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Exemplary greening

By ERIK SOLHEIM | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-04 10:13
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What started as the war on pollution became a movement for an ecological civilization and a Beautiful China

I went on a wonderful jogging tour in Beijing in February. It was freezing cold, but the sky was blue, the sun was bright and the air was fresh. I visited Beijing to receive the 2023 Chinese Government Friendship Award. To better kick-start my day, I went outside and took a morning run. Under the blue skies and bright sunny light, I happily breathed the fresh air and enjoyed the beautiful winter morning.

Looking back many years ago, I would never go jogging in Beijing. The faint smell of coal burning at the time hung in the air and the color of the sky was gray from smoke. At the time when I spoke to Chinese friends about the economic miracle bringing 1.4 billion Chinese out of poverty, they would always reply: "Yes, but I want to see the sun." Now the sun is back.

China has made huge progress in the war on pollution and has become the country with the fastest improvement of atmospheric environment quality in the world. More than 10 years ago, China took the lead in fighting air pollution. Now China leads the world not only in better air quality, but in environmental progress more widely and in green technology.

China believes that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets, as President Xi Jinping said in his famous speech in Anji, Zhejiang province, back in 2005. It has included the concept of harmony between man and nature in its path of modernization.

In 2012, the Chinese government first introduced the concept of building a Beautiful China. In January, China issued guidelines to comprehensively promote the development of a Beautiful China. The guidelines put this initiative in a prominent position in the construction of a strong country and in the process of achieving national rejuvenation. With the guidance providing a clear blueprint and a set of concrete plans, the realization of a Beautiful China is within reach.

I love the concept "Beautiful China". It's simple. It's people-centered. It's close to the heart. It mobilizes the emotions of all people — farmers and industrial workers, students and IT professionals, rural and urban residents, the old and young. We need such slogans to create the mass movement necessary for better care of Mother Earth. And of course, Beautiful China can easily be translated to Beautiful India, Beautiful America, or Beautiful Norway, to mention my home country.

It's inspiring to see how millions of people across this vast land are creating a Beautiful China.

China is in a league by itself as the world's biggest tree planter. In Saihanba in Hebei province or in the Kubuqi desert in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, I have been a witness to how tens of thousands of people have planted trees and greened the land.

Ecological restoration programs bring land and waterways to their old beauty — from the fishing ban in the Yangtze River to the green rural vitalization of Zhejiang province. Last year, President Xi visited a mangrove forest in Guangdong province, highlighting the role of mangroves as coastline protection and as species-rich habitats of huge importance. China's innovative redline system provides a scientific way of establishing priorities for conservation efforts.

While the idea of national parks may have been American, China is now establishing what will be the most comprehensive national park system in the world, with big parks in the Xizang autonomous region and Qinghai province and new conservation areas all over China. It will give better protection to China's wonderful nature as well as to iconic species such as snow leopards and Tibetan antelopes.

The cities of China are also rapidly becoming greener and more beautiful. Shenzhen in Guangdong province hosts a big wetland, rich in birds, right in the center of town. Great green corridors pass through that city. In Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, the West Lake has been restored to its historical glory creating one of the world's most beautiful cities. The canals of Suzhou in Jiangsu province and the Dianchi Lake in Kunming, Yunnan province, have been cleaned up and they provide beautiful urban areas for residents and visitors to walk or cycle. Xiamen, Fujian province, proudly wishes to be the "garden by the sea". When I recently visited Datong, a coal mining hub in Shanxi province, I was struck with how clean and green this industrial city has become.

China's green development can inspire the world. Backed by domestic success, China confidently co-chaired with Canada the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) that produced the historic Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. To facilitate the implementation of this new global agenda, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment has recently issued the China National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2023-30), anchoring the management of nature in top notch science and moving fast forward on conservation.

Through the Belt and Road Initiative and across the Global South, China has been increasing green investment, accelerating technology and knowledge transfer as well as sharing valuable experience and expertise on nature protection and green development.

It is also important that China is willing to open the door to international experience and welcome world experts and talents to engage in and support China's reform and development. When I attended the award ceremony of the 2023 Chinese Government Friendship Award, Premier Li Qiang said China's development is open, and the country welcomes talents from all over the world. The Chinese government will create a better environment for foreign talents to work and live in China.

Let's evolve the concept of building a Beautiful China into an idea of a Beautiful World. Let's expect the beautiful vision of all countries jointly pursuing win-win cooperation and heading toward a clean, healthy and prosperous future.

A few years ago I had the pleasure to visit the Giant Panda National Park in Sichuan province and observe the extraordinary efforts to increase the number of this wonderful iconic species. It's at the same time a high tech operation deploying the best in modern technology and science and a heartwarming protection of amazing animals by dedicated local people. There are few symbols of China as strong as the giant panda. This wonderful animal embodies the idea of a Beautiful China in a beautiful world.

The author is vice-president of the Green Belt and Road Coalition and former executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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