The picturesque province in Western China has come a long way, with even bigger plans in the years ahead. Key to it all, is getting the ecological balance right…
Guizhou province in Western China can certainly be considered to be one of the country's primary natural jewels. Terrific cool weather, an abundance of lush natural greenery and rich natural resources (including hydropower and tea) mean that the landlocked region will continue to play an important role in the country's long term ecological game plan.
E ncouraged by the region's vast potential, several major initiatives have been taken over the past several years to boost the province's appeal. This includes creating the country's first big data industry in the region, complete with high bandwidth and fast internet speeds, as well as investing more than US$100 billion in transportation and financing into dozens of highway, waterway and railway projects. To date, this has literally transformed Guizhou. Where the province was once remote and difficult to access, near 100% highway coverage by the year 2020 means that transportation and trade can flourish. In addition, 6.7 million people have already been lifted out of poverty in the last five years, with the rest of the rural population expected to follow suit in the next few years.
In short, these are big changes to a big province, with an entire country eagerly looking on.
By conserving and enhancing these habitats, as well as maintaining biodiversity, it can also help preserve water resources, and help regulate air pollution by stabilizing slopes and reducing wind-blown dust. By preserving your natural resources, it can help your wider environmental protection. In terms of addressing poverty, there would be opportunities for a series of jobs and services that would generate more income through habitat management and eco-tourism.David Stanton Director at aec Ltd / Ecologist
Preserving the area's natural beauty while encouraging large scale growth and infrastructure will require a careful balancing act in the coming years ahead. "What the Chinese government seems to be advocating in this case is all about a preservation of wild habitats and wild areas," says David Stanton, a Director with the Hong Kong based company aec Ltd.
A ccording to government reports, Guizhou is currently on the right track when it comes to its sense of ecology, with official releases going so far as to call the province "beautiful". Current plans will see forests covering 60% of the province's space, with an excellent and good water supply throughout its eight major river systems and high air quality. Combine that with the fact that Guizhou's green buildings accounted for 50% of the newly-built buildings and it's clear that efforts to make Guizhou a green corridor are both well intentioned and successful. This is all working in tandem with programs to bring millions of rural residents out of poverty, a figure that currently stands at 8%. There is also a focus on positive governance of the rural environment, with the creation of 349 new rural demonstration sites.
Such efforts, all part of a carefully orchestrated government plan, have impressed those following developments. In fact, Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, sees Guizhou province as a shining example for other regions across China.
"It demonstrates the viability of a sustainable model - one with a service-oriented, proactive government; investment in key infrastructure to improve connectivity and accessibility; and a focus on ecological conservation that maintains quality of life and natural, nutritious food," he says. He adds that the Guizhou model of change even helps correct the perception that the country has been unable to balance its economic development with its environmental protection and social equality aspects.
Xue Lan, a Dean at the School of Public Policy and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing, calls what is happening in Guizhou part of a "new wave" of environmental and ecological movement in the country. Policies that were first suggested over a decade ago, have now been implemented, including a concerted effort to tackle air, water and soil pollution. "This is unprecedented in Chinese history, taking the ecological and environmental issue to such high policy priority," he says. "You've never seen that before."
Lan believes that in terms of being "green", Guizhou is already a beacon for the country. "Guizhou is really a shining example in China's green transformation," he says. "In many other places in China, and even in other developing countries, the traditional route for development is to introduce most of the high-value added industry, which is also often in highly pollution-oriented kind of industries. Guizhou has taken a different route. It's a very green development path. They'd rather develop slower, but not sacrifice the environment. In the long run, your gains are greater. You have a better environment, you have much happier people and also ultimately, in terms of the welfare of the people, it's much greater."
With economic growth at 10.2% last year, Guizhou was one of the country's three best performing provinces yet again, the 7th straight year it has achieved this figure. Driving this growth are four pillars of a new green economy, including ecological, low-carbon and environmental aspects of various projects. Collectively, the aim is that these pillars will account for half of the province's GDP by 2020.
ince continued growth is at such a high trajectory, what will be important in the near future is keeping a balance between ambitions and ecology, growth versus sustainable development.
In terms of the development of Guizhou, if you can maintain the ecological environment and the environment around the city (in this case the capital Guiyang), then that's really attractive for people to come to the city and develop that city.Tim Bonebrake Assistant Professor, School of Biological Sciences, Hong Kong
David Stanton agrees, adding that not losing your resources is ecological success. "Good development is integrating wildlife areas into developed areas," he says. "It's creating corridors and ecological linkages."
Within the next couple of years, the plan is to build Guiyang - the capital city of Guizhou - into 'a city of 1000 parks'. With the expansion of forests and construction restricted to key areas, Guizhou appears to be taking all the correct steps to maintain a proper ecological balance alongside sustainable development.
While remarking that ecology is a growing discipline that is constantly evolving, an expert like David Stanton believes that Guizhou presents an excellent opportunity for the country. "In China you have the scale to achieve something meaningful", he says.
In the next few years, it's entirely possible that Guizhou won't just be a model of balancing ecology and sustainability for the country - but for the world. Already, the creation of a high-tech data industry combined with the massive lifting of entire classes out of poverty as well as the preservation of nature amidst massive infrastructure construction, has onlookers sitting up and taking notice.
"During the 2016 Annual Conference, a Guizhou agricultural scientist presented a solution for eco-friendly farm tea," says Bakker. "This is just one example. For regions like Guizhou, with beautiful landscapes described by President Xi, an environmentally friendly and socially responsible approach to economic development will reap benefits in years to come."