A new policy agenda of China’s green transformation

In the run-up to the World’s Environment Day on June 5, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) was held in Hangzhou during June 2-5, under the theme of “A New Era: Towards a New World of Green Prosperity”.

CCICED is a high-level international advisory body to the Government of China, having the Vice Premier of the State Council, Han Zheng as Chairperson and involving close cooperation between Chinese and global policy experts and thought leaders in the fields of sustainable development.

Sweden announced its interest to support CCICED in 1998 and has, since then, been actively contributing to CCICED’s policy research and cooperation activities. The AGM is of particular importance as many of the policy issues and suggestions discussed here will have a potential impact on priority-setting and new-thinking in China’s 14th Five-Year-Plan (2021 – 2025). It also prepares ground for China’s participation in the forthcoming UN Climate Summit in September this year as well as for the UN Conference of Convention on Biodiversity (CBD COP 15), for which China will be the host country.  

A Swedish delegation, including representatives from the Ministry of the Environment (Miljödepartementet), the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) and the Embassy of Sweden in Beijing attended the AGM. 

8 high-level special policy studies (SPS) in the fields of environment, climate change, biodiversity and ocean-related issues were presented and discussed. One of the encouraging and inspiring developments is that the SPS on Sustainable Consumptionhas become one of the most highlighted policy agenda at this important event. The SPS was co-led by REN Yong, Director-General, the Environmental Development Center of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and Sweden’s current CCICED Council Member, Åsa Romson, the former Deputy Premier Minister and Minister for Climate and the Environment.

REN Yong, Director-General, the Environmental Development Center of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (Left); Åsa Romson, the former Deputy Premier Minister and Minister for Climate and the Environment (Right).

Sustainable consumption will be truly transformative for China’s green development in two ways:

  • China is embarking on a transformation towards high-quality economic growth. Sustainable consumption will be a key element of this transformation, i.e. sustainable consumption is about high-quality well-being and high-quality prosperity.
  • China is moving from an investment-driven and supply-side focused growth model towards a consumption-driven and demand-side focused growth model. This means that the speed and the efficiency of China’s high-quality growth transformation will be heavily depending on how sustainable consumption will be achieved.

For China (and the World) to achieve sustainable consumption, two central aspects need to be emphasised:

  • The sense of urgency: the impact of a fast growing and unstainable consumption on the environment and ecosystems are already significant and far-reaching. To win the three wars on pollution of air, water and soilin China, sustainable consumption will play a key role. 
  • Sustainable consumption is about people’s behavior, life style and life quality, i.e. how we live, what we eat and how we travel. This requires a fundamental change of mind-set as well as a wide participation and strong engagement of citizens and stakeholders. As a result of China’s economic growth, a larger proportion of the Chinese population are shifting from a low-income towards middle-income consumption pattern. This shift needs to be healthy, resource-efficient and with low ecological footprint. A nationwide awareness-raising and action on sustainable consumption and life style can be an important first step to inspire and to accelerate China’s green transformation.
Source: CCICED Special policy study report on green transition and sustainable social governance.

From a policy perspective:

  • Sustainable consumption is being raised at a very high political level.  President Xi Jinping made a clear statement of the importance of sorting and recycling of wastes.[1] He called it an important indicator of a society’s level of civilization.
  • Pilots of no-waste cities have also started in China. In addition, many cities are already taking actions on sustainable waste management.

However, policy actions on sustainable consumption will not be sufficient and efficient with a silo-based approach and fragmented implementation. China needs to utilise cross-sectoral linkages and synergies in different areas for a coherent and system-wide transformation and far-reaching co-benefits.

In this context, a coherent and integrated national strategy can be an efficient policy tool to guide and facilitate the development of sustainable consumption. Sweden and a few other countries have already put forward such national strategies for sustainable consumption, as a key element of the implementation of Agenda 2030. In addition, Sweden’s national strategy for public procurement and the Long-term Food Strategy for Sweden (Livsmedelsstrategi) can also be useful departing points for policy dialogues and best-practice exchanges between Sweden and China on green transformation, having sustainable consumption as a key focus.

Last, but not least, the rapid development of China’s digital economy, not least the new commerce is imposing new pressure on sustainable consumption – as both the speed and volume of e-commerce in China are increasing dramatically. At the same time, the integration of green transformation and digital economy, in forms of both new commerce, new manufacturing and new logistics, can, and need to be a game-changer. Having the common vision of an innovation-driven green transformation, the future bilateral cooperation between Sweden and China can make sustainable consumption not only healthy, greenandinclusive, but also innovative and smart.

[1] China Daily