By Xiheng Jiang, Vice-President of China Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD)
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 shows that, while advances have been made in some areas, monumental challenges remain. The world is not on track to end poverty and millions still live in hunger. People in absolute poverty will remain at 6% by 2030, falling short of the 3% goal. It is also alarming that undernourished people went up from 784 million in 2015 to 821 million in 2017 and 55% of the population have no access to social protection. The report stresses that climate change and inequality are two major challenges, which demand enhanced national and collective action across countries, facilitated by international organizations.
China’s Progress Report on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2019) was also unveiled at UN Headquarters in September 2019. This second progress report since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in September 2015, takes stock of China’s progress in pursuing the SDGs, identifies the gaps and formulates plans for next steps. The report features cases depicting efforts by Chinese governments at all levels, also showing how the private sector and general public are contributing. So, how is China implementing the SDGs through its development policies? China is pushing its sustainable development forward in three key areas; eradicating extreme poverty, building an “ecological civilization” and contributing to global climate and sustainability governance.
By committing to eradicate extreme poverty by 2020, China is working to lift the remaining more than 50 million people out of poverty in 5 years, through targeted policy measures. These measures will help identify people in real poverty and the roots that explain why they are still trapped. The results up to now have been remarkable. 700 million people in China have moved out of poverty with the country’s economic boom. Important measures have been taken to improve the use of government resources for better social protection and better facilitation of income generation. Meanwhile, maternal and neonatal mortality ratios have further declined, meeting the related SDG targets ahead of time. The gaps between urban and rural areas and between different regions in terms of infrastructure like roads and internet, are continuously narrowing, along with the expansion of the social security net, and improved universal public service.
In parallel, the concept of an “ecological civilization” has been enshrined in the Constitution and society’s consensus that “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets” is building. In response to climate change, the Chinese government has been promoting low-carbon industries like renewable energy development and low-carbon cities with better public transportation and smart grids. In 2018, energy intensity and carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 3.1% and 4.0% respectively over the previous year. Since 2012, China has afforested nearly 70,000 km2 and between 2000 and 2017, one quarter of newly afforested areas in the world were in China.
As the largest developing country, China is committed to its international responsibilities in global climate and sustainability governance. China is further aligning the Belt and Road Initiative with the 2030 Agenda. The China-UN Peace and Development Fund and South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund endorsed by China are providing assistance through bilateral channels to support its developing peers in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
Since October 2015, China has been pursuing development in line with the economic, social and environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda. To turn these concepts into actions, China has adopted a holistic approach, by implementing integrated development strategies, cross-sector coordination, whole-of-society participation, as well as pilots of innovative solutions. For instance, the 2030 Agenda is integrated in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan, launched in January 2016. In early 2016, China established an inter-agency coordination mechanism involving 45 government departments. The 17 goals and 169 targets were divided and assigned to different departments according to their administrative responsibilities. The Progress Report on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is itself an outcome of inter-agency coordination and participation, demonstrating the importance and effectiveness of an implementation mechanism.
To encourage whole-of-society participation and contribution, the report sketches 17 cases, covering practices by local governments, villages, towns, businesses and the general public. It presents a combination of two approaches: the Chinese government’s efforts in a top-down way and Chinese citizen initiatives through a bottom-up approach. For instance, in August 2016, Ant Financial launched “Ant Forest” a philanthropic project on the Alipay App, rewarding users with “green energy points” for efforts to reduce their emissions. By August 2019, three years later, the project has mobilised 500 million users to reduce their carbon footprint by walking, using public transportation and recycling, making low-carbon life a fashion in China. With 7.92 million tons of CO2 reduced, 122 million trees have been planted and about 29,653 acres of natural habitat have been placed under protection. This has created 400,000 employment opportunities for local people to plant and take care of the trees and natural habitats, amounting to a total of RMB 60.59 million Yuan (about USD 8,698,085) in salaries.
Innovative local solutions based on local conditions are encouraged by the national sustainable development pilots programme. Shenzhen the most dynamic metropolis, Taiyuan a resource dependent city seeking transformation and Guilin known for its natural scenery, were the first three cities to explore sustainable development tailored development paths. Another three cities followed and around 10 cities will be approved as pilots by 2020. For example Taiyuan – where coal is the backbone of the economy – has been focusing on air and water pollution solutions and circular economy since being chosen as a national pilot for resource based cities.
Sustainable development is an ongoing endeavor. China is still confronted with an uphill battle for development in the shift of growth drivers as well as structural adjustment and upgrading. The progress report outlines tasks and specific pathways in the next steps for each goal, underlining China’s determination to keep pushing development forward in a more efficient, equitable and sustainable way. Sustainable development is also a joint human endeavor. China will continue to actively participate in international development co-operation under the South-South Cooperation framework and make more contributions to the global implementation of the 2030 Agenda.