Why did you get involved with sustainability?
The first question is why we should engage in sustainable development research. Because of China’s 40 years of reform and opening up, China has achieved remarkable development achievements in the world. China’s economic aggregate scale has reached the second biggest in the world. In the new phase, China’s economy now has to undergo a process shifting from quantity-oriented to quality-oriented. Our economic structure is undergoing major adjustments.
In the past, we relied on low-cost labor force. And we relied on energy consumption, big-scale input quantification, the mode of high-quantity and small-profit for high turnover.
Totally different from the early years after reform and opening up when we were still in a stage of material shortage, now we have established a supply-side economy. The demand now is multi-level and rich.
At this new development stage, the old mode of developing is no longer suitable. Now, we are trying to transform to the stage of high-quality development and green and sustainable development. And in this context, there needs to be a significant transformation of our government and organizations.
We should encourage the development of modern service industry, advanced manufacturing industry, comprehensive development of environmentally friendly advanced manufacturing and high-tech industry, which are the high-quality development we need.
In addition, we need to develop an assessment system of the new mode of development. Wan Li Think Tank, as a non-governmental think tank, is now working on Green-Gold project which is in line of such a need of new development mode.
We will implement this system and expand it from enterprises to cities and towns.
Through the Green Gold assessment system, we will evaluate enterprises, cities and town on how much they are in line with the environmentally friendly development mode.
We need to build statistical model and indicators that can be used to measure and provide important reference for enterprises and cities’ development.
What is Green Gold development? Why do you think it is such a powerful idea?
As for the whole society, non-governmental think tanks are an important driving force for the governance of a country. It is the transformative direction of our economic and social development.
It is a long-term vision to promote sustainable development and make it one of the most important issues of study.
We are promoting environmental protection. We can’t do business just for short-term and immediate benefits at the cost of environment pollution.
It is more important to consider a long-term sustainable development mode. Now, China’s efforts in environmental protection and environmental supervision are unprecedented. For example, garbage classification in Shanghai is in full action. All the society and residents in the city are now undertaking garbage classification.
And all levels of the government in China now are also promoting the concept of green development, sustainable development, environment-friendly development and resource-saving development mode.
Of course, in this process, there are still many difficulties. There are still many people giving up their environmental and social responsibilities and sacrificing environment protection for profits.
We hope to see more and more people having such environmental protection awareness with a sense of social responsibility, and a view of sustainable development and high-quality development.
What we pursue should be a balanced development, not a single economic indicator. We need comprehensive development.
The latest project of Wan Li Think Tank is on developing Green-Gold evaluation system which is based on the concept of “Green water and green mountains are Mountains of gold and silver”. It is in line with the environmentally friendly economic development mode. Or, we would rather have green water and green mountains than golden mountains and silver mountains.
We then need quantitative indicators to evaluate the cities, towns and enterprises. This is a comprehensive evaluation.
The green gold evaluation system of Wan Li Think Tank was launched in 2018. We evaluated the enterprise on three aspects with 17 secondary-level indicators.
We emphasized environmental protection in the evaluation which will be used by enterprises as a kind of standard and a reference. It would help them know how well other enterprises are doing in reducing emission and waste water, and then they would make more improvement in the future.
The evaluation system is dynamic with adjustment of indicators with time, so as to make it more scientific and more valuable.
In 2019, we expanded the green gold evaluation system from the enterprise level to the government level. We have made some assessments of China’s cities.
The evaluation system of cities included a city’s economic development indicators, social security indicators, and also green development indicators, with more than 20 indicators altogether. Per capita green land area, the days of air pollution, per capita GDP, and added value of industry, were also included.
The aim is to measure whether a city’s development is in line with our development needs.
During the process, we found some interesting points.
Some cities are investment–driven cities. Their indicators on environmental protection are at a very low level. And of course they cannot enter the top cities’ list.
Another interesting fact we found is that tertiary industry accounts a lot in a city’s evaluation performance. The higher a city’s percentage of tertiary industry, the better a city’s performance in the ranking list.
If the tertiary industry’s percentage of a city is over 50%, usually the city can be ranked in the top ten cities. Tertiary industry percentage is an important indicator.
That is why China is encouraging modern service industry’s development and also advanced manufacturing’s development.
The development of environmentally-friendly advanced manufacturing and high-tech industry are the high-quality development we are seeking to develop.
We hope to promote and build up a solid value system on environment protection in the whole society through green-gold evaluation system. And we also hope to provide indicators system to enterprises for reference.
The enterprises evaluated in our project include not only state-owned enterprises, private enterprises, but also foreign investment enterprises. The sizes cover both big-size ones and medium and small-sized ones.
The highlight of Wan Li Think Tank’s Green Gold project is that it is the first of its kind of evaluation system in China. It is innovative in both its concept and indicator-setting.
The project has aroused attention of the whole society. Yet, we know that it is still not perfect. It needs more surveys and more data collection in the future. And the system still needs to be optimized.
— Wan Li Think Tank (@wan_tank) January 15, 2020
How can we promote harmony between ecological civilization development and economic development?
As on this question, how to achieve the harmony of economic development and environmental protection is very complex.
I have just been to Shenzhen where the air pollution was serious during the days we were there. It was because of the local economic projects which have been launched recently. Another case is the high price of pork in recent months in China. For protecting environment, the farmers were not allowed to increase their raising.
So this is an issue that needs balance between economic development and protection of environment. China is still a developing country with a huge population. We cannot neglect the life needs of such a huge population just for environment. However, we also should not just focus on economic development and sacrifice the environment. Both should be considered when making policies and decisions.
We should seek to find a balancing point and try to attain sustainable development.
Since international situation can have a big impact on many aspects of common people’s life, think tanks need to pay more attention to connection level between China and the world, said Zhao Yue.
— Wan Li Think Tank (@wan_tank) January 19, 2020
How can people find out more about you personally & your work, and anything you would like to add?
As a new type of Chinese social think tanks, we have held Shanghai Global Think Tank Forum for two consecutive years.
We have invited a large number of think tanks at home and abroad, through which we benefited from the exchanges with so many different think tanks since the development and research characteristics of think tanks are all different.
We hope to develop more international cooperation with these think tanks on many fields especially on sustainable development. As a new type of think tank], we also hope to promote regional economic integration.
We have Wechat news release platform in Chinese language and Twitter in English for information release.
We have established good relations with mainstream media platforms, many think tanks in China and public relations with the governments. We have won support from the general public.
We hope that we can find ways to further promote our think tank.
Of course, I think the most important thing is not how much and what we say, but how much and what we do. We also hope that we can actually produce more valuable research outcomes. I think this is the most important thing for us.
We hope to strengthen international cooperation on sustainable development.
As I have mentioned, China has attained great achievement since reform and opening up more than 40 years ago. The achievements have been achieved for more than a hundred years for developed countries.
Yet, during the development, a lot of problems have also arisen. The earlier mode of development is not suitable for the new period of development. How to enhance the governance capability and achieve high-quality and sustainable development, China still needs further reform and more and more internationalized cooperation.
As a non-governmental think tank, we hope to contribute more and play an important role in the new phase of development, so as to help build a more sustainable society with all-round development in economic, social and cultural aspects in the future.
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