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Ecological civilization regarded as realistic vision of humanity

Author  :  CHEN MIRONG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2023-04-28

Since the start of the new era, under the guidance of President Xi Jinping’s thought on ecological civilization, China has been upholding and acting on the principle that “lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets,” and striving to maintain harmony between humanity and nature as it plans economic and social development. Meanwhile, China actively participates in global climate governance and practically performs its environmental duties related to climate change and biodiversity, contributing Chinese insights and power to global sustainable development. In this context, CSST recently interviewed several foreign scholars to investigate how the Chinese concept of ecological civilization is viewed abroad.

Rethinking human-nature relationship

“After a prolonged period of high-speed economic growth, Chinese society was experiencing unprecedented ecological pressures and environmental constraints,” noted Maurizio Marinelli, an honorary professor from the Institute for Global Prosperity at the University College London in the United Kingdom. He told CSST that the construction of ecological civilization points towards the relevance of setting climate sustainability goals and gives much more depth to the concept of human and ecological “sustainable development.”

Robert Kuhn, an adjunct professor at the Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science under the Freie Universität Berlin in Germany and a senior consultant to the European Commission, associated ecological civilization with the global concept of sustainable development. He said that both emphasize holistic and inclusive approaches to protecting the environment and can serve as reference frameworks for environmental and climate policy formulation, economic restructuring, and involvement of citizens and multiple stakeholders in processes of socio-ecological change.

Regarding ecological civilization as sustainable development with Chinese characteristics, Kuhn said the Chinese concept highlights the importance of creating a society that is in harmony with nature, aspiring to a fundamental transformation in interactions between humans and nature.

“This involves not just protecting the environment, but also developing a new approach to economics and governance that addresses sustainable and equitable development,” Kuhn said, adding that ecological civilization stresses taking into account the interconnectedness of all living things.

Echoing Kuhn’s view, Marinelli said that ecological civilization has the possibility to offer three main benefits of global significance for humanity. First, it calls into question the economy of growth, shedding light on natural capital. Second, it emphasizes the necessity to re-establish a harmonious relationship between human activities and their impact on nature. Third, it allows us to rethink the way in which nature and culture, knowledge and politics are interrelated.

A vision for global future

“This is at a time when environmental problems are seen to be threatening the future of civilization and humanity,” said Arran Gare, an associate professor from the Department of Social Sciences at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. Against this backdrop, ecological civilization has offered a glimmer of hope that there is an alternative to the contemporary world order.

According to Gare, ecological civilization has been put forward as a “practical utopia.” It is a vision that offers an inspiring image of the future that can mobilize people to create this future.

“Ecological civilization is a vision based on ecological thinking, seeing all life as interdependent communities of communities. Humanity’s place in nature is redefined as participating in communities, both human and non-human, including the global ecosystem,” Gare said.

Practical implications

In terms of practice, Kuhn said that China is combining command-and-control, market-based and awareness-raising measures to promote the sustainability transition. The central government draws on experience gathered at the local level in the context of emissions trading, low-carbon, and smart city development. Next to government agencies, the private sector, academics, and non-profit actors are involved in the process of disseminating and scaling-up good practices.

Globally, China has been promoting the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. Kuhn said that China’s engagement with the global sustainability agenda has important global implications.

First, China has played a constructive role in bridging different perspectives between developing and developed countries. Second, its efforts to build an ecological civilization can demonstrate, especially to countries in the Global South, that it is possible to advance the sustainable development agenda while maintaining economic growth. “This can inspire other countries to adopt similar policies and practices and lead to greater international cooperation on sustainable development,” Kuhn said.

Editor: Yu Hui

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