China’s effort to protect biological diversity in 30 years

By FU CONG / 07-06-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

Tourists visit a mangrove forest on Jinniu Island, Zhanjiang City, Guangdong Province. Zhanjiang’s winding coastline is dotted with mangroves, home to flocks of migratory birds all year round, and a paradise for fish, shrimp, crab, and shellfish. Photo: CFP

2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In the past 30 years, the world has made great progress in biodiversity conservation, and China is a prime example. In 2021-2022, China successfully hosted the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, (UN biodiversity conference, COP15) encouraged the international community to establish the landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, launched the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, and became a leader in building a community of life on Earth.

China’s achievements

In the past 10 years, China’s completion of its biodiversity conservation targets has surpassed the global average. China has effectively protected 90% of terrestrial ecosystem types and 74% of wildlife species on the list for key state protection. More than 300 species of rare and endangered wild animals and plants have recovered successfully. China’s newly added forest area ranks first in the world. Since 2012, China has completed afforestation of 960 million mu (64 million hectares), accounting for a quarter of the global planted forest area.

China established a top-level design for biodiversity conservation and ensured a high-level implementation efficiency. The National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, has promulgated and revised the Environmental Protection Law, and other laws, weaving a legal network for biodiversity protection. 

In 2011, the China National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation was established to coordinate and promote biodiversity conservation across the country. China has also come up with a number of provincial biodiversity strategies and action plans whose progress has been regularly updated and registered with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

China has made steady progress in biodiversity conservation, and has continuously demonstrated innovative results in ecological restoration, wildlife protection, and nature reserve systems. China has implemented a series of major ecological restoration projects, including the “Three Norths” Shelterbelt project (Northeast China, North China, and Northwest China regions), the protection of natural forests, the return of farmland to forests and grasslands, and the restoration of rivers, lakes, and wetlands. 

At the same time, China has systematically carried out endangered species rescue projects, preserved more than 23,000 plant species, and successfully bred more than 60 rare and endangered wild animals in captivity, creating a world-class germplasm bank of wildlife. 

China established a system to protect biospheres using national parks. By 2021, China has established 10,000 natural protected areas that included national parks, nature reserves, and natural parks, accounting for 18% of the country’s land area. 

The “red line for ecological protection” is China’s key ecological protection mechanism, which guarantees and maintains the bottom line of national ecological security. China was the first country in the world to propose and implement the red line strategy for ecological conservation, which is an important institutional innovation in its land use planning and environmental reform. The designated protection area covers major ecological functional zones, regions that are ecologically sensitive and vulnerable, as well as key regions for biodiversity. For example, areas with important ecological functions, such as water conservation, biodiversity maintenance, soil and water conservation, wind barriers and sand encroachment anchors, and coastal ecological stabilizers. Also, sensitive areas and regions vulnerable to soil erosion, desertification of arid and semi-arid lands, salinization and other risks, will be demarcated as ecological protection red lines and strictly protected. 

By 2021, more than 25% of China’s land has been demarcated as a red line for ecological protection, and the results speak for themselves. The red line strategy provides an innovative solution for global biodiversity conservation. In 2019, China’s proposal “Drawing a ‘Red Line’ for Ecological Protection to Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change” has been selected by the UN as one of the 15 best nature-based solutions around the globe.

Over the past 30 years, China has made remarkable achievements in biodiversity conservation. Elizabeth Maruma, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, said that “as the largest developing country in the world, China plays a unique role in the field of biodiversity conservation. It has embarked on a development path that not only improves people’s living standards, but also better protects the ecology, and provides a model for developing countries to emulate and learn from.”

Cure to governance deficit

At present, extinction is accelerating for many species around the globe, and the continuous loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems are having a profound impact on human well-being, becoming a major threat to human survival and development. Though almost all countries are taking measures to protect biodiversity, progress is still slow, the completion of various policy goals is not satisfactory, and there is a deficit of effective biodiversity governance.

The failure to achieve conservation targets is a pressing issue facing global biodiversity governance. Since its entry into force on December 29, 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity has been widely recognized and supported by 196 Parties, making it an international environmental convention with the highest level of participation in the world. In 2002, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity set a target of “ensuring a substantial reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.” Unfortunately, in the third edition of the 2010 Global Biodiversity Outlook, the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity explicitly acknowledged that the international community had failed to meet its 2002 targets. In the same year, the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a new 10-year plan—the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which is comprised of a shared vision, a mission, strategic goals, and 20 ambitious yet achievable targets, collectively known as the Aichi Targets. 

However, it is disappointing that around the world protected areas on land and in the sea have increased by only 5% and 4%, respectively, over the past 10 years, and wetlands continue to decline. None of the 20 Aichi Goals have been fully achieved, only six have been partially achieved, and some of the sub-goals have even deteriorated, falling well below the standards set. Insufficient overall planning, unclear quantitative objectives, inadequate implementation, and lack of regular oversight might be the reasons for this governance deficit. 

Inadequate funding is one of the largest reasons why global biodiversity conservation faces a governance dilemma. The international community expects to mobilize at least $200 billion a year for biodiversity conservation, but data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that the level of annual financing for biodiversity conservation is far below what is needed. There is a large gap in funding and capacity building for ecological protection from developed countries to developing countries. Though developed countries have put forward many ambitious targets for biodiversity conservation, they are generally less enthusiastic when asked to provide concrete financing mechanisms and completely unwilling to provide sufficient financial support for global biodiversity conservation.

The large number of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has varying levels of economic and social development, different implementation capacities, and major challenges that they face domestically, which hinders global biodiversity governance. To address the deficit of effective biodiversity governance, the first step is to reduce inequality between developed and developing countries in biodiversity governance, and build a fair, reasonable, cooperative, and win-win global biodiversity governance system. 

In the meantime, special funds should be mobilized to fill the funding gap, with a focus on helping developing countries improve their capacity to protect ecosystems. 

It is also necessary to increase the public understanding of relevant professional knowledge to improve the public’s awareness of biodiversity protection across the globe.

China approach

Upholding the concept of harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature, China has always supported and actively promoted global biodiversity governance. By hosting the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, China has demonstrated its determination in promoting ecological progress, put forward the China approach, and contributed Chinese wisdom to lifting global biodiversity governance to a new level.

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the landmark Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, a milestone that is ambitious, balanced, pragmatic, effective, robust, and transformative. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hailed the Framework as an important step in protecting the environment and boosting diplomatic efforts to protect biodiversity. 

The Framework sets out ambitious visions and targets, with 23 action goals to be achieved by 2030 and four long-term goals to be achieved by 2050. This includes a representative 3030 target which aims to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030, as well as specific measures to halt and reverse natural loss.

The Framework strikes a balance between biodiversity conservation, sustainable development, and benefit-sharing. There have long been conflicts between developed and developing countries in regard to resource benefit sharing. The Framework provides a roadmap for action — to increase and more equitably share the benefits of biodiverse resources by 2030.

Finance played a key role at COP15, with discussions centering on how much money developed countries will send to developing countries to address biodiversity loss. It was requested that the Global Environment Facility set up a Special Trust Fund to implement the Framework, to ensure an adequate, predictable, and timely flow of funds. China established the Kunming Biodiversity Fund and took the lead by investing 1.5 billion yuan. Murema hailed the initiative as an important contribution to supporting implementation of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

As the host country, China has played a central role in communication, coordination, and promotion, as well as leading the vision, setting targets, funding implementation, and sharing benefits of genetic resources.

To achieve the historic breakthrough, as Murema said, the Chinese government has spent a lot of time organizing, consulting, and discussing plans with all parties, and actively preparing for the formulation and adoption of the Framework. To negotiate the terms, China adhered to the principles of fairness, transparency, and was self-driven, made practical suggestions, and fully considered the accessibility and operability of the targets and the development differences among countries.

In summary, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has demonstrated China’s determination and responsibility as a major country in all respects. China’s proposal to resolve conflicts between developing and developed countries shows its strong normative shaping power. China took its responsibilities seriously as the host, made historic breakthroughs in the global biodiversity governance system, and opened a new chapter for global biodiversity governance. 

Going forward, China is committed to protecting our shared planet and will take action to make it more harmonious and beautiful. It will work together with the international community to create a new model for global biodiversity governance that is more fair and reasonable, with each member contributing its share, so as to realize the worldwide vision of harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature. 

Fu Cong is an associate research fellow at the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Edited by YANG XUE