The Honourable Peter Kent, former Canadian Minister of the Environment, led a delegation from Environment Canada to Beijing from November 12-15, 2013 to attend the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (the China Council). The China Council is a high-profile international advisory body to the Chinese government on environment and sustainable development, of which former Minister Kent serves (in his personal capacity) as International Executive Vice-Chair. This year, the AGM took place just after the conclusion of the Chinese Communist Party’s Third Plenum, and reflected its emphasis on the greater prominence of environmental protection in China’s future economic planning. The social dimension of China’s environmental policies was highlighted, with keynote speeches by senior Chinese government officials stressing the concept of “ecological civilization ” and outlining plans for achieving it. CCICED members reviewed and discussed the work of the Council’s task forces and special policy studies, and agreed on policy recommendations to put forward to the Chinese government.
The China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development: The China Council is a high-level advisory body that provides the Chinese government with research-based policy recommendations on environment and development issues. Comprised of leading Chinese and international environment and sustainable development experts, the Council has been credited with a number of positive environmental policy changes undertaken by China over the past 20 years. Canada has been the Council’s lead international partner since its inception in 1992. In this capacity, Environment Canada nominates its International Executive Vice Chair, currently held by the Honourable Peter Kent at the invitation of Minister Leona Aglukkaq. Additionally, Deputy Minister Bob Hamilton was appointed as a member to the Council this year. The Secretariat’s International Support Office is based at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. China is represented on the Council by senior officials, and this year saw a transition in key roles following leadership changes since last November. Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli now serves as the Council’s Chair, while former Chair and current Premier of China Li Keqiang met with Council members to receive policy recommendations.
With the theme of ‘Environment and Society for Green Development,’ the 2013 AGM was held from November 13 to15, occurring right on the heels of the Third Plenum. Task Force Reports and Special Policy Studies presented and discussed were as follows:
- Environmental Protection and Social Development
- Sustainable Consumption and Green Development
- Media and Public Participation Policies on Promoting China’s Green Development
- Corporate Social Responsibility in Green Development
- Promoting Urban Green Travel
Further details on CCICED and the 2013 AGM are available on the official website.
Policy Recommendations: In the draft policy recommendations , the members called for the concept of “ecological civilization” to be accelerated and given adequate institutional support for it realization. Changing consumption patterns towards sustainable choices was also stressed, as was the recognition that enterprises will need to play a key role in disseminating values of corporate social and environmental responsibility. Finally, the role of China’s new media should be harnessed, as opposed to rejected, in pursuit of these goals, inviting the full participation of the public.
Dr. Art Hanson, who serves as Chief International Advisor to the Council, presented his issues paper to the Council to put China’s environmental challenges in perspective.He noted that Chinese society is in the midst of a transition in values: traditional vs. contemporary, domestic vs. international. He advocated for an inclusive, effective, and efficient approach to governance, stressing that the relationship between government and society should be prioritized. To this end, the public should be allowed to fully participate in the process of green development, including enterprises. The government has made clear that development will continue at full speed, with a “new-style” urbanization plan in the works, and Dr. Hanson emphasized that unless the serious ecological issues are addressed, there will be risks to its success and to the very fabric of society. The urbanization plan should find ways to measure and limit impacts on the environment, such as through ecological redlining, while improving citizens’ quality of life. Fiscal and tax reform will also be a key part of the equation, as solutions will be impossible without financial backing. Finally, China should invite the international community to share lessons learned on how best to carry out the transformative change needed, as the rest of the world will benefit from a greener, sustainable China and from borrowing best practices in terms of respecting nature’s limits and reducing ecological footprints.
Social Implications of China’s Environmental Policies: Making the case for green development, the Council’s investigations leveraged the sentiment of the current leadership that social harmony is of utmost importance. During his speech, Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian focused heavily on practical ways in which “ecological civilization” can be implemented, for the benefit of the people. Increased transparency, environmental monitoring, and enforcement were all emphasized. Each of the parallel forums that were organized to encourage debate and discussion on November 14 had an element of society in their themes. The first, titled “Green Development and Social Harmony”, was co-chaired by CCICED Vice Chairperson and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, with CCICED Secretary General and Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, Li Ganjie. The second examined the role of Media in Public Participation for Green Development, and was co-chaired by Council member Bindu Lohani, Vice-President of the Asian Development Bank, along with Wang Jin, Director of the Resources, Energy, and Environmental Law Institute at Peking University. The final forum was co-chaired by the Deputy Minister of Environment Canada, Bob Hamilton, along with the Council’s Deputy Secretary General Xu Qinghua, and discussed Practice and Innovation for Ecological Civilization. Discussions highlighted the necessity to engage with China’s civil society to achieve sustainable development goals and encouragement of public participation.
Meeting with Premier Li Keqiang: In his first time participating in the AGM as China’s Prime Minister after five years as Council Chair when he was Vice Premier, Premier Li Keqiang met with the Honourable Peter Kent and other Council members on November 14 to discuss the results of the Council’s investigations.
Mr. Kent offered advice on behalf of the Council, and was echoed by UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva, and World Wildlife Fund Director General Jim Leape. In his comments, Premier Li broadly reviewed challenges and future directions for China, including:
1) Rapid growth must be green and occur in a context that considers the health and safety of its people;
2) Chinese citizens now have higher expectations for the quality of their environment; and,
3) As a developing country, China must shoulder its share of responsibility and work with other countries to tackle climate change.
The Premier specifically highlighted the newly-implemented Air Pollution Prevention Action Plan as demonstrating China’s commitment to environmental action. He also reiterated some of the major policy initiatives arising from the Third Plenum, including an increased reliance on market forces and greater authority delegated to subnational governments. In this context, the Premier noted increased penalties (including costs) for those breaking environmental laws. Finally, the Premier highlighted China’s enormous market for green technology, and that China will welcome private capital investment in sewage, wastewater, and other infrastructure development.
Bilateral Meeting with Chinese Minister of Environmental Protection: As is customary before the opening of the AGM, a bilateral meeting took place on November 13 between the Chinese and International Executive Vice Chairs: Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian and the Honourable Peter Kent. They had a fruitful exchange on respective priorities and plans for the China Council meeting.
The next CCICED AGM is scheduled to be held in Beijing on November 10-12, 2014.
 Ecological civilization has been described by Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian as “harmony between people and nature, people and people, people and society.”
 The final recommendations will be made public shortly.