[Beijing Forum 2020] Sub-Forum on Ecological Civilization and High-Quality Urbanization held at PKU

Peking: Ecological Civilization and High-Quality Urbanization, a sub-forum of Beijing Forum 2020, was held at Peking University on November 6 with an on-line connection to invited speakers and audiences outside of Beijing. It was jointly organized by Peking University’s College of Urban and Environmental Sciences and Peking University—Lincoln Institute Center for Urban Development and Land Policy, and featured the discussions of various topics by invited prominent international and domestic scholars and practitioners. Bilingual live streaming was also provided on the online platform Bilibili, which attracted more than 5000 viewers.

He Canfei, dean of the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences at Peking University, chaired the sub-forum. In his welcoming remarks, he highlighted the importance of high-quality urbanization and the pressing need for ecological protection under the conceptual framework of ecological civilization.

The sub-forum then proceeded with keynote speeches given by five speakers respectively.

Ruth DeFries, Denning Family professor of Sustainable Development in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology at Columbia University, gave her speech titled “Lessons from Nature for an Urban, Eco-Civilization”. Based on her new book What Would Nature Do, DeFries’s address explored the relationship between human beings – an urban species – and nature. She explained that humanity’s shift towards urbanization has brought about new lifestyles and many benefits, but has also been accompanied by unpredictable complexities. She then introduced two coping strategies: design a resilient city network and learn about the diversity of the nature. DeFries explained that natural evolution has produced complex network systems such as that of leaf-veined networks so that even if parts of the network is destroyed, the system can continue to operate and function as normal. She recommended that humanity should move away from hub-and-spoke networks strategies and build similar modular connection networks. She also stressed the importance of diversity within our food chain. She highlighted the need for diversification as a resilience mechanism in today’s world of product convergence and compared it to nature’s way of species substitutability that allowed it to survive after a catastrophe.

The next address was conducted by Fu Bojie, professor in Geography and Landscape Ecology at the Research Centre for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. His speech is titled “Eco-Civilization: China’s Ecosystem Restoration and Management”. In his address, Fu emphasized the role ecological civilization has come to play as a national strategy of development in China. He explained that the fundamental concept of ecological civilizations was derived from the idea of harmony between human and nature from traditional Chinese philosophy. He also exhibited China’s efforts in the conservation and restoration of ecosystems. In particular, he focused on the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN), showing that such policy efforts were vital in linking ecological monitoring research and demonstration. Through this, he demonstrated that China’s transformative investments in natural capital have prompted tremendous progress in ecological benefits and ecosystem services.

Sanjeev Khagram, director general and dean of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University and the Foundation professor of Global Leadership and Global Political Economy, focused on “Harnessing the Data Revolution and 4th Industrial Revolution for Sustainable and Prosperous Cities”. “Data is the oil of the 21st century. It lubricates everything and makes everything go. It turbocharges speed, volumes, and intensity,” Khagram said. In his speech, Khagram introduced the role of the data revolution and the circular economy. He also explained that we are experiencing the most complex, fast-paced, interconnected, and transformative fourth industrial revolution fueled by the internet and data, with high-speed technological development as a driver to shift into the circular economy. Khagram discussed the definition and mode of digitalization and its application to drive efficiencies and new modes of city operations. He concluded that the future of digitalization would enhance our abilities to cope with major challenges such as climate change, provide new solutions to existing problems, and make the future of the environment more eco-friendly and decarbonized.

Gong Peng, professor and chair of the Department of Earth System Science and dean of the School of Science at Tsinghua University, focused on “Healthy Cities, Planetary Health, and Eco-civilization”. Gong began by questioning what the city of the future would look like, and compared the urban land-use model of the United States with its application among Chinese cities. He then described a healthy city as “a city that is continually developing policies, creating physical and social environments that enable its people to support each other in carrying out all functions of life while helping achieve their full potential”. Gong further introduced the current health challenges Chinese cities face, along with takeaways from China’s pilot healthy city policies. Gong highlighted the need to use the present moment to build healthy cities, taking advantage of favorable political and economic conditions supported by advancements in science and technology. Finally, he defined planetary health and emphasized that we should not cross planetary boundaries if we are to restore the ecosystem. He concluded that cities need to be re-designed to be eco-friendly and sustainable while also ensure that the physical and mental health of its residents are well maintained.

Xu Jintao, professor and director of China Center for Energy and Development in the National School of Development at Peking University, gave a speech titled “China’s Transition toward a Green and Low Carbon Economy”. In his speech, he highlighted that the next five to ten years are critical to China’s economic transition towards a green and low-carbon path and that China’s changing growth pattern affects the whole world. China’s economic growth pattern for the last two decades can be characterized by high levels of trade, an increase of GDP and CO2 levels, high inputs of cheap labor and capital as well as environmental damage. As the export value of materials went up after China joined the WTO, its share of carbon footprints went up to 45.5% in 2008, raising the world’s carbon levels as well. Thus, he believes that public policies should emphasize the elimination of input factor price distortions and encourage the implementation of environmental and carbon taxes. Xu then concluded that China is going to move on from its “miraculous growth stage” to a normal growth stage by correcting factor price distortion, focusing on improving the environment, increasing carbon tax, and heightening the contribution of Total Factor Productivity.


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