China, ecological civilisation, and green economy vision: 2021 and beyond


This IIED Debates event on Monday, 1 March explored the role of ‘eco-civilisation’ in China’s environmental leadership and what is required for China to become a global force for green economic transition in 2021 and beyond.

Last updated 5 March, 2021
Aerial view of Kunming, Yunnan Province, China

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be held in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China (Photo: Aftab Uzzaman via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0)

As governments around the world move to green their economies in the next decade – including shaping green recoveries from COVID-19 – China’s policy and governance approaches loom larger than ever.

China’s size and remarkable economic growth has given rise to sharply contrasting trends in its green economy transition. It has nearly half of the world’s coal power stations, but also more installed renewable energy than any other country.

The Chinese Communist Party, especially under President Jinping, has been alive to the fact that rapid industrialisation has exacted a heavy environmental cost.

Recognising growing public anger over environmental issues as a genuine threat to China’s domestic stability, ‘ecological civilisation’ has been enshrined as a national strategic priority and been a foundation for domestic reforms of environmental and economic governance.

What has been less clear is the role ‘eco-civilisation’ might play internationally, through its alignment or divergence from ‘green economy’ and ‘inclusive green growth’ agendas promoted around the world by NGOs and UN agencies, or ‘green deals’ emerging in the United States and Europe.

This question is particularly pressing in the ‘super year’ of 2021 with a pivotal climate COP26, the China-hosted Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 in Kunming, and the imminent release of China’s 14th five-year plan (FYP).

In this IIED Debates event, hosted in partnership with the Green Economy Coalition (GEC), on Monday, 1 March 2021,we heard researchers and experts on China and green economy discuss China’s unique approach to green economic policy, and reflected on the themes of the GEC paper ‘Engaging with China's ecological civilisation: a pathway to a green economy?' (PDF), authored by IIED’s Lila Buckley.

The speakers discussed the implications of eco-civilisation for policy outcomes in the 14th FYP, as well as international development financing and key international processes (UNFCCC, CBD, Sustainable Development Goals) in 2021 and beyond.

Event coverage

You can watch a full recording of the event below or on IIED's YouTube channel, while the World Economic Forum published a story reporting on some of the comments at the event: China's new five-year plan: shifting investment from coal to green tech.

About the speakers

Oliver Greenfield (moderator) is the convenor of the Green Economy Coalition. Oliver provides the GEC’s network leadership, enabling people from diverse institutions to work and influence collectively. He previously worked in corporate strategy advisor with Booz Company and the BBC World Service.

Lila Buckley is a senior researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group. She is an anthropologist focusing on Chinese overseas aid, trade and investments and improving development outcomes for China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Andrew Norton is director of IIED. He is an applied anthropologist working on a range of issues related to social and environmental justice.

Sam Geall is acting CEO of China Dialogue, associate fellow at Chatham House, and associate faculty at the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. He edited 'China and the Environment: The Green Revolution' (2013), Zed Books.

Yunnan Chen is a senior research officer in the development and public finance programme at the Overseas Development Institute. Her research interests centre around development finance, particularly in infrastructure and energy sectors, and Chinese development finance overseas.

About the series

This event is part of the IIED Debates series. Through the convening of expert speakers and external stakeholders, IIED brings together an international community to discuss critical issues.

IIED Debates encompass both physical and digital events, including critical themes, breakfast debriefs and webinars. These events are public and are hosted regularly throughout the year online and when possible in our London and Edinburgh offices.

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Juliette Tunstall ([email protected]), IIED's internal engagement and external events officer