China's economic growth has long impressed the world with its blistering speed. Now its accelerating green transformation is expected to offer inspiring lessons in coordinating the economy and the natural environment.
Ant Forest, a green initiative on the world's leading payment platform Alipay, last week won the 2019 UN Champions of the Earth award for turning the "green good deeds of half a billion people" into real trees planted in some of China's most arid regions.
It was not the first time that China won the UN's highest environmental honor for outstanding contributions in terms of a positive transformative impact on the environment.
Last year, the Zhejiang green rural revival program won the award for inspiration and action for its work to regenerate polluted waterways and damaged lands. In 2017, the Saihanba afforestation community was recognized in the inspiration and action category for transforming degraded land in northern China into a lush paradise.
The awards came amid China's solid progress in curbing pollution, which is a key part of China's "three tough battles" that also include forestalling and defusing major risks and targeted poverty alleviation.
The importance attached to the environment is now greater than ever. Policymakers have reiterated that China's modernization is characterized by harmonious coexistence between man and nature.
China's economic growth has not come without negative consequences for the environment and climate. In the late 1970s, China's economy began expanding, and the expansion accelerated in the following decades, during which problems of environmental pollution also increased.
To strike a balance between economic boom and environmental burden, the country has strived to wean its economy off excessive environment-damaging development and advance well-coordinated environmental conservation.
In the 1980s, China enshrined environmental protection as a fundamental national policy. The sustainable development strategy was formulated and put into practice in the 1990s. Since 2012, the development of an ecological civilization has gained greater momentum. Now the country follows a maxim illustrated in the catchphrase: "Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets."
The connection between China's pollution and economic growth has been weakening since 1995, according to new international research published in the Science Advances journal that was based on statistics including economic growth and environmental conditions in China during the 1977-2017 period.
Researchers from five countries also point out that increased environmental awareness and investments in China over the past decade have produced results.
Air quality in China continued to improve with more cities reporting a drop in major pollutant indicators. Surface water quality kept improving in general. In terms of soil pollution control, the country had reduced solid waste imports by 46.5 percent last year.
Vigorous environmental protection has injected impetus into related sectors. Total revenue of China's environmental protection industry is expected to surpass 2 trillion yuan in 2020, up from 1.5 trillion yuan in 2018, according to estimates by the China Association of Environmental Protection Industry.
Green finance also took off. In 2018, the country issued a total of 31.2 billion dollars in green bonds, remaining the world's second-largest green bond market, according to the China Central Depository & Clearing Co. and Climate Bonds Initiative.
The country announced a plan in 2016 to establish a national green finance mechanism, becoming the first country in the world to do so. It also helped push green finance to be included on the G20 agenda.
In recent years, China has adhered to the path of giving priority to ecology and green development, said Minister of Ecology and Environment Li Ganjie. "Ecological and environmental protection has become an important force and a key to promoting high-quality economic development."