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Commentary: China embraces green growth era with "greenest" blueprint

by Xinhua writer Zhang Zhengfu

BEIJING, March 16 (Xinhua) -- Lawmakers passed China's "greenest" Five-Year Plan on Wednesday, underscoring the nation's commitment to green development and ushering in a new age for its growth model.

The blueprint, which charts the course for China's development up to 2020, places heavy weight on green development, with 10 out of 25 priority targets related to the environment. All the 10 targets are binding and among a total of 13 that must be achieved by 2020.

The emphasis on the environment is in line with the vision of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has placed green development high on the agenda and called for "protecting the environment like we are protecting our own eyes, and treating the environment the way we treat our lives."

The determination of the world's largest developing country and the most populous nation to "green" its economy should come as a welcome message to the world, which is in the midst of a stubborn fight against climate change.

The environment features prominently in the economic and social development blueprint, with seven of its 80 chapters dedicated to the environment, and 19 out of 165 major planned projects designated to saving energy, environmental protection and ecological restoration.

Under the plan, China will also have its national park system and a nationwide environment monitoring system by 2020, leading cadres will be subject to "environmental protection liability auditing" before leaving their posts and a "negative list" mechanism will be in place to make "key eco-function areas" off limits to certain industries.

The facts and figures speak for themselves and should reassure those who may doubt China's seriousness about green development. When China says it "puts ecological protection first," it is not just lip service.

The gloves are already off in China's fight for green development. A large-scale campaign has been launched to protect the Yangtze River, the world's third longest river and the nation's "River of Life," with polluting factories shut down, wetland restored and fishing curbed.

The central government is also drafting a landmark program, scheduled to be released this year, to restore the river's impaired eco-system.

China is also considering establishing a national park in the Sanjiangyuan (Sources of Three Rivers) Area to protect the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang (Mekong) rivers, one of the most delicate eco-systems in the country.

The newfound zeal for green development comes against a backdrop of China's economic shift from the old "growth at all cost" model, which has left air, water and soil tainted, to a sustainable one.

After over three decades of double-digit economic growth, China has arrived at a tipping point where it has to bid farewell to the old growth path and usher in a new chapter for its development strategies.

The ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) has made it one of its policy priorities to provide people with fresh air and clean water.

Skeptics predicting China will backtrack on its green pledge will be disappointed. It has become common sense among the leadership and people that a poor environment is too high a price to pay and "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets themselves."

As a matter of fact, the country's yearning for green growth, instead of dragging down the economy, will be a boon to the economy and unleash a new wave of opportunities for investors at home and abroad.

A whopping market for environment-related products and services, estimated by experts at up to 10 trillion yuan (about 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars), is in the making for businesses in sectors like renewable energy, pollution control, and sewage treatment.

Yes, there is no silver bullet to success and obstacles abound in making such an arduous shift. However, China has shown a solid track record of getting jobs done, no matter how painstaking they are.

A prescription that often goes unnoticed is China's unique governance system which can "concentrate resources to accomplish major undertakings."

Among the essence of traditional Chinese thinking is the concept that "Man is an integral part of nature," and it is in the gene of Chinese people to live in harmony with the environment.

After all, it's an inevitable though hard choice for China to embark on this bumpy but promising road, and there will be no turning back.

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