After pressing the reset button to survive COVID-19 in 2020, the world once again faces crossroads. The COVID-19 economic recovery presents a strategic opportunity to advance green development, which will be a testament to the vision and commitment of governments.
The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) was established in 1992 as a high-level international advisory body with the approval of the Government of China. The post of chairperson of CCICED has been held by the leadership of China’s State Council. Mr. Han Zheng, the Vice Premier, has chaired CCICED since 2018. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment serves as the executing agency of CCICED. The CCICED operates at a 5-year phase; Phase VI (2017-2021) is to serve the development of China's ecological civilization and global sustainable development, promote the realization of a beautiful China and contribute to the endeavor of making the world a green and prosperous place.
Over the past 28 years, with the support of the Chinese government and the cooperation of relevant foreign governments and international organizations, CCICED has made unique contributions to China's sustainable development by inviting high-level experts and scholars from home and abroad to conduct in-depth studies, introducing advanced concepts of sustainable development into China, and providing advice to the Chinese Government on major environmental and development issues. By building a platform for candid dialogues between China and the rest of the world, CCICED enables the international community to understand China and support China’s engagement with the world. It serves as a bridge between China and the international community in the field of environment and development for exchange and mutual appreciation.
In 2020, the CCICED has conducted 10 special policy studies on the four task forces, including "Global Environmental Governance and Ecological Civilization," "Green Urbanization and Environmental Quality Improvement," "Innovation and Sustainable Production and Consumption," and "Green Energy, Investment and Trade," produced the "Issues Paper 2020: Recovering Forward," and submitted an annual policy recommendation entitled "From Recovery to Green Prosperity: Accelerating the transition toward high-quality green development during the 14th Five-Year Plan period," to the Chinese government to provide decision-making support and reference for China's green economic recovery and the development of the 14th Five-Year Plan.
In 2020, the worldwide disruption caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 has resulted in the delay of key climate and biodiversity agendas, which were expected to make a great difference in 2020, a “super year” for the environment. It is likely that COVID-19 impacts and recovery will last far longer than the event and aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. The structural aftershocks of COVID-19 are likely to endure throughout the entire period of the 14th Five-Year Plan (FYP).
The COVID-19 pandemic is nature’s warning message to the human race. Although the road to global post-epidemic recovery remains long, China’s early bounce-back has sent a promising signal to the rest of the world. The 14th FYP should drive sustainable development, green innovation, and green technologies at home, and also provide a boost to new open and inclusive forms of international cooperation.
Promoting Green Transition with the 14th FYP
As CCICED pointed out in its 2020 policy recommendations, the 14th FYP will see the timeframes of the “two centenary goals” converge. Therefore, the choice of the path, policy arrangements and key targets during the period will set the stage for the medium-and long-term development and goals, vital to the realization of the Chinese dream. The international community will closely follow China's economic, social and ecological and environmental strategies laid down by the 14th FYP, which, in the era of globalization, is not only key to sustained and stable growth in China, but is also critical to global green prosperity. China’s performance in areas such as of pollution control, ecological protection, and climate change will boost international perceptions of China, and encourage ambition in other countries.
At present, getting out of the COVID-19 quagmire and getting on with economic recovery have become top priorities for all governments. During the 14th FYP, China should further advance the comprehensive framework for green development to set up strategic concepts, concrete policy targets, priority areas, and delivery institutions and mechanisms. This will provide a solid foundation for high-quality development and green prosperity and set an example of sustainable development for the rest of the world. China's confidence and conviction in green development will instill hope into the international community for a successful green transition, starting with a green economic recovery.
We must refrain from returning to the outdated model of unsustainable, unequal, and unjust growth. It is important to put economic recovery on the right track towards high-quality, green, and sustainable development, and move steadily towards an ecological civilization through low-carbon transition.
Green recovery being the core issue the global economic recovery policies must address
Previous economic slowdowns coincide with or have caused the weakening of environmental protection. Policy attention during economic turbulence tends to focus on GDP, unemployment, balance-of-payments and export competitiveness. Environmental regulations have been viewed as incurring sunken costs and dampening economic recovery. Public support for environmental action has declined during past periods of economic downturns, as households focus on wage, job security and savings.
However, a visible change is that in the discussion on post-pandemic economic recovery, environmental and green elements have constantly been a core issue in the public policy debate. The past conflict between either an economic recovery or environmental stewardship is diminishing, as new approaches emphasize stronger win-win results by strengthening the nexus between public health, pollution reduction, climate action, nature conservation, social equity and economic prosperity.
Examples are emerging whereby green, sustainable priorities are at the heart of the economic recovery. Many EU member states have already rolled out ambitious economic stimulus packages. Germany released its economic recovery plan in early June - a €50-billion “package for the future”, responding to climate change and digital transformation. Under "the package for the future", buyers of electric cars can receive up to 6,000 euros for subsidies, and the government will ramp up building charging infrastructure, electrifying vehicles, and supporting energy-efficiency renovations. At the same time, the EU Green Deal also emphasizes the benefits of green economy and industrial policies that are consistent with climate goals. The EU has agreed on a €750 billion euro package which prioritizes “green” investments like renewable energy, circular economy, hydrogen, clean transport and logistics, and the “just transition”. It stipulates that 30% of the money must be spent on climate-friendly investments, and all expenditure must be consistent with the Paris Agreement climate change objectives.
Public policies are increasingly aligned with market trends: recent evidence shows companies with green characteristics have out-performed other listed companies on stock markets, while renewable energy has increased during COVID-19.
These investments make economic sense. Supporting green, low-carbon and resilient infrastructure can create more job opportunities and attract capital-intensive investment, while reducing the carbon footprint of energy, transportation, construction and water infrastructure at the same time. At the same time, strengthening integrated ocean management can enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems and support the sustainable growth of the blue economy.
China’s New Infrastructure Stimulus, emphasized to help economic recovery after COVID-19, mainly covers 5G networks, big data, artificial intelligence and so on. The green elements of the "new infrastructure stimulus" should be further strengthened, to include renewables, low-carbon and climate resilient infrastructure, building efficiency and upgrading, green urban centers, green technologies, etc., to encourage green investment and avoid new investment in carbon-dependent, especially coal-dependent industries. The post-pandemic recovery should be guided by the principle of "no significant harm to the environment, ecosystems and climate".
Key areas for green recovery in the post-epidemic era
China's green recovery should be people-centered, driven by the innovation of green technologies, supported by sustainable production and consumption. Green recovery should start with green urbanization with the aim of greening ways of working and living.
In 2017, China's 20 city clusters accounted for nearly 91% of the country's GDP and 74% of the population. The success of the green transition of the whole country hinges on the green transition of its city clusters. The traditional urban-rural dichotomy should be discarded when formulating planning the related policies. It is necessary to take a holistic approach to urban and rural planning, and especially, pay attention to their impacts on the rural economy, ecology, health, society and culture. Propel the free movement of factors of production between urban and rural areas. Planning should encourage the movement of talent from the city to the countryside. This will help maximize the comparative advantages and potential market demand in urban and rural areas. Establish a life-cycle assessment framework for green technologies using a whole-life costing methodology that promotes the large-scale application of green technologies, and accelerate the green development and transformation of the manufacturing industry. Align the functional city model with a “nature-loving” city model. This alignment will integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into planning and protect biodiversity and natural habitats in urban areas. Bringing cities closer to nature will not only generate more economic value and employment opportunities, but also improve the quality of both urbanization and the well-being of city dwellers in an all-around way.
In 2019, domestic demand contributed 89% of China's economic growth, and final consumption expenditures contributed 58% of GDP growth. The growing middle class and the increased population of young netizens have created an opportunity for the upgrading and transition of China’s consumption. However, the green transition in consumption has been in decline since 2008, despite advances in green production, making the former the weak link in the overall green transformation. During the window of domestic consumption growth, the post-pandemic "remodeling of mindset and lifestyle" can give new impetus. Green certifications can be applied to clothing, food, housing, transport, and tourism to promote green consumption.
Also, the pandemic-induced behavioral change may lead to revolutionary changes towards new ways of working and green balanced lifestyles, for example, encouraging people to switch to new ways of working, promoting green mobility, practicing a green lifestyle and accelerating green transformation. China should reinforce a new generation of green consumption with an ambitious, comprehensive green production, and increasing the supply of green goods and services. China should seek to develop a traceability system for commodity trades and related due diligence requirements. Meanwhile, it is equally important to build a long-term inclusive mechanism for common efforts to promote the green development of global value chains, hence strengthening green consumption while creating more opportunities.
The crisis provides an opportunity for China to steadfastly support international cooperation
Trade protectionism was growing before the global pandemic and has increased amid COVID-19. The returning of protectionism and mercantilism, as happened in the post-Great Recession era, will not only stagnate global economic growth but also burden developing countries disproportionately. This crisis provides opportunities to expand green trade and services in a number of areas, including energy, finance and economic development. China needs to champion the multilateral, rules-based system, and play an important role in countering protectionism and promoting a greater role of green markets in the trading system.
Although the CBD COP15 originally scheduled for 2020 in Kunming has been postponed, China, as the host, should identify opportunities from pandemic recovery to encourage ambitious multilateral cooperation, enhance national actions and protect nature and human well-being, and gather momentum for global green recovery and development.
China has always been supporting a series of multilateral initiatives and enhancing international cooperation. Specifically, China should remain active in the following areas: support existing multilateral initiatives such as the World Health Organization / World Food Programme One Health initiative; support green recovery measures through various cooperation mechanisms including G20; enhance multilateral climate cooperation with EU and other developing countries; Launching a Bretton Woods-style consultation to help build out the green finance system and align the green finance taxonomies; fully utilize platforms such as the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC), improve green assessment and classification of BRI projects, work with other countries to promote the green development and implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
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