Protecting Biodiversity: China’s Role and Responsibilities
Photos of China’s Three Gorges Dam on Yangtze River, Kunming Biodiversity Fund, Père David’s deer in Dafeng Milu National Nature Reserve, and Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle.
Analysis: Is China ready to lead on protecting nature at the upcoming UN biodiversity conference?
As a traveling photographer, I’m aware that the U.N. climate change conference in Egypt has left people pondering over what was accomplished. Meanwhile, in Montreal, negotiators are gathering to discuss and establish targets aimed at combating another critical issue plaguing the planet – the extinction of various living species.
From my travels, I have learned that on December 7, 2022, the 15th Conference of the Parties, also known as COP15, will take place. This conference brings together 196 nations that have ratified the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, which was initially adopted during the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The convention’s purpose is to encourage sustainable development by safeguarding biodiversity, which refers to all living organisms and their various ecosystems, ranging from genes to complete ecological systems.
As a passionate traveler and nature photographer, it is heart-wrenching to witness the extent of damage caused by human activities on our planet’s biodiversity. Experts agree that we are in the midst of a nature crisis, and the consequences of our actions are apparent everywhere. The rate at which species are disappearing from the planet is alarmingly high, with numbers ranging from 50 to 100 times the historic rate. Human activities, such as overhunting, overfishing, and land alterations, are the primary drivers of this decline. It is evident that we need to take swift action to safeguard our planet’s biodiversity before it’s too late.
As I explore new places, I’m often reminded of the interconnectedness of all living beings on this planet. Every species plays a unique role in the intricate web of life, and the loss of one can have severe repercussions on the entire ecosystem. The United Nations recognizes this fact and has aptly labeled the decline in biodiversity as a “nature crisis.”
As a global community, we must make collective efforts to combat the loss of biodiversity and protect the planet’s natural resources. The time to act is now, and we must take immediate steps to prevent any further harm to our natural world. It is my hope that through our combined efforts, we can create a sustainable future for all life on Earth.
As a wildlife ecologist and passionate traveler, I am thrilled to learn that the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will be convening in Montreal under China’s leadership. The conference, which was initially scheduled to take place in Kunming, China, in 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this setback, negotiations were conducted online to keep the discussions on track.
It’s remarkable to note that this is the first time that Beijing is presiding over a significant intergovernmental meeting on the environment, and it’s a notable achievement for China’s leadership. As someone who has worked in the field of wildlife conservation, I understand the crucial role that China plays in preserving biodiversity. With this leadership role, China can take the lead in setting the agenda and tone for the negotiations, which will play a critical role in shaping the future of our planet’s natural resources.
I am eager to see China use this opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to protecting the environment and take decisive action to address the nature crisis. As a global community, it’s crucial that we work together to protect the planet’s biodiversity and create a sustainable future for all. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this conference and how they will shape our efforts towards a greener and healthier planet.
Biodiversity in China
As an avid traveler and someone who is passionate about wildlife conservation, it is commonly assumed that rainforests or tropical coral reefs have the highest concentrations of wild species. However, it may come as a surprise to some that China is also home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. China’s natural resources are abundant, with nearly 38,000 higher plant species, which includes trees, shrubs, and ferns. Moreover, China boasts of more than 8,100 species of vertebrate animals, over 1,400 bird species, and 20% of the world’s fish species.
It’s essential to recognize China’s contribution to the planet’s biodiversity and acknowledge the country’s efforts to protect its natural resources. As we gather for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, it’s crucial to focus on the global nature crisis and come up with solutions that are inclusive and sustainable. I am confident that with the leadership of China and other nations, we can take collective action to protect the planet’s biodiversity and create a better future for all living beings.
China’s natural resources are unique and valuable, and the country is home to a vast number of endemic species. These species are exclusive to China and cannot be found anywhere else in the world, making the country’s biodiversity incredibly significant. Additionally, China contains parts of four global biodiversity hotspots, including Indo-Burma, the Mountains of Southwest China, Eastern Himalaya, and the Mountains of Central Asia.
These areas are home to some of the most remarkable and endangered species on the planet. For instance, the giant panda, Asiatic black bear, Sichuan partridge, Xizang alpine toad, Sichuan lancehead, and golden pheasant are some of the animals found in these regions. Sadly, many of these species are under threat, and the nature crisis continues to exacerbate their already vulnerable state.
As we gather for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in Montreal, we must prioritize the conservation of these unique and endangered species. It’s essential to work together to create a sustainable future that promotes ecological balance and preserves biodiversity. We must recognize the significance of China’s natural resources and make a concerted effort to protect them. By doing so, we can create a better future for all living beings and preserve the planet’s natural heritage for future generations.
The photograph depicts a giant panda located in the southwest region of China, taken by Vanessa Hull. The photo is licensed under CC BY-ND.
China’s conservation record
When it comes to environmental issues in China, Western media tends to concentrate on the country’s significant problems like severe urban air pollution and its position as the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. However, China is committed to protecting its natural resources, and since the previous global biodiversity conference held in 2018, it has made notable progress.
Chinese leaders introduced the term “ecological civilization” and incorporated it into the country’s constitution in 2018, indicating a realization that progress should encompass environmental concerns along with economic objectives.
China has demonstrated its commitment to biodiversity conservation by establishing over 2,750 protected areas covering nearly 15% of the country’s total land area. These protected areas are designated spaces that receive special funding and management aimed at preserving ecosystems while also permitting human activities in specific zones within them.
Protected areas have become an essential tool for conservation worldwide. They help to preserve habitats, protect endangered species and provide opportunities for scientific research and ecotourism. By setting aside such large areas for conservation, China has shown that it is willing to take proactive steps to safeguard its natural resources for future generations.
However, it is essential to acknowledge that creating protected areas is just one step in preserving biodiversity. Effective management of these areas, collaboration with local communities, and ensuring sustainable use of natural resources are also critical elements in achieving conservation goals.
China’s dedication to biodiversity conservation has taken another significant step forward with the announcement by President Xi Jinping in 2021 of the establishment of a network of five national parks covering 88,000 square miles (227,000 square kilometers). This network is now the largest such system in the world.
National parks are a critical component of biodiversity conservation, providing more robust protection than protected areas. They restrict human activities and emphasize conservation while offering opportunities for scientific research and ecotourism. By creating such a vast network of national parks, China is not only strengthening its efforts to protect biodiversity but also promoting sustainable tourism and economic development.
Moreover, the establishment of national parks signals a critical shift in China’s development priorities, with a more substantial emphasis on ecological civilization. By creating national parks, the government is prioritizing the importance of protecting and conserving natural resources while promoting sustainable development. It is also essential to ensure that these parks are effectively managed, and local communities are involved in their conservation efforts.
China’s efforts to protect biodiversity are commendable, and the creation of national parks highlights the country’s determination to become a global leader in ecological conservation.
China’s commitment to environmental protection extends beyond its protected areas and national parks. It is also making strides in reforestation efforts. Between 2013 and 2017, China has been able to reforest a staggering 825 million acres of bare or cultivated land, which is four times larger than the entire U.S. national forest system. This is a significant achievement and shows the level of commitment that China has towards restoring its natural habitats.
China’s reforestation efforts have been a part of its national policies for many years. The government has been encouraging farmers and landowners to plant trees and has also invested heavily in large-scale reforestation programs. One of the critical goals of this program is to help prevent soil erosion, which has been a significant problem in many parts of China.
Moreover, the reforestation program is aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in their trunks, branches, and leaves. This makes reforestation a critical tool in mitigating climate change.
China’s efforts in reforestation and conservation are crucial in the global fight against climate change. The world needs more countries to take bold steps to protect and restore their natural habitats. China’s success in this area is an example of what can be achieved through determination and sustained effort.
More to do
The fact remains that China has significant room for improvement, as it has not met four of the original Aichi Targets, which were set by members of the Convention on Biodiversity for 2011-2020. These targets include promoting sustainable fisheries, preventing extinctions, controlling invasive alien species, and protecting vulnerable ecosystems.
One alarming fact is that almost half of China’s amphibians are in danger of extinction. There have been several significant species declared extinct, such as the Chinese dugong, the Chinese paddlefish, the Yangtze sturgeon, and the white-handed gibbon.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light China’s significant involvement in both legal and illegal wildlife trade, which poses a significant threat to numerous endangered species of mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds. In response to the attention that this issue has garnered, China has taken action to address this issue by updating its Wildlife Protection Law, which was initially enacted in 1989.
The updated law came into effect on January 1, 2021, and represents the first major revision of China’s wildlife protection policies in over 30 years. The new law includes significant measures to combat the illegal wildlife trade, such as strengthening penalties for the consumption and trade of wild animals and prohibiting the consumption of terrestrial wild animals that are considered to be “non-edible.”
Furthermore, the updated law offers increased protection to endangered species and their habitats, as well as their genetic resources. It also establishes a legal framework for the management of wildlife breeding and farming operations. These operations can be used to promote the breeding of endangered species and to meet the growing demand for traditional Chinese medicine.
The updated Wildlife Protection Law is a significant step forward for China in protecting biodiversity and combatting illegal wildlife trade. However, effective implementation and enforcement will be critical to ensuring its success.
The law that was expanded on Feb. 24, 2020, imposed a near-total ban on trading wildlife for food. However, the ban is now being revised, with proposals that could weaken it, including the loosening of restrictions on captive breeding.
The degradation of China’s grasslands affects approximately 90% of them, while about 53% of its coastal wetlands have also been degraded. China has lost 80% of its coral reefs and 73% of its mangroves since 1950. These environmental issues demonstrate the importance of implementing effective strategies to protect the remaining areas of biodiversity in China.
The Three Gorges Dam, located on China’s Yangtze River, is one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in the world. Its construction began in 1994 and was completed in 2008. The dam’s primary purpose was to generate electricity and control flooding in the region. However, while it has brought benefits, it has also created problems.
One significant impact of the dam has been the alteration of habitats for thousands of plant and animal species, including endangered ones. The dam has significantly altered the river’s flow, water temperature, and sediment levels, which have affected the river’s ecosystem. Some species have lost their breeding grounds or become displaced, leading to a decline in their populations.
Furthermore, the dam’s reservoir has created a new environment that has encouraged the spread of some invasive species. These non-native species can outcompete and displace native species, disrupting the balance of the ecosystem.
The Three Gorges Dam has also caused social and economic impacts. The construction of the dam required the relocation of over one million people, and the dam’s reservoir flooded many communities, archaeological sites, and cultural heritage sites. The dam’s construction has also disrupted river transportation and caused issues with water quality and erosion.
While the Three Gorges Dam has brought many benefits, including a significant increase in China’s electricity supply, it has also created challenges for the environment and communities in the region. As the world seeks to transition towards renewable energy, it’s important to consider the potential impact on ecosystems and communities and find ways to mitigate them.
Goals for COP15
The key objective of the Montreal conference is to establish a new worldwide biodiversity framework for the period after 2020. This plan builds upon previous frameworks presented at past conferences, such as the 2010 Aichi Targets. Despite partially achieving six objectives, countries were unsuccessful in meeting any of the Aichi Targets by 2020, as reported by the U.N.
The proposed post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which is the central goal of the Montreal conference, consists of 22 targets to achieve by 2030 and four major long-term goals to meet by 2050. The objectives are based on previous frameworks established in past meetings, including the Aichi Targets from 2010. The framework aims to conserve ecosystems, increase the diversity of benefits that nature provides to people, ensure equitable sharing of genetic resources such as digital DNA sequencing data, and solidify commitments to funding. None of the Aichi Targets were met by nations by 2020, as reported by the U.N., although partial progress was made towards six of the goals.
The ability of China to lead the negotiations and foster cooperation and agreement will be under scrutiny. A significant obstacle to overcome is the financing of the new framework’s ambitious endeavors. Environmental activists are recommending that affluent nations contribute up to $60 billion annually to help impoverished countries cover the costs of conservation initiatives and prevent illegal wildlife trade.
China has made significant progress in protecting biodiversity and conservation efforts in recent years. One major move was the launch of the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, which received a contribution of $230 million from China in 2021. Other countries have also pledged to contribute to the fund, with current pledges totaling $5.2 billion annually, largely from France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the European Union.
This funding will be crucial in supporting conservation projects and curbing illegal wildlife trafficking, which have been major challenges for the global community in recent years. The Kunming Biodiversity Fund and other initiatives like it will also be essential in meeting the ambitious targets laid out in the new global biodiversity framework, which includes 22 targets to meet by 2030 and four key long-term goals to meet by 2050.
Despite these positive steps, challenges remain in the protection of biodiversity in China and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the risks associated with the wildlife trade, both legal and illegal, and efforts to address this issue will be crucial in protecting endangered species and ecosystems. Additionally, China and other nations must continue to work together to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, including habitat destruction, climate change, and pollution.
The upcoming Montreal conference on biodiversity will be a critical opportunity for global leaders to come together and take action to protect the world’s biodiversity. With China’s leadership and the support of other nations, it is possible to make progress towards a more sustainable future for all.
China may face inquiries regarding its Belt and Road Initiative, which involves constructing various forms of transportation infrastructure such as railways, pipelines, and highways across over 60 nations. Detractors allege that the initiative is causing deforestation, flooding, and other negative ecological consequences, especially in vital global biodiversity regions such as the Coral Triangle in Southeast Asia, which hosts one of the world’s most significant coral reef systems.
The Belt and Road Initiative, a large-scale infrastructure project that involves constructing highways, pipelines, and railways across over 60 nations, has been criticized for causing deforestation, flooding, and other harmful environmental effects. These impacts have been observed in biodiversity hotspots such as Southeast Asia’s Coral Triangle, which is home to one of the world’s most important reef systems. China has made a commitment to make the Belt and Road Initiative more environmentally friendly, and in 2021, President Xi Jinping announced a ban on financing new coal power plants abroad. This ban has led to the cancellation of 26 coal plants so far. However, China needs to do more to address the global effects of the Belt and Road Initiative.
China, with its 18% of the world’s population and contribution of 18.4% to the global GDP, holds a crucial position in safeguarding the environment. It is anticipated that China will demonstrate audacious leadership in Montreal and the future.
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The photo depicts Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus), also known as milu deer, standing on a wetland near the Dafeng Milu National Nature Reserve in Jiangsu Province, China. The image was taken by He Jinghua/VCG and licensed through Getty Images.
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Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida is Vanessa Hull.
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