Essays on Science and Society

From Industrial Toward Ecological in China

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Science  15 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6087, pp. 1397
DOI: 10.1126/science.1224009

Since the 1992 Rio summit, China has been on the fast track to industrialize and urbanize, having transitioned from a low-income developing country into the second-largest economy in the world. But many, including President Hu Jintao, have admitted that the current conventional path to industrialization and urbanization is unsustainable. Although China has met the millennium goals for poverty reduction, there have been increasing disparities between rich and poor, rural and urban, and coastal and inland regions. Concerns are growing over water availability and pollution, land degradation, depletion of exhaustible resources, and so on.

China has no choice but to lead the way for a new paradigm of sustainable development. In 2007, China called for shifting from traditional models of production and consumption to more environmentally friendly and resource-saving models. Among 17 mandatory targets in the 12th 5-year (2011–2015) plan, 12 are related to the protection of natural resources and the environment, with the rest for social welfare improvement and with none for economic growth. Although progress has been slow, actions are being taken: progressive pricing for electricity consumption introduced; energy consumption quota and emission targets disaggregated for implementation and monitored; emissions trading schemes experimented; initiatives for eco-cities and low-carbon cities developed and implemented; and building codes upgraded and enforced. Moreover, the rate of GDP growth is no longer considered the primary indicator for evaluating the performance of local government officials. The official target is set at 7% per year as compared with two-digit figures in the past decades. In many aspects, China is accelerating the transition from industrial to ecological civilization. Looking beyond Rio+20, although the road will be difficult and will require intensified international cooperation, there is reason to believe that sustainable development is not simply a slogan or vision but a real ongoing process in China.


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