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Strengthening Biodiversity Conservation and Building a Community of All Life on Earth

By Sun Jinlong and Huang Runqiu Source: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2022-01-18

On October 12, 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech via video link to the leaders' summit of the Fifteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15). With the aims of achieving sustainable development and building a global community of shared future in mind, President Xi explained the great significance of protecting biodiversity and building a community of all life on Earth. He elucidated his views on starting a new journey of high-quality development for humanity, and declared China's intention to continue pursuing practical measures to build an ecological civilization. President Xi's speech presented his global vision and sentiments in a manner befitting a leader of a major country, and it conveyed China's positive role and historical responsibility as a participant, contributor, and leader in building a global ecological civilization. 

I. China has made historic achievements in biodiversity conservation. 

China is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. We have elevated biodiversity to the level of a national strategy, established the China National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation, and set up coordinating mechanisms for national biosecurity work. China advocates building an ecological civilization and supports environmental conservation and green development. To these ends, we have created mechanisms based on government leadership and public participation as well as multilateral governance and mutually beneficial cooperation to continuously achieve new results in biodiversity conservation and contribute to the response to global biodiversity challenges in new ways. 

We are restoring ecosystems and increasing populations of wild animal and plant species. 


A performance at the opening ceremony of the Ecological Civilization Forum for part one of the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference, held in Kunming, Yunnan Province, October 14, 2021. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER CHEN YEHUA 

China has implemented a series of ecological conservation and restoration projects, and promoted integrated protection and systematic management of mountains, rivers, forests, farmland, lakes, grasslands and deserts. Both China's total forested area and timber stock volume have increased every year for the past three decades, and since 2004 the area of land desertified due to either natural or human factors has shrunk over three consecutive monitoring periods each covering a period of five years. Between 2000 and 2017, China accounted for approximately 25% of net growth in green space globally, making it the largest contributor in the world. Between 2016 and 2020, a total of 1,200 km of coastline and 23,000 hectares of coastal wetland were rehabilitated and restored. China is in the process of establishing a system of nature conservation areas consisting of national parks, nature reserves, and various types of nature parks. So far, nearly 10,000 nature conservation areas of various levels and types have been established, which account for about 18% of China's land area and effectively protect 90% of terrestrial ecosystems and 71% of national key protected wild animal and plant species. China has preliminarily designated minimum standards for national environmental conservation, which stipulate that a minimum of 25% of its land area must be protected. We also identify 35 biodiversity conservation priority areas and call for the expansion of habitats of wild animals. China is implementing a 10-year ban on fishing in the economically prosperous Yangtze River Economic Belt to restore the river's biodiversity. Systematic measures have been implemented to protect China's endangered species, which have led to the protection and rehabilitation of a variety of endangered wild animals and plants, and rebounds in the populations of giant pandas, crested ibises, Asian elephants, and Tibetan antelopes. 

We are continuously fine-tuning policies and regulations and have significantly improved our conservation capabilities and achievements. 

China has implemented the National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2011-2030) and introduced or revised over 20 laws and regulations related to biodiversity, including the Forestry Law, Grassland Law, Fisheries Law, Wildlife Protection Law, Environmental Protection Law, Marine Environmental Protection Law, Seed Law, and Yangtze River Protection Law. We have also issued the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on a Complete Ban of Illegal Wildlife Trade and the Elimination of the Unhealthy Habit of Indiscriminate Wild Animal Meat Consumption for the Protection of Human Life and Health. We have revised and adjusted our list of national key protected wild animals and plants, implemented major biodiversity conservation projects, and organized national biodiversity surveys and assessments. We have established a comprehensive biodiversity monitoring and observation network as well as improved technologies and standards related to biodiversity surveys, observations, and assessments. We are implementing a system of compensation for ecological protection. Between 2016 and 2020, the central government spent 352.4 billion yuan in transfer payments on key ecological function zones, which played an important role in balancing the interests of the areas that implement ecological conservation and the areas that benefit from those conservation efforts. There is a zero-tolerance attitude toward activities that damage ecosystems, species, and biogenetic resources in China. Illegal encroachment upon nature reserves, land reclamation from lakes, and destruction of wetlands have all been included in the scope of central inspections of ecological and environmental protection. The "Green Shield" initiative to strengthen supervision of nature reserves has been carried out each year for the past five years, and cross-departmental, cross-regional, and cross-border joint law enforcement operations have been implemented to rectify over 5,000 key issues. China is continuing to boost publicity and education on biodiversity conservation, and a conservation system featuring enhanced government guidance, positive engagement of enterprises, and extensive public participation has taken shape. 

We strictly monitor biological resources and are continuously bolstering our biosecurity management. 

China has incorporated biosecurity into its national security system and promulgated the Biosecurity Law. We have set out plans to build a national biosecurity risk mitigation and governance system and established sound systems for biosecurity risk monitoring and early warning, biosecurity risk surveys and assessments, and biosecurity investigations. We are accelerating the collection, preservation, and utilization of important biogenetic resources. We are implementing strategic biological resource plans and innovative germplasm conservation and breeding programs. We are strengthening management and supervision over the protection, acquisition, utilization, and sharing of benefits of biogenetic resources. We are also carrying out surveys on important biogenetic resources and evaluating the effectiveness of protection measures, all of which has made China a world leader in the collection and preservation of biogenetic resources. In the past decade, China has discovered an average of approximately 200 new plant species each year, accounting for one-tenth of the global annual increase in known plant species. We are continuing to strengthen prevention and response measures to counter invasions of alien species by establishing a coordinated inter-departmental mechanism for jointly containing invasive species. We are carrying out safety tests and evaluations of genetically modified organisms and strictly regulating the secure management of biotechnology and its products to promote orderly and healthy development in that field. 

China is deeply involved in global governance and cooperation on the response to biodiversity loss. 

As one of the earliest signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, China f irmly upholds multilateralism, engages in international cooperation on biodiversity conservation, and contributes to promoting biodiversity conservation around the world. China actively implements the Convention on Biological Diversity and its protocols, is further ahead of most countries in implementing the Aichi Targets, and is the largest contributor among developing countries to the Global Environment Facility. The Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition has been established to facilitate cooperation on biodiversity conservation, global climate change governance, and a shift toward greener living and production. China has also built the Belt and Road Initiative Environmental Big Data Platform, which hosts data on biodiversity from more than 100 countries. Under the framework of South-South cooperation, we have provided biodiversity conservation support to more than 80 developing countries around the world. We successfully hosted the first part of COP15 in China, leading to the Kunming Declaration, which provides political guidance and embodies a broad consensus on follow-up consultations about the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The document reflects the determination and willingness of countries to take effective action to reverse the current trend of biodiversity loss and ensure that biodiversity is put on a path to recovery by 2030 at the latest. It thus injects new impetus into global biodiversity governance. 

II. Elevating biodiversity conservation in China to new levels 

Under the methodical guidance of Xi Jinping's concept of ecological civilization, China's biodiversity conservation has kept pace with the times, been innovation-driven, and accumulated valuable experience that will guide our long-term approach. We must carry forward and build upon that valuable experience and constantly produce innovative concepts and measures to elevate China's biodiversity conservation to new levels and create a new era of global governance of biodiversity together with the international community. 

China supports harmonious coexistence between humans and nature and considers biodiversity conservation an important element of building an ecological civilization. 


China has systematically launched projects to save endangered species, and made effective efforts toward the protection and recovery of many endangered wild animals and plants. 
Top left: A pair of Yangtze finless porpoises frolic in a river in Yichang, Hubei Province, May 11, 2021. DRONE PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER XIAO YIJIU

Top right: A crested ibis at a sanctuary in Yangxian County, Shaanxi Province, May 13, 2021. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER LIU XIAO 

Bottom: A group of Tibetan antelopes roam about in the Hoh Xil area of Sanjiangyuan National Park. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER WU GANG 

Humans and nature form a community of life. When we protect nature with care, it rewards us generously; but when we aggressively plunder its wealth, it punishes us mercilessly. Painful lessons from over-exploitation and over-utilization of natural resources have demonstrated the need to establish the notion of an ecological civilization that respects, conforms to, and protects nature. They have also illustrated the need to pursue a path of development conducive to harmonious coexistence between humans and nature, and to find balance between the imperatives of economic development and environmental protection. China has formulated a national strategy and action plan for biodiversity conservation in the new era, included biodiversity conservation plans in important economic and social development plans, and integrated biodiversity conservation with the whole process of ecological civilization. Mindful of the fundamental role of nature's carrying capacity, we are accelerating green methods of development, encouraging people to adopt a low-carbon lifestyle, and simultaneously promoting high-level biodiversity conservation and high-quality development. China has prioritized environmental conservation and put the restoration of nature first. We abide by nature's laws, explore solutions predicated on protecting nature, and avoid excessive human intervention in nature. We have also effectively protected important ecosystems, species, and biogenetic resources, creating a new pattern of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature. 

We must uphold the view that lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets and integrate biodiversity conservation with improving people's wellbeing. 


A drone shot of a herd of wild Asian elephants in Yuanjiang, a county in Yunnan Province, August 9, 2021. The herd attracted worldwide attention after leaving their home deep in the forest on a northward trek before ultimately making the return journey. China's efforts to protect elephants through cooperation between the government and the local residents have earned global praise. PHOTO BY XINHUA REPORTER HU CHAO 

A healthy environment provides not only natural wealth but also material wealth. By protecting nature, we are safeguarding the value of the environment and increasing environmental capital, while also safeguarding future potential economic and social development. Biodiversity provides us with the rich and diverse resources we need to work and live, a healthy and secure ecological environment, and unique landscape identities. We need to maintain our people-centered development philosophy and include efforts to strengthen biodiversity conservation in plans for economic development, job creation, increasing incomes, and the campaign to build a beautiful countryside. We need to link our efforts aimed at prioritizing the environment, promoting high-quality development, and achieving a high quality of life, and make these aspects mutually reinforcing. We must quickly establish sound mechanisms for realizing the value of ecological goods and ensure business activities are biodiversity friendly, so that the public have both full pockets and a healthy environment. We also need to integrate ecological protection, green development, and improvements in people's wellbeing. 

We need to maintain a systematic outlook and promote integrated protection and governance of our natural environment. 

Mountains, rivers, forests, farmland, lakes, grasslands, and deserts all represent indivisible ecosystems. We must view all environmental elements in light of the inherent patterns of ecosystems as well as their holistic and integrated nature. We must also thoroughly conserve, systematically restore, and comprehensively manage them to boost the circularity of ecosystems and preserve ecological balance. We need to continue to optimize the spatial layout of biodiversity conservation and implement the in-situ conservation system as well as build a sound ex-situ conservation system. We must demarcate and defend red lines for protecting ecosystems, optimize the system of nature reserves, and strengthen protection and supervision of priority areas for biodiversity conservation. China is implementing the Master Plan for the Major Projects for the Protection and Restoration of National Key Ecosystems (2021-2035), which aims to accelerate the rehabilitation of species' habitats; strengthen the protection of key ecological function zones, important natural ecosystems, natural heritage, natural landscapes, rare and endangered species, and species with very small populations; and improve ex-situ conservation and breeding of biological resources. We must strive to improve our management of biosecurity and strengthen law-based monitoring and management of environmental safety of biotechnology. We must also strive to establish a sound supervisory system for acquisitions and sharing of benefits related to biogenetic resources, and continue to enhance our management of invasive alien species. 

We must build on our foundations and enhance our ability to manage biodiversity. 

Environmental protection depends on systems and laws. We must implement the strictest possible systems and most rigorous legal framework to protect the environment as well as improve institutional mechanisms and the policy system on biodiversity conservation to enhance our capacity to manage biodiversity. We need to improve our systems for protecting and supervising biodiversity, and conduct research on formulating and revising laws and regulations in areas such as wildlife protection, fisheries, wetland protection, nature reserves, forestry, and wild plant conservation. Every region of China should also issue corresponding local regulations on biodiversity conservation based on their specific circumstances. We need to improve the compensation systems for ecological protection of nature reserves and for environmental damage. We also need to improve methods and work mechanisms for identifying and assessing damage to biodiversity, and refine systems for combatting illegal trading of wild animals and plants. We need to step up law enforcement and supervisory activities, and include behavior that endangers national key protected wild animal and plant species and their habitats, as well as remedial action, within the scope of central inspections of ecological and environmental protection. We should continue to launch special programs, such as the "Green Shield" initiative, to strengthen supervision of nature reserves. We must severely crack down on illegal and criminal activities such as the poaching, collection, transportation, and trading of wild animals and plants and their products. We need to formulate ten-year plans for major biodiversity conservation projects, accelerate the construction of a biodiversity conservation monitoring network, improve the system of assessing biodiversity, and carry out biodiversity impact assessments. We should also fully harness the leading role of governments at all levels in biodiversity conservation and establish sound long-term mechanisms that facilitate the participation of enterprises, public institutions, social organizations, and the public in biodiversity conservation. 

We must continue to promote the development of a global community of shared future, and actively participate in global biodiversity governance. 

Earth is humanity's shared home. Confronted with global challenges such as biodiversity loss, all countries stand together as a community with a common fate. We must uphold the view that we humans are a community with a shared future, continue to be guided by multilateralism, and enthusiastically participate in the process of global biodiversity governance. China must fully play its role as an important participant, contributor, and leader in building a global ecological civilization and strengthen its voice and influence on the world stage in the areas of biodiversity governance and sustainable development. We must earnestly implement international treaties on biodiversity, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on Wetlands, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. We must participate in the formulation of international standards on biodiversity, strengthen bilateral and multilateral dialogue in the areas of biodiversity conservation and green development, promote exchanges of knowledge, information, science and technology, and share positive results. We must prepare for the second part of COP15 and support the drafting of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. We also need to help build a fair and rational global governance system for biodiversity in which each plays their part, and make new and greater contributions to building a community of all life on Earth. 

Sun Jinlong is Secretary of the CPC Leadership Group of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.
Huang Runqiu is Minister of Ecology and Environment. 

(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 21, 2021)