Clear targets for realizing Beautiful China

In the first weeks of this year, China’s central government issued a policy document clarifying what is meant by building a “Beautiful China” (2024 Guidelines to comprehensively promote the development of a Beautiful China), which set out a broad range of environmental targets through 2035 and even beyond.

In a recent article for China Daily Global, Dimitri de Boer, special adviser of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development, commented on the importance of the guidelines which covers everything from controlling pollution to protecting habitats and reducing climate emissions. Many of the goals are ambitious, which is very timely, given the urgency of the environmental crises facing the world and China.

Building a “Beautiful China” has become a priority for China’s leadership. As de Boer points out, the document links environmental objectives with the desire for better living conditions, and some national pride. It is also recognition that much more work is needed in the coming years and decades, as the country needs to simultaneously address air, water and land pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, plastic and chemical pollution, and much more.

The following extract from China Briefing summarizes in English the key points of the guidelines document.

What is the “Beautiful China” initiative?

In 2012, the Chinese government introduced the strategic concept of “Building a beautiful China,” emphasizing effective ecological protection, sustainable resource use, and harmonious coexistence with nature. In 2017, the government provided further clarification and overall requirements for this concept, aligning it with China’s sustainable development plan rooted in ecological civilization.

During the July 19, 2023, National Conference on Ecological and Environmental Protection in Beijing, President Xi Jinping emphasized that the next five years were critical for building a “Beautiful China”. Xi stressed the importance of harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature, advocating for a holistic approach to ecological challenges. He committed to fighting pollution, advancing green development, and ensuring ecosystem diversity. Xi also called for nationwide planning to reaching peak carbon emissions and eventually carbon neutrality.

On January 11, 2024, the government issued guidelines to comprehensively promote the development of a “Beautiful China,” giving the concept a more prominent role in the construction of a strong country and the process of achieving national rejuvenation. More specifically, the guidelines list development goals as follows:

  • By 2027, China is committed to achieving a continuous decrease in major pollutants, concurrently enhancing the quality of its ecological environment. Efforts will be directed toward maintaining the national ecological protection red line area (referring to the area with special important ecological functions, which must be mandatory and strictly protected) at above 3.15 million square kilometers, an initiative introduced in 2017 to safeguard ecological conservation.
  • By 2030, the country aims to reach peak carbon emissions, laying the groundwork for achieving carbon neutrality by 2060. Additionally, specific targets include reaching a 45 percent proportion of new energy vehicles among all new automobiles and the elimination of old diesel locomotives, while ensuring the sustained growth of port container transport.
  • Moving toward 2035, the focus shifts to the development of green production methods and lifestyles, marked by peak and declining carbon emissions. The goal is to achieve a fundamental improvement in the national ecological environment. Key targets include railway freight turnover reaching about 25 percent, attaining global advanced efficiency in energy and water resource utilization, achieving full coverage of zero-waste city construction, increasing national forest coverage to 26 percent, and elevating the soil and water conservation rate to 75 percent to foster a virtuous cycle in ecosystems.
  • Looking ahead to 2050, China envisions a comprehensive upgrade in its ecological civilization. The nation aims to fully realize green development and lifestyles, accomplish deep decarbonization in key areas, and establish a healthy and aesthetically pleasing ecological environment, culminating in the creation of a “Beautiful China” in all aspects of its ecological landscape.

Throughout its development, the concept has evolved from an aspirational goal to a solid framework that involves specific agendas across multiple fields and sectors. The guidelines list some main topics:

  • Accelerating the Transition to a Model of Green Development:
    • Optimizing the allocation of land for development and protection
    • Promoting peak carbon emissions and carbon neutrality
    • Coordinating and promoting green and low-carbon development in key areas
    • Promoting economical and intensive utilization of resources
  • Continuously promoting pollution prevention and control:
    • Furthering the efforts to keep the skies blue, waters clear, and lands clean
    • Strengthening management of solid waste and new pollutants
  • Enhancing the stability and sustainability of ecosystem diversity:
    • Building a solid natural ecological barrier
    • Implementing integrated protection and systematic management of ecosystems
    • Strengthening biodiversity protection, establishing national botanical gardens, and protecting wildlife
  • Safeguarding the bottom line for ecological safety:
    • Improving the national ecological security system
    • Ensuring safety from use of nuclear resources and radiation
    • Strengthening biosafety management
    • Effectively responding to the adverse impacts and risks of climate change
    • Preventing and controlling environmental risks
  • Building a model for the construction of a “Beautiful China:
    • Constructing an advanced pilot zone for “Beautiful China”
    • Building beautiful cities
    • Building beautiful villages
    • Carrying out innovative demonstrations
  • Actions to build a “Beautiful China” for all:
    • Cultivating and promoting ecological culture
    • Practicing green and low-carbon lifestyles
    • Establishing a multi-participation action system

The Guidelines encourage businesses to adopt eco-friendly strategies, invest in green technologies, and align their operations with environmental standards. The quantitative targets specified in the Guidelines, as well as the enforcement measures demonstrate the government’s determination to achieve green and low carbon development. Stricter enforcement of environment protection regulations should be expected in 2024 and beyond.