Green is gold -- Xi Jinping innovates fight against climate change
Chinese President Xi Jinping is joining world leaders on Thursday at a virtual summit on climate change hosted by his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden.
Responding to climate change is the common cause of all humanity, Xi has said, adding that it should not be a bargaining chip for geopolitics, a target for attacking other countries, or an excuse for trade barriers.
The Chinese president has been paying close attention to ecological and environmental issues. While actively championing global actions to fight climate change, he underscores the issue as a long-term strategy vital to his country's modernization and its people's well-being.
GREEN IS GOLD
At the beginning of the 1990s, Yucun, an idyllic mountain village in China's eastern Anji County, Zhejiang Province, decided to end poverty by tapping the potential of its natural resources.
By mining for limestone and manufacturing cement, Yucun became one of China's richest villages with an annual revenue of more than 3 million yuan (460,000 U.S. dollars).
However, it was not long before the villagers found it a Faustian bargain. Their hometown turned into a real eyesore with its pitted land, turbid rivers and dust haze.
Yucun was not the only village in Zhejiang that had seen its eco-system degrading. To address the ever deteriorating problem, the province committed itself to building an "ecological province" in 2003.
Within three years, Yucun shut down three limestone quarries and a cement factory, which accounted for 95 percent of its annual income, causing much fear amongst the villagers.
A heated debate emerged about the relationship between economic development and environmental protection -- a relationship that was inevitably rocky during industrialization across the world.
In 2005, Xi, then secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, visited Yucun. He assured the villagers that their move to close those factories was "wise."
"Mountains and rivers green are mountains of silver and gold," he said at the village's simple and humble meeting room.
Nine days later, in a commentary carried by Zhejiang Daily, Xi, using the pen-name "Zhe Xin," called for pursuing harmony between man and nature as well as harmony between the economy and society, in order to have clear water and green mountains along with "mountains of silver and gold."
The "two mountains" concept, later developed into Xi's thought on ecological civilization, has encouraged numerous Chinese cities and villages to pursue high-quality and sustainable growth through protecting the environment and developing green industries.
When Xi returned to Yucun 15 years later during an inspection tour in Zhejiang in March 2020, the village has transformed into a place featuring buildings with traditional white walls and black tiles, colorful flower fields and exquisite lotus ponds. The villagers made much more money than in the past thanks to a tourism boom.
The path of green development is correct, Xi said.
The path, wrote the United Nations Environment Programme in a report, "is beyond and does away with traditional development patterns and models, guiding the transformation of the production methods and the lifestyle of the entire society."
CLIMATE AGENDA IN XIPLOMACY
Xi also proposed the signature concept of "two mountains" when addressing the global audience at the Climate Ambition Summit held online at the end of 2020.
He was calling for pursuing a new approach to climate governance that highlights green recovery in a year when the world was going through not only a COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallouts but also one of the three warmest years on record.
On his diplomatic agenda, Xi has time and again stressed the importance of upholding multilateralism, unity and cooperation to tackle climate change.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the just-concluded Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2021 held in China's tropical island of Hainan, Xi urged Asian countries to strengthen cooperation on green infrastructure, green energy and green finance, and to make green a defining feature of Belt and Road cooperation.
Earlier this month, at a video summit held with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Xi called on the European Union (EU) to work together with China to strengthen the China-EU green partnership.
Since 2020, Xi has held six phone talks with the French president, in four of which they compared notes on strengthening coordination and cooperation on tackling climate change.
China and European countries have been working closely on the global fight against climate change after the former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration abandoned the Paris Agreement.
Biden has decided to return his country to the landmark global deal on climate change, which was agreed on by almost every country in the world in 2015 after lengthy negotiations in the French capital.
DELIVERING ON PROMISE
At present, the international landscape is evolving more rapidly and COVID-19 is triggering deep reflections on the relationship between man and nature, Xi said, opening his speech at the Climate Ambition Summit.
His country has been seeking to use the pandemic as a springboard into a greener and more resilient future.
Addressing the general debate of the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2020, the Chinese president announced that China aims to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
If successful, according to the Climate Action Tracker, it would lower global warming projections by around 0.2 degrees to 0.3 degrees Celsius.
While environmentalists welcomed the Chinese pledge as a "game-changer" for the climate and a move that could encourage other countries to act faster, some raised doubts about the viability of the targets given that China is an emerging economy still heavily reliant on coal, and asked for concrete action plans.
In its 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), a key policy document that will heavily influence the nation's economic development in the next decade and beyond, Beijing outlined last month that energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) and carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 13.5 percent and 18 percent over the period, respectively.
Furthermore, an action plan for hitting the peak of carbon emissions by 2030 is expected to be unveiled within the year.
"China, as the world's largest developing country, will complete the world's most dramatic reduction in carbon emission intensity, and realize carbon neutrality from carbon peaking in the shortest time in global history," Xi said at the China-France-Germany video summit.
The low-carbon commitment, it is estimated, requires China to make the transition from reaching its carbon peak to realizing carbon neutrality within 30 years, compared with the 60 years taken by most developed countries.
The task is extremely challenging, Xi said, but China will deliver on its promise.