By HOU LIQIANG
Echoing President Xi Jinping's call for green development, some national legislators have called on the government to incorporate a green initiative in the stimulus package to be used to revive the economy hit by COVID-19.
China's rapid development of low-carbon technologies, such as solar power, has offered a solid base for the introduction of such an initiative, which will produce a win-win result for economic revival and long-term, high-quality and green development, they said.
Green development was among the most talked-about topics when Xi attended the annual sessions of the National People's Congress in May and last year.
In a panel discussion with fellow deputies from the Inner Mongolia autonomous region at the third session of the 13th NPC on May 22, he emphasized the country's strategic resolve to enhance the building of an ecological civilization.
He also demanded pushing forward campaigns against the pollution of air, water and soil to firmly uphold the principle of prioritizing ecology and green development.
In a panel discussion with fellow deputies from Inner Mongolia at the second session of the 13th NPC last year, Xi called for intensified protection of the ecological system, saying that, fundamentally speaking, environmental protection and economic development are closely integrated and complement each other.
He also said the country should explore a new path of high-quality development that prioritizes ecology and highlights green development.
National legislators said it will be of great significance for China and the world if the country can stick to Xi's philosophy of green development by invigorating its economy with a green stimulus initiative, although many supporting policies still need to be rolled out to make it viable.
Wang Yi, a member of the NPC Standing Committee and the NPC's Environmental Protection and Resources Conservation Committee, said the government's efforts to revive the economy come as the world is confronted with escalating challenges from nontraditional security-related areas, such as climate change.
"Unprecedentedly, the global spread of COVID-19 has made people realize that nontraditional security-related factors may result in severe damage to traditional security areas and social and economic order," Wang said.
"They learn that great importance needs to be attached to nontraditional security-related ecological and environmental protection and climate change, including wildlife protection."
Quoting recent reports from the World Economic Forum, he said the top five risks the world faces in the next 10 years are related to climate change and more than half of worldwide GDP is now moderately or highly dependent on nature.
Wang said that while it's an urgent task for the global community to climb out of the economic recession caused by the pandemic, there has been interest expressed worldwide in formulating economic stimulus plans able to revive economies while also promoting green transition and sustainable development.
He said China now has a more solid foundation to make its economic stimulus plan green compared with the efforts it made to cope with the impact of the 2008 global financial crisis.
"With breakthroughs in major low-carbon technologies, the costs of renewable energy and electric vehicles have been increasingly lowered," Wang said. "Meanwhile, digital technology has been deeply integrated into economic and social development. All these have offered the foundation for a green stimulus initiative."
Aside from enhancing efficiency in resource consumption and accelerating the low-carbon transition, a green initiative could also create job opportunities and promote transformation in industrial, energy and transportation structures, he said.
Wang said a 2018 report from the International Labour Organization shows that emerging green industries, such as electric vehicles, will be able to create 24 million jobs globally if countries worldwide introduce comprehensive green development policies.
A government guideline released in late April on accelerating the establishment of a regulatory and policy system for green production and consumption had laid a basic framework for the drafting of a green economic stimulus initiative, Wang said, but more needed to be done.
"The country should draft a clear and explicit green stimulus plan and a step-by-step green development strategy that incorporates short-term measures to boost economic growth and medium-and long-term targets for green and low-carbon transition," he said.
In addition to publicizing more standards and introducing more preferential policies for green development, the government should also resort to legal, economic and administrative means to prevent ecological damage and environmental pollution from poor-quality and redundant construction of new projects, while guiding investment in green sectors such as green infrastructure and low-carbon energy, Wang said.
Challenges of COVID-19
Wang Jinnan, an NPC deputy and an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, called for an incentive mechanism to guide local governments to stick to a green development path amid the challenges COVID-19 has brought to environmental protection.
The key priority for the government is to promote epidemic control and economic recovery while ensuring that the country realizes its goal of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the end of the year, he said.
"There's no doubt that environmental protection will suffer amid efforts aimed at epidemic control and economic recovery," he said.
Enterprises may reduce their investment in environmental protection as they try to expand markets and lower costs. Meanwhile, the implementation of regular epidemic control and prevention measures may reduce the efficiency of environmental law enforcement, said Wang Jinnan, who is also president of the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning.
He called on the government to introduce incentive mechanisms while also more severely punishing officials who perform poorly in environmental protection.
Environmental protection should be made a key criterion in assessing local officials' performance, he said. Meanwhile, honorary awards, financial rewards and preferential policies could be offered to officials or local governments that perform well, to promote the importance of ecological and environmental protection.
He also suggested making the rankings from the assessments public to encourage local governments to be more proactive in promoting the country's ecological progress.
Despite the challenges, Wang Jinnan said he is confident the country will win the fight to control pollution.
"If viewed from the perspective of the current conditions and the available supporting policies for environmental governance, there is a better-than-average chance that China will triumph in the pollution control campaign this year, as scheduled," he said.