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Five-Year Plan can align sustainability, growth: observers

By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York ( Updated: 2016-04-21 10:57

China 13th Five-Year Plan includes provisions that make environmental stewardship an integral component of the nation's economic development strategy, said speakers said at a United Nations forum of Wednesday called Planning for a Sustainable Future: China's 13th Five-Year Plan.

"Economic restructuring and sustainability are a key focus of the 13th Five-Year Plan," said Dr. Patrick Ho, deputy chairman and secretary-general of the China Energy Fund Committee, which sponsored the event along with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

China's Five-Year Plans guide the country's economic and social development, and the 13th version will cover the period from 2016 through 2020. It was officially introduced last month. The plan includes goals and measures to address several of China's most pressing environmental challenges, including air andwater pollution and climate change.

Ho spoke about the economic transformation that is taking hold in the mainland as the government guides the economy to achieve annual gross domestic product growth of 6.5 to 7 percent and shifts the emphasis from manufacturing to services and the development of a consumer or middle class.

"This plan is a pivotal one for China," said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

Sachs said China's mission to upgrade to a service and high-technology economy and addressing SDGs are aligned. Noting that the transformation is not a simple task, Sachs said the country's One Belt, One Road and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiatives will help to "integrate China more deeply in the (Asian) region" and bring more resources for green or sustainable development".

David O'Connor, permanent observer for the International Union for Conservation of Nature to the UN, said China is aware of the need to develop a finance system for the funding of projects to achieve green and sustainability development goals.

Nicholas Robinson of Pace University in New York, a pioneer in environmental law education, said China has quickly begun to develop an environmental law system. "China has been making remarkable progress in the evolution of environmental law in the last 15 years," he said.

Jia Qingguo, a dean and professor at Peking University, said the latest Five-Year Plan is focused on sustainable development and "is consistent with the expectations of the international community".

Qingguo noted that the Five-Year Plan also represents a "wish list" of items that everyone would like to see China accomplish.

"Just remember that some of the goals in the plan – achieving economic growth of 6.5 to 7 percent yearly — will be very hard to do considering that the global economy is struggling right now.

"Improving the environment comes with a price," he continued. "You have to balance the creation of jobs and economic growth with the desire to improve the environment. Again, this is not an easy thing to do."

Qingguo said these are "big challenges that the world community still has not resolved".

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