Forty years of reform and opening up: China’s progress toward a sustainable path

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Science Advances  07 Aug 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 8, eaau9413
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau9413


After 40 years of reform and “opening up,” China has made remarkable economic progress. Such economic prosperity, however, has been coupled with environmental degradation. We analyze diverse long-term data to determine whether China is experiencing a decoupling of economic growth and environmental impacts, and where China stands with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in terms of reducing regional division, urban-rural gap, social inequality, and land-based impacts on oceans. The results highlight that China’s desire to achieve “ecological civilization” has resulted in a decoupling trend for major pollutants since 2015, while strong coupling remains with CO2 emissions. Progress has been made in health care provision, poverty reduction, and gender equity in education, while income disparity continues between regions and with rural-urban populations. There is a considerable way to go toward achieving delivery of the SDGs; however, China’s progress toward economic prosperity and concomitant sustainability provides important insights for other countries.

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