Agenda for Sustainable Devt: Lessons from China

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As Nigeria grapples with the local implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) more than a year after their global adoption in September 2015, Abimbola Akosile outlines strides made by China in its 2030 agenda for sustainable development, which contain useful lessons for local actors

The United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held in September 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which points out the direction and provides the blueprint for national development of all countries and international development cooperation in the next 15 years.

Vital Agenda
As the largest developing country in the world, China attaches great importance to the 2030 Agenda. The 13th Five-Year Plan was reviewed and approved by the Fourth Session of the 12th National People’s Congress in March 2016, linking the 2030 Agenda with domestic mid-and-long term development strategies. Right now, implementation of the 2030 Agenda is in full swing in China.

To guide and advance the implementation efforts, China formulates this National Plan on Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (hereinafter referred to as National Plan).

Drawing on the achievements and experience of China’s development, the National Plan analyses challenges and opportunities in implementing the 2030 agenda, lays out guiding thoughts, general principles and approaches for the implementation, as well as specific plans for the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets.

In the coming years, China intends to fulfill the tasks in the National Plan under the guidance of the people-centred development concept featuring innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development. It will work with other countries in seeking mutual benefit, win-win cooperation and common development and make unremitting efforts for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and realisation of the dreams of people across the world.

MDGs Experience
The Third Plenary Session of the 11th the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in December 1978 opened a new historic period of reform and opening-up, which was a monumental strategic choice that has shaped contemporary China, an inexhaustible source of vitality for national development and progress, and the only path toward socialism with Chinese characteristics and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Reform and opening-up has transformed China from a highly centrally-planned economy to a dynamic socialist market economy and from a closed or semi-closed society to an all-round open society.
In this period, China made huge progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) in the first 15 years of the new century.
With its fast growing economy and outstanding achievements in agriculture and poverty reduction, China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had increased from RMR 10 trillion in 2000 to 68.55 trillion in 2015, making it the second largest economy in the world since 2010.

Production of major agricultural products such as grains, vegetables and meat grew steadily with enhanced comprehensive agricultural productivity. China’s population living in poverty dropped from 689 million in 1990 to 57 million in 2015, making a great contribution to the global cause of poverty reduction.
The nine-year free compulsory education has been universalised and illiteracy rate had dropped from 6.7 per cent in 2000 to 4.1 per cent in 2014. Steady job growth had been achieved with altogether 137 million new jobs created in urban areas from 2003 to 2014.

China has gradually developed a comprehensive social security and assistance system. By 2015, more than 500 million urban and rural residents had been covered by basic pension insurance. The under-five child mortality rate went down from 61.0 per thousand in 1991 to 10.7 per thousand in 2015, and the maternal mortality rate had reduced from 88.8 per 100,000 in 1990 to 20.1 per 100,000 in 2015.

Equally, notable progress has been made in curbing epidemic diseases such as m HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Equally, positive results were recorded in terms of environmental protection and addressing the climate change.

Compared with that of 2005, China’s carbon dioxide emission per GDP unit decreased by 33.8 per cent in 2014; the proportion of non-fossil fuels in overall primary energy use had reached 11.2 per cent: per GDP unit consumption of major resource products like oil, coal and water had also been cut dramatically; forest coverage had expanded by 32.78 million hectares, and forest reserves had increased by 2.681 billion cubic metres from that of 2005; achieving “zero growth” in land desertification ahead of schedule.

South-South cooperation has been promoted. China offers assistance within its capacity to over 120 developing countries to help them achieve the MDGs. Since January 1, 2015, China has officially granted zero-tariff treatment to 97 per cent of the taxable items from least developed countries with diplomatic relations with China.
China has, for six times, cancelled unconditionally the due government zero-interest loans totaling RMB 30 billion for heavily indebted poor countries and least developed countries.

China’s experience in achieving the MDGs can be summed up as follows:
Taking development as the top priority and consistently introducing new development thoughts and concepts. The Chinese government considers development as the key to address all major issues of the country. In light of the domestic and international conditions, the Chinese government and people have deepened their understanding of the nature of development, developed the Scientific Outlook on Development, set the ambitious goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, and firmly established the development concept featuring innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development.

The country is also formulating and implementing mid- and long-term national development strategies and integrating the MDGs into national planning. Indeed, the Chinese government formulates five-year national plans according to the needs of economic and social development in different periods and mobilises all kinds of resources for the implementation of these plans.

In addition, China has also made a range of specific plans to effectively promote the development of relevant sectors, including the Outline for Development-oriented Poverty Reduction for China’s Rural Areas (2011 – 2020), Outline on Mid-and-Long-Term Food Security in China (2008-2020′), Outline on Mid-and-Long-Term Educational Reform and Development Plan in China (2010-2020), and Twelfth Five-Year Plan for Health Sector Development.

The socialist market economy has inspired the vitality in labour, knowledge, technology, managerial expertise and capital, propelled the sustained, rapid and sound growth of the Chinese economy and provided guarantee for the implementation of the MDGs.

The country has also deepened the reform of the administrative system, exercised government administration in an innovative way and built a law-based, innovative, clean and service-oriented government to make the fruits of development more fairly shared by all.

The Chinese government also successively promulgated or amended the Compulsory Education Law, the Law on Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, the Employment Promotion Law, the Labour Contract Law, and the Environmental Protection Law to provide sound legal guarantee for the implementation of the MDGs. At the same time, non-governmental groups are also involved in a bottom-up manner to achieve goals such as eradicating poverty and hunger and advancing environmental protection.

To achieve MDGs and sustainable development, China has launched a series of experimental programmes in economic, social and environmental protection fields. For example, it has set up the China (Shanghai) Pilot free trade zone, sustainable development experimental zones and 42 low-carbon pilot provinces, autonomous regions and cities, with the aim of producing duplicable and scalable models for nationwide development.

The Chinese government has always implemented the MDGs with an open-minded and win-win attitude. Over the past 15 years, it has strengthened in-depth, wide-ranging and multi-form exchanges and cooperation with foreign government agencies, international organisations, businesses, research and consultative institutions and civil society organisations, in order to share experiences and lessons with each other and jointly promote the realization of the MDGs.

China’s successful practices have boosted the Chinese government and people’s confidence and determination in pursuit of socialism with Chinese characteristics and provided valuable experience for other developing countries to step up all-round development and find a development path suitable to their own national conditions.

Opportunities and Challenges
As the world’s largest developing country, China faces both rare opportunities and daunting challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda. At the international level, peace and development remain the prevailing theme of our time. Greater interconnectivity and interdependence among countries have reinforced the awareness of a community of shared destiny.

The North-South cooperation and South-South cooperation have entered a new phase in which emerging economies like China grow rapidly in terms of overall national strength and influence in international affairs, presenting new opportunities for the developing world to fully participate in global governance and international development cooperation.

At the same time, international relations have become increasingly complicated with geopolitical factors getting more prominent, non-traditional security threats such as refugee crisis, terrorism and public health crisis crop up one after another, casting a long shadow over the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

As the WTO-led multilateral trade liberalisation process remains deadlocked, trade and investment protectionism in various forms resurfaces. The 13th Five-Year Plan has introduced the people-centred concept of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development, providing the theoretical guidance for China’s efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda and promote sustainable development.

China’s mid- to high-speed economic growth and advances in new industrialisation, IT application, urbanisation and agricultural modernisation have laid a solid foundation for its continued progress in the implementation.
Moreover, the Chinese government has aligned its mid- and long-term development strategies with the 2030 Agenda and instituted a coordinating mechanism, providing a strong institutional guarantee for the implementation efforts.

The biggest challenges for China in realisation of the 2030 Agenda remain the following: how to eradicate poverty, improve people’s livelihood, defuse social problems, achieve common prosperity, improve national governance system and capability, and achieve coordinated development among different regions, at all levels and in all fields.

The guiding thoughts in China’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda include the comprehensive strategy of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, deepening reform, advancing the law-based governance of China, and strengthening Party self-conduct, seeking coordinated development in the economic, political, cultural, social and ecological fields as well as Party building under the guidance of the development concept featuring innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development.

The effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda will not only pave the way for China to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society and achieve the “Two Centennial Goals” and national rejuvenation, but also inject strong impetus into international development cooperation and elevate the global development level.

By its innovation-driven development, China hopes to implement the innovation-driven strategy to promote innovations in theory, institution, science and technology and culture to improve the quality and efficiency of development.

To achieve coordinated development, the Chinese government will work through regional cooperation, urban and rural integration, parallel development of material wealth and spiritual enrichment and integration of economic development with national defense, and synchronised advances will be ensured in new industrialisation, IT application, urbanisation and agricultural modernisation, so as to form a balanced and holistic development structure.

In terms of environment, China pledges to adhere to the basic national policy of resource conservation and environmental protection. The country will pursue green development by promoting a green and low-carbon development model and lifestyle, actively addressing the climate change and protecting ecological system.
The country will adopt an opening-up strategy featuring mutual benefit and win-win results, promote strategic mutual trust, economic and trade cooperation.

Furthermore, by sticking to the principle of development of the people, by the people and for the people, China will focus on equal opportunities, ensure basic needs for all, take targeted efforts to advance people’s well-being and let the people have a greater sense of benefit as they contribute to and share in development.
The Chinese government’s vision of innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared development is consistent with sustainable development, which is the trend of the times, while accommodating the bigger interests of people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships as proposed by the 2030 Agenda.

Implementation Principles
China pledges to adheres to following principles in its implementation efforts: Principle of Peaceful Development: Countries should safeguard the purposes and principles of the UN Charter through commitment to peaceful coexistence, featuring win-win cooperation and fostering peaceful, stable and harmonious regional and international environment.

Principle of Win-win Cooperation: Governments, private sectors, civil society and international organisations should foster a sense of community of shared interests and establish an all-round partnership by playing their respective roles in global development cooperation, so as to create synergy, development rules making, and sharing development gains on an equal footing.

Principle of Integration and Coordination: Countries should give priority to poverty eradication and people’s livelihood, safeguard social equity and justice and firmly implement the concept of sustainable development.
Principle of Inclusiveness and Openness: Countries should commit to achieving inclusive economic growth and building an inclusive society, where development gains are shared by all and no one is left behind, and making the international economic order more fair and equitable for win-win cooperation.

Principle of Sovereignty and Voluntary Action: Reaffirming that every country has full sovereignty over its own development and implementation of the 2030 Agenda. It is important to respect every country’s choice for development path and drawing on experience of each other.

Principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities’: Implementation of the 2030 Agenda is a common objective, while the means of implementation should be allowed to be differentiated, due to diversified national conditions and respective capabilities.
China will advance the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in an incremental way through seven approaches, namely, synergy of .strategies, institutional guarantee, social mobilisation, resource input, risk management, international cooperation, and oversight and review.

Synergy of Strategies
Synergy of strategies aims at integrating the 2030 Agenda into China’s mid-and-long term development strategies and creating synergy and complementarity between international agenda and domestic strategies. The focus in this synergy includes the following three aspects:

First, integrating the 17 SDGs and 169 targets into China’s overall development planning and break down, incorporate, or link them the in specialised plans.
The Outline of tile 13th Five-Year Plan contained a commitment to the “active implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, thus achieving the synergy between the 2030 Agenda and China’s mid-and-long term development strategies. Government departments of China have turned the SDGs into specific tasks in the economic, social and environmental fields.

In the economic field, for example, the Chinese government has formulated the National Outline for Innovation-Driven Development Strategy, the National Sustainable Agricultural Development Plan (2015-2030), and the National Outline for Information Technology Development Strategy.

In the social field, it has published the Decision of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and the State Council on Winning the Tough Battle in Poverty Reduction and the Healthy China Outline (2030). In the environmental field, it has prepared the China Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Plan of Action (2011-2030) and the National Climate Change Programme (2014-2020).

Second is bringing the development objectives of local governments in line with the 2030 Agenda. Based on the Outline of the 13th Five-Year Plan, the 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government in China’s mainland have formulated their own five-year plans, and the cities and counties have completed their road maps and annual plans.

Third is pushing multilateral mechanisms to formulate action plan for the 2030 Agenda to create synergy at international level. China played a leading role in urging the G20 to draw up action plan on implementation of the 2030 Agenda, while advancing the “Bell and Road” Initiative in a way that will facilitate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in countries along the two routes.

Institutional Aspects
Institutional guarantee refers to the institutions, mechanisms and policies that will support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and it mainly includes the following four aspects:

First is promoting targeted reforms to establish an institutional framework for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The Chinese government will step up the improvement of institutions and systems to ensure that the market plays the decisive role in resource allocation and the government better plays its role, and remove all institutional barriers to scientific development, so as to provide institutional impetus for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Second is improving the rule of law to provide legal guarantee for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. China will step up the legislative work to improve the socialist market economic system, develop socialist democratic political system, foster advanced socialist culture, innovate on social governance, safeguard citizens‟ rights and enhance people’s livelihood, safeguard national security, protect the environment and improve government functions.

Third is scientific policy-making to provide policy guarantee for the 2030 Agenda. With the 2030 Agenda in view, the Chinese government will establish a comprehensive policy system, which is led by national policies and supported by specialised policies and local policies, with emphasis on the following ten aspects: eliminating poverty and hunger, maintaining economic growth, advancing industrialisation, improving social security and social services, safeguarding equity and justice, strengthening environmental protection, addressing the climate change, enhancing energy and resource efficiency, improving national governance and promoting international cooperation.

Fourth is clarifying government responsibilities by holding governments at all levels accountable. China will not only enhance the horizontal cross-region and inter-agency coordination, but also establish a vertical implementation mechanism linking the central, local and grassroots levels.

Adhering to the principle of putting people first, China will implement the 2030 Agenda by the people and for the people. China will help its people fully appreciate the personal and public interests in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and enhance their initiative and sense of responsibility in the implementation.

Second is extensive use of the media for social mobilisation. China will make the 2030 Agenda more accessible to the general public and create a good environment for the implementation via newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and internet, as well as publicity campaigns in the form of feature programme, publicity week on sustainable development, interview, expert interpretation, knowledge quiz, etc.

Third is promoting public participation. China will engage nongovernmental groups, the private sector and individuals especially the youth in training courses, networking and management activities related to the 2030 Agenda, to help them realise the importance of coordinated economic, social and environmental development and build a broad-based social consensus on the 2030 Agenda.

Resource input aims at fully utilising the domestic and international markets and resources and giving full play to the institutional and market advantages in the implementation efforts. The focus is placed on the following three aspects.
First, focusing on fiscal, taxation and financial reforms and rationally setting aside and guaranteeing government funds for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Second is innovating in cooperation models. China will promote cooperation between the government and the social capital, and mobilise and guide social resources into sustainable development by improving laws and regulations, giving preferential policies, improving government services, and strengthening publicity work and guidance.
Third is strengthening international cooperation and exchanges. With an open and inclusive attitude, China welcomes advanced development concepts, technological expertise and quality resources from other countries for its sustainable development.

Devt Tasks
Despite being the world’s second largest economy and with a modest level of GN1 per capita, China is still facing daunting development tasks and its development is far from balanced between different regions and rural and urban areas. The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is a long-term, arduous task, requiring sound risk management mechanisms and capabilities.

Targeted efforts are needed in the following four aspects: First, maintaining economic growth. China will continue its commitment to the general principle of making progress while working to keep performance stable, deepen reform and opening up, advance the supply side structural reform, implement the innovation-driven strategy, actively promote mass entrepreneurship and innovation, cultivate new momentum and ensure sustained, healthy and stable economic growth, so as to provide a solid economic foundation for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Second is improving the quality of people’s lives. China has taken targeted measures to alleviate and eliminate poverty and speed up the development of poverty-stricken areas. Efforts will be made to achieve high-quality employment and enhance public service capabilities for employment and entrepreneurship. Public goods and services will be increased, and improvement will be made to the public services system, covering employment, education, social security and health care.

Third is focusing on balanced and coordinated development in the three major areas of economic growth, social progress and environmental protection. Public awareness should be raised concerning ecological conservation featuring respect for, conformity with and protection of nature. Efforts should be made to strengthen the protection and recovery of natural ecological system, and build protective barriers for eco-security.
Fourth is advancing the modernisation of the national governance system and governance capacity. Efforts will be made to establish fundamental institutions for various sectors, improve peoples’ democracy, achieve law-based government administration and increase judicial credibility.

International Cooperation
The 2030 Agenda has accommodated the common interests of the international community to the largest extent possible and therefore is universally applicable. China will join the international community in deepening international development cooperation for effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Focus will be placed on the following four aspects:
First, acknowledging diversities in nature, culture and national conditions, China respects the right of other countries to choose their independent development plans according to the Principle of “Common but Differentiated Responsibilities”.

Second, working towards a more equitable and balanced global partnership for development. The international community should maintain North-South cooperation as the main channel for development cooperation. Developed countries should honour their Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitments in a timely and adequate manner, scale up their support for developing countries.

Third is deeper involvement in South-South cooperation. China will fulfill its international obligations by providing more public goods for global development and promoting a greater role of the Assistance Fund for South-South Cooperation, China-UN Peace and Development Fund, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank in helping other developing countries implement, the 2030 Agenda.

Fourth is prudently promoting triangular cooperation. While fully respecting the will of recipient countries, China will work with other multilateral and bilateral assistance providers to prudently promote triangular cooperation for greater complementarity, diversified assistance methods, and improved assistance results.

Oversight and review is used to assess achievements, challenges and inadequacies in the process of implementation of the 2030 Agenda, in order to optimise policy options and summarise best practices.

Targeted efforts will be made in the following three aspects: First, China will conduct reviews of its implementation efforts simultaneously with annual assessment of the progress in the 13th Five-Year Plan and corresponding work plans in specific sectors.
The inter-agency mechanism has assigned the 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda to specific government agencies, ensuring full accountability for every review task. Second. China will actively participate in follow-up reviews at the international and regional levels.

China supports the central role of the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and will assist it in the regular reviews of global implementation progress.
China will also use the forum as a platform to strengthen exchanges with other countries and solicit opinions and suggestions. China welcomes enhanced regional cooperation and the positive contributions of the United Nations’ regional commissions and specialised agencies.

Third, China will strengthen cooperation with the United Nations System in China and other international organisations by organising workshops and compiling and releasing regular reports on China’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda to Hilly review the progress in implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals in China.

Valuable Tips
Although Nigeria organised a National Stakeholders retreat some months ago to fashion the way forward in implementing the SDGs, with calls for mainstreaming of the vital goals into the national development framework, there is much more that needs to be done before the country can realise the expanded development goals. To do this successfully, the lessons from China provide a handy tool. The time to act is now.