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

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  • Yonglong Lu
  • Yueqing Zhang
  • Xianghui Cao
  • Chenchen Wang
  • Yichao Wang
  • Meng Zhang
  • Robert C. Ferrier
  • Alan Jenkins
  • Jingjing Yuan
  • Mark J. Bailey
  • Deliang Chen
  • Hanqin Tian
  • Hong Li
  • Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker
  • Zhongxiang Zhang
Article numbereeau9413
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>7/08/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Science Advances
Issue number8
Number of pages11
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date2/08/19
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.