Sunset over a rubbish dump in Guiyu

At the annual National People's Congress, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo has admitted that China's previous economic development path was over-reliant on resource consumption and environmental pollution. By lowering the growth rate to 7.5%, China has taken actions to transform the unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable economic development to a quality growth to benefit people's livelihood and contribute to world economics.

"China has finally woken up to the fact that it can no longer put economic development above environmental protection," says Yong Rong, Head of External and Public Affairs at Greenpeace East Asia. "Hopefully it's not too late."

Addressing domestic and international journalists for perhaps the last time as Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao reflected frankly on the lessons China has learned along its development path, including the severe economic losses brought by an ignorance of environmental issues.

"Take heavy metal pollution as an example: about 10% of China's precious arable land is already contaminated by heavy metals and we've seen numerous cases of children and workers with excessive levels of lead in their blood," says Yong Rong. "There's no way China can sustain its development without either enough arable land or a healthy population."

"Obviously all environmental issues will sooner or later translate into economic issues," says Yong Rong. "In 2011 alone, China's environmental costs amounted to more than two trillion yuan. That's about six percent of its annual GDP."

Image © Greenpeace / Natalie Behring