Global biodiversity is collapsing. What is China doing to bend the curve of nature loss?
I’m thrilled to announce that after two long years of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the much-awaited in-person portion of the COP15 United Nations biodiversity summit is finally set to take place in Kunming later this year. As a passionate nature photographer, I couldn’t be more excited to attend this summit and witness first-hand the collective efforts of various nations to address the pressing issue of nature loss.
As I prepare for this event, I’m heartened to learn that China, the host country, has already demonstrated its strong commitment to addressing this issue. In recent years, China has taken significant steps towards conserving its natural heritage, including the creation of vast nature reserves and the implementation of measures to reduce pollution.
With the COP15 summit set to bring together world leaders, scientists, and experts from various fields, I’m optimistic that this event will mark a turning point in our efforts to conserve and protect the natural world. I look forward to capturing stunning images of the diverse flora and fauna of Kunming, and sharing my experiences with the world.
As a traveling photographer, I’ve been fortunate to witness the beauty of nature in many different parts of the world, but I’ve also seen firsthand the devastating effects of human activity on our planet. I believe that the COP15 summit provides a crucial opportunity for us to come together and take action to protect our shared natural heritage, and I’m honored to be a part of this important event.
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Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, a premier international joint venture university located in Suzhou, Jiangsu, China, has sponsored this article.
Suppose you were asked to predict the most critical global risks for the next ten years. In that case, you might consider climate action failure and extreme weather as the top two most severe risks, as per a recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF). These risks may seem apparent to many people.
As a traveling photographer and nature enthusiast, I’ve witnessed firsthand the stunning beauty and diversity of our planet’s ecosystems. But with that beauty comes a responsibility to protect and preserve our natural world for future generations.
According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the third most severe risk facing the planet in the next decade is biodiversity loss. While climate action failure and extreme weather are perhaps more commonly recognized risks, the study highlights the catastrophic consequences that biodiversity collapse can have on various aspects of human life.
The extinction and reduction of species can result in a devastating collapse of biodiversity, leading to profound and irreversible consequences for our planet’s natural capital. As a traveling photographer, I’ve had the privilege of capturing the unique beauty and diversity of various species and ecosystems. Still, it’s essential to recognize the role we all play in preserving these critical elements of our natural world.
As humans, we rely on natural resources for our survival and well-being. From the air we breathe to the food we eat, biodiversity plays an integral role in sustaining life on our planet. By taking action to address biodiversity loss, we can help to ensure a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.
The World Economic Forum’s report serves as a reminder that the risks facing our planet are complex and interconnected. As we work towards a more sustainable future, we must recognize the critical role that biodiversity plays in maintaining the health and well-being of our planet and its inhabitants. As a traveling photographer, I’m committed to using my platform to raise awareness of these critical issues and inspire others to take action to protect our natural world.
As a traveling photographer and nature enthusiast, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of environmental issues on our planet. While global warming has been the primary focus of public discourse for years, recent events have shed light on the equally pressing issue of biodiversity loss.
From the unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2020, affecting billions of animals, to the possible connection between COVID-19 and wildlife, it’s clear that we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis that threatens not only plant and animal species but also the very foundations of human life. In a 2020 report, the United Nations highlighted the alarming impact of biodiversity loss on our food supply, health, and security.
As a traveler, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the unique beauty and diversity of various ecosystems, but I’ve also witnessed the rapid decline of these vital natural resources. It’s crucial that we recognize the interconnectedness of environmental issues and take action to address the biodiversity crisis before it’s too late.
Protecting and preserving biodiversity is critical not only for the survival of plant and animal species but also for the sustainability of human life. By taking steps to reduce our impact on the environment, such as reducing our carbon footprint and supporting conservation efforts, we can help to ensure a more sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.
As the world continues to grapple with the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to address the biodiversity crisis and its impact on our planet’s health and well-being. By coming together to take action, we can create a brighter, more sustainable future for ourselves and our planet.
What measures have policymakers worldwide implemented to address the persistent and severe loss of biodiversity? Additionally, how has China, which is home to almost 10% of all plant species and 14% of animal species on the planet, taken action to reverse this trend?
The current state of biodiversity
While it’s natural for wildlife populations to decline and new species to emerge over time, ecologists are alarmed by the rapid pace of extinctions in recent years. Research conducted by experts indicates that birds, mammals, and amphibians are currently going extinct at a rate of at least 100 to 1,000 times faster than before humans began to dominate the planet millions of years ago.
In the past century alone, over 543 species of vertebrate land animals have gone extinct due to human activities, a figure that would typically take 10,000 years to reach through natural causes. This worrying trend highlights the urgent need for conservation efforts and sustainable practices to prevent further loss of biodiversity.
Scientists are raising alarm bells about what some are calling the sixth mass extinction event in the planet’s history, which they believe is already in progress and occurring much more rapidly than anticipated. Unlike the previous mass extinction events, including the one that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the current Anthropocene extinction is entirely caused by human activities.
Human actions such as climate change, habitat destruction, toxic pollution, industrial agriculture, overhunting, and overfishing have all contributed to the rapid loss of biodiversity around the world. This catastrophic decline in biodiversity poses a significant threat to the planet’s ecosystems and the survival of countless species, including our own.
It is essential that we take action to address the root causes of the sixth mass extinction event, including adopting sustainable practices, reducing our carbon footprint, protecting natural habitats, and promoting conservation efforts. Failure to do so could have irreversible and devastating consequences for both the environment and humanity.
According to Xiao Lingyun, an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, the state of biodiversity is concerning worldwide, and urgent action is needed. The current rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented, and we are facing a critical situation that requires immediate attention.
As humans continue to engage in activities that destroy natural habitats and contribute to climate change, we risk losing countless species and disrupting the delicate balance of our ecosystems. If we do not take action soon, the consequences could be catastrophic for both wildlife and humanity.
Despite the challenges we face, there is still hope. With concerted effort, we can make a difference and start to reverse the damage that has been done. This includes promoting sustainable practices, protecting natural habitats, reducing pollution, and supporting conservation efforts.
As Xiao Lingyun notes, the window of opportunity to save biodiversity is small, and every action we take now is crucial. We must act with urgency and determination to protect the natural world for future generations.
What to expect from COP15
Ten years have passed since the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan where over 190 countries came together to address the alarming loss of plant and animal species. The goal of the meeting was to find ways to reverse the extinction trend, and after several rounds of negotiations, the delegates agreed on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. This 10-year strategic plan for biodiversity conservation outlined 20 specific goals, such as reducing pollution, integrating biodiversity values into national development, and halving the rate of natural habitat loss.
As the deadline for the Aichi Targets approaches, it is clear that some progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go. The United Nations’ Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 report, released in September 2020, showed that none of the 20 goals were fully achieved, and only six of them had been partially achieved. The report also noted that biodiversity loss continued to accelerate, with one million species facing extinction, many within decades.
Despite the challenges, experts remain optimistic about the future of biodiversity. The upcoming United Nations biodiversity summit in Kunming, China, presents an opportunity for countries to renew their commitment to protecting nature and to set new goals for the next decade. As Xiao Lingyun, an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, stated, “We have an extremely short window in which we can make a difference.” The time for action is now, and the international community must come together to ensure that we can protect the planet’s precious biodiversity for generations to come.
According to the United Nations’ Global Biodiversity Outlook report released in 2020, only six of the 20 objectives of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were partially achieved, such as those related to protected land and invasive species. Scientists and conservationists agree that nature protection efforts in the past decade have failed, as Xiao Lingyun, an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, points out. Xiao’s research focuses on large, rare carnivores like snow leopards. She believes that while the targets were well-intentioned, most countries spent too much time making plans and did not follow through with actual execution.
The international community has a chance to get the world’s biodiversity targets back on track through the 15th United Nations biodiversity conference (COP15), which should not be confused with the UN climate change conference (COP26) held in Glasgow last year. The conference was originally set to happen in Kunming, China, in 2020, but was delayed several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its virtual portion finally took place in October 2021.
At the virtual portion of the 15th United Nations biodiversity conference (COP15), representatives from various nations approved the Kunming Declaration, showing their determination to tackle biodiversity loss and recognizing the new objectives proposed in the initial version of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This framework was created by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to provide guidance on global actions until 2030. In November, representatives will gather in Kunming in person to finalize the targets. Meanwhile, scientists and other interested parties will assemble to discuss administrative and technical matters related to initiatives by the CBD.
The Kunming Summit, also known as the 15th United Nations biodiversity conference, held in October 2021, was a crucial event that highlighted the need for urgent action to address biodiversity loss. According to Xiao Lingyun, an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, the core theme of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, created by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is a target of “30 by 30.” This means that the framework aims to conserve 30% of the Earth’s land and waters by 2030.
Currently, only about 17% of the Earth’s surface and 8% of marine areas are within formal protected areas. This means that we need to make significant efforts to achieve the target set by the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The Kunming Summit saw representatives from different countries adopting the Kunming Declaration, expressing their political will to address biodiversity loss and acknowledging the new goals set in the first draft of the framework.
The post-2020 global biodiversity framework aims to guide actions worldwide through 2030. The framework recognizes the need for transformative changes in society, including the integration of biodiversity conservation into national and regional development and poverty eradication strategies. The framework also highlights the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity considerations into sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism.
The next step in the process will be the face-to-face meeting in Kunming in November, where nations will gather to ratify the targets set in the framework. In the meantime, scientists and other parties of interest will discuss administrative matters and technical issues related to CBD initiatives. It is hoped that the Kunming Summit will mark a turning point in global efforts to conserve biodiversity and address the biodiversity crisis that threatens our planet’s health and survival.
Protecting biodiversity is a crucial task that requires cooperation from all sectors of society. As Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Xiao Lingyun highlights the importance of financial institutions in this endeavor. In an interview, she stated that these institutions have a responsibility to protect biodiversity through their operations, supply chains, and investment decisions.
Financial institutions are integral parts of the economy and have significant impacts on biodiversity. Their investments can contribute to or harm biodiversity conservation efforts. Therefore, they must take a more active role in protecting biodiversity. This can be done through responsible investment practices that prioritize environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors.
Xiao adds that financial institutions should take a holistic approach to their ESG practices, focusing not only on their investments but also on their own operations and supply chains. By taking steps to reduce their ecological footprint and promote sustainable practices, they can help minimize the negative impacts of their activities on biodiversity.
The “30 by 30” target is an ambitious goal, and achieving it will require the participation of all sectors of society, including financial institutions. By taking responsibility for their impact on biodiversity, financial institutions can contribute to a more sustainable future for all.
Unique challenges and opportunities for China
The world recognizes China as one of the 17 mega-biodiversity countries, and as such, it is expected to take on a leadership role in the conservation of nature. China has already put in place policies and measures aimed at protecting biodiversity. During the first meeting of the COP15 summit, China pledged to contribute $237 million to support biodiversity conservation in developing countries. The country also announced the creation of several new national parks covering an area of 88,800 square miles of land. While economic development remains a top priority for China, effective action must be taken to protect and conserve natural systems, according to Xiao Lingyun, an Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.
Xiao suggests that authorities should look beyond traditional conservation methods, which include establishing ecological red lines and aiming for carbon neutrality. Instead, they should consider exploring new approaches, such as “other effective area-based conservation measures.” This could involve improving land management practices in urban and agricultural areas to make them more conducive to biodiversity.
Xiao emphasizes the importance of having government officials who are trained in relevant fields to benefit China’s biodiversity preservation work. He states that the lack of academic programs to collect baseline data on biodiversity monitoring is a current issue in China, and having more ecologists hired in the government could increase the focus on fundamental tasks like this.
According to Xiao, while there is still much work to be done, researchers in her academic circle are encouraged by the government’s commitment to addressing the collapse of biodiversity. She remembers that when she started studying biodiversity conservation around 2010, the subject was “very marginalized” compared to pollution.
Xiao notes that there has been a noticeable change in the political climate over the past two years, which is thrilling. She adds that there are now more funding sources available for biodiversity conservation, both from the government and other organizations.