HANGZHOU, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has agreed with the provincial government of east China's Zhejiang, winner of UNEP's Champions of the Earth award this year, to jointly promote the province's experience of rural protection.
"Beautiful Zhejiang presents the future of China and the world, by tackling pollution with innovative solutions," said Erik Solheim, UN Under-Secretary-General and the executive director of UNEP, in an interview with Xinhua on Monday.
Under UNEP's memorandum of understanding with the Zhejiang provincial government, the two sides will jointly promote the province's green revival theme during the 2019 World Environment Day.
Zhejiang's rural green revival program was granted with the UN award in September after transforming a once heavily polluted area of rivers and streams through the local eco-restoration program, under the government slogan of "Green is Gold."
Zhejiang, located in the Yangtze River Delta, ranks fourth among provinces for economic development in China. However, rapid industrial development came at a cost for the environment.
"Germany has spent a much longer time, around maybe three decades, cleaning up the Rhine, while the speed and urgency in Zhejiang [over a dozen years] is very inspiring," said Solheim.
It has been Solheim's second visit to Zhejiang in a year. He came in April for a three-day visit along the river of Puyang in Zhejiang to investigate how the region had realized a balanced growth of economic development and ecological restoration.
In 2003, Zhejiang started selecting 1,000 villages to take the lead in fulfilling such balanced growth, and then regarded them as role model villages for a comprehensive drive of rural green restoration among 10,000 villages. By the end of 2017, 97 percent of the villages had reached the target of transforming polluted waterways into clean and drinkable rivers through water management, waste management and recycling.
"Some of the areas were heavily polluted in the past. They were called milky rivers. Now the waters have been restored. You can dive into lakes and rivers and go for a swim," said Solheim.
He said UNEP really wants to show the world Zhejiang's efforts during the UN agency's activities next year.
"I think some of these main slogans in China like 'Ecological Civilization', 'Beautiful China' and 'Green is Gold', is what the world need to do now," he said.