China's improvements to its environment continue to go from strength to strength. Work is under way on the creation of nine national parks with a combined area of nearly 170,000 sq km, and this year China will formulate an overall plan for the national park system.
Some of the parks are devoted to endangered wild species such as the giant panda in the southwest and northwest, the Siberian tiger and Amur leopard in the northeast, and another to the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Lancang rivers, China's three major waterways.
China is determined to do much more in environmental governance. The "river chief" rule will be in place in more than 20 provincial-level regions this year. Under the scheme, local government officers are named river chiefs and take responsibility for dealing with water pollution.
"The new concept of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development should be implemented, with improving growth quality and efficiency as the central task," President Xi Jinping said in a group discussion with lawmakers during the annual session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 10.
"Ecological civilization" was listed along with economic, political, cultural and social progress as one of the five goals in the country's overall development plan at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012, when Xi was elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee.
The key tenets of ecological civilization include the need to respect, protect and adapt to nature; a commitment to resource conservation; environmental restoration and protection; recycling; low-carbon use; and sustainable development.
Lucid waters and lush mountains are as valuable as gold and silver, Xi said.
Ecological civilization is an important element of national rejuvenation, and of huge importance to the world given the role of China as the most populous nation and second largest economy.
"The CPC Central Committee with Xi at its core gives high priority to ecological progress as vital to the future of both China and the world," said Zhang Xiaode, director of the eco-civilization research center at the Chinese Academy of Governance.
REFORMS IN FULL SWING
China has been speeding up its ecological civilization drive over the past four years, both institutionally and practically.
Last year, the Central Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform headed by Xi passed about 20 reforms to advance ecological progress.
The series of guidelines cover compensation for environmental damage, law enforcement, green financing, national parks, river chiefs and setting ecological red lines to strengthen environmental protection and restrict industrial projects.
Nationwide, more than 10 provinces have demarcated zones under the protection of the ecological red line. Sichuan and Guizhou in the upper Yangtze River marked 40 percent and 32 percent of their respective land areas as protected by the red line. Eleven provinces and cities along the river, the country's longest, will establish ecological red lines this year.
Meanwhile, routine central and local environmental inspection campaigns have pressed authorities and businesses not to lose momentum in pollution control.
Rule of law is being strengthened via the 2015 revisions to the Environmental Protection Law, considered the strictest in history.
"Environment authorities nationwide gave 124,000 punishments and fines totaling 6.63 billion yuan (960 million U.S. dollars) to businesses for environment-related offenses in 2016, up 28 percent and 56 percent respectively," said Minister of Environmental Protection Chen Jining.
Pilot administrative reform aimed at strengthening local law enforcement is under way. Nine provinces and cities including Beijing now have environmental police forces to deal with polluters.
"Basic rules of ecological civilization are being established," said Pan Jiahua, head of the urban development and environment institute under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Leading the world in new and renewable energy, China is undergoing a revolution in energy production and consumption, with plans to raise the ratio of non-fossil energy use in total consumption to about 14.3 percent this year, up from 13.3 percent in 2016, and to raise the share to about 20 percent by 2030.
In an instruction in December, President Xi called for creating an ecological civilization through the rule of law, with backbone regulations established as soon as possible.
China will place all key sources of industrial pollution under round-the-clock online monitoring, according to the government work report delivered by Premier Li Keqiang at the annual session of the national legislature on March 5.
China has steadily increased focus on the environment, which among other things can be seen in China's five-year plans, said Agi Veres, country director of the United Nations Development Program, in an interview with Xinhua.
"Climate change was briefly touched upon in the 11th five-year plan and now, in the 13th five-year plan, the climate change and environment in general is a bearing element," she said. "The positive environmental trajectory that China is now portraying is embedded in the concept of ecological civilization."
"The Paris Agreement was a milestone in the history of climate governance. We must ensure this endeavor is not derailed," Xi said during his visit to the United Nations Office at Geneva in January.
China will continue to take actions to cope with climate change, Xi said.
China has pledged to cut its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 60-65 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
China's important global role in the environment area is perhaps most obvious in the area of climate change, said Veres. "China has been constantly engaged with the global community in reaching amicable agreements to address one of our globe's biggest concerns."
In ecological civilization, the transformational change seen in China, coupled with China's ingenuity, provides valuable experiences that can be shared with other countries, Veres added.
Ecological civilization elements can be found in the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
"The five Ps in the 2030 Agenda: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership have many similarities with China's development strategies," said Pan with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Environmental challenges remain and more reforms are needed for China to achieve bigger progress," he said.