study the indicator system for building a Beautiful China. To achieve the goal of completing the building of a Beautiful China by 2035, the MEE has developed a set of phased strategic arrangements. This plan incorporates strategies to overcome difficulties during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), continuously consolidate achievements during the 15th Five-Year Plan period (2026-2030), and strive for comprehensive improvements during the 16th Five-Year Plan period (2031-2035).

In terms of promoting exemplary cases, the MEE highlights the importance of a beautiful natural environment. It adopts an approach that integrates a systemic eco-environmental solution, satisfying the people's needs for a beautiful eco-environment, and promoting the realization of the value of eco-products. The MEE works to protect beautiful rivers and lakes with clear waters, green shores and abundant bio-diversity resources, as well as beautiful bays featuring a clean environment, rich bio-diversity resources, and harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature, and promotes successful experiences, practices, and exemplary cases in this regard. Since last year, the MEE has identified and showcased 18 such rivers and lakes, as well as eight bays, as exemplary cases. For example, the Maozhou River in Shenzhen has turned from a heavily polluted river into one with clear waters, a white beach, and abundant bio-diversity resources. The ecological corridor along the river is now filled with tourists. In this sense, such transformations have recreated a beautiful natural environment and garnered public support.

Regarding local practices, the MEE has issued guidelines on promoting the building of a Beautiful China. Provinces like Zhejiang, Fujian, Shandong, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Sichuan and Hebei have all made efforts to explore models to achieve this goal. For example, Fujian proposed a five-layered system that focuses on creating beautiful urban environments, rural areas, rivers and lakes, bays and countryside. Sichuan emphasized both the spatial and cultural aspects of this initiative. Cities like Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Qingdao have all set more ambitious requirements and targets for creating beautiful urban environments.

The next five years will be crucial for building a Beautiful China. The MEE will strive to ensure clear skies and restore the beautiful environment of lakes, rivers, bays, and mountains. It will expedite efforts to establish pioneering areas for the initiative and create beautiful provinces, cities, and countryside. The MEE will act according to local conditions and gradually implement the initiative across the country to jointly build a Beautiful China with shared benefits, and embark on a new journey in this endeavor. Thank you.

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