The red-crowned crane lives in peace at Zhalong Nature Reserve in Heilongjiang Province.
AT its beginning people around the globe had a multitude of reasons to expect 2020 to be a super year for biodiversity and action on climate change emergencies. The year 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the first UN summit on biodiversity at the level of heads of state and government, the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the second extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
However it turns out that the year has been punctuated by raging wild fires, locust attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Feeling their destructive impact on our economic and social activities, we are prompted to rethink our relationship with nature, and ponder over ways to rehabilitate eco-environments and preserve biodiversity, all in the interest of the long-term well-being and development of humankind.
In 1988, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened the Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity to explore the need for an international convention on biological diversity. Soon afterwards, it established the Ad Hoc Working Group of Technical and Legal Experts on Biological Diversity to prepare an international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. Its work culminated in May 1992 with the Nairobi Conference for the Adoption of the Agreed Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention was opened for signature on June 5, 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has so far been signed by 196 parties.
Aiming towards the vision 2050 on biodiversity of "living in harmony with nature," the Convention set the objectives for conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Under its framework a number of agreements, decisions, and plans on biodiversity have been produced, and relevant institutions have been improved in the fields including scientific and policy research, implementation for set goals, information sharing, fund allocation, technology transfer, and capacity building for developing countries.
Despite the increased agreements reached by CBD signatories, its secretariat, subsidiary bodies, and other organizations on setting science-based goals, increasing monetary input and improving implementation mechanisms, the decline in global biodiversity has not been reversed. The Living Planet Report 2020 of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows that the population sizes of vertebrates saw an alarming average drop of 68 percent between 1970 and 2016, with biodiversity loss especially egregious in certain regions like Latin America and the Caribbean, and the populations of some species dwindling disproportionately faster.
Since becoming a party to the CBD in 1993, China has been actively involved in its various missions, building a beautiful country at home and expanding cooperation on increasing biodiversity globally. Next May it will for the first time host the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the CBD under the theme “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth.”
On September 21 this year, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Ecology and Environment released a position paper for the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity, titled Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth: China in Action. The paper elaborates upon China’s philosophy of ecological civilization, policy measures, promotion of sustainable development as well as its efforts to encourage society-wide engagement to promote global biodiversity governance in a constructive way, and to strengthen international exchanges and cooperation. Through ample data and solid case examples, the paper illustrates China’s achievements and experience in reserving biodiversity, stresses its firm support for multilateralism, and gives its stance and proposals on global biodiversity governance.
The successful practice of China proves that science-based and systematic reservation measures can restore vitality in nature. Taking the giant panda, Tibetan antelope, crested ibis, and Milu (Père David’s deer) as an example, their populations can be observed to be recovering steadily under effective protection. A native species in the warm and humid regions at the middle and lower reaches of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, the Milu deer disappeared from the wild at the beginning of last century after continuous population reduction due to climate and human factors. In 1985 China imported 20 heads of the deer from the U.K. After 35 years of research, assisted reproduction, and protection, the animal’s population in China has grown to 8,000. It is therefore lauded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as among the most successfully reintroduced species. China is equally devoted to the protection of other rare animals like the Yangtze finless porpoise, Siberian tiger, snow leopard, and Chinese pangolin.
Biodiversity is a key component of ecological civilization. China’s philosophy of ecological civilization underlines the harmony between people and nature, and focuses on innovative, integrated, and green development. Necessary institutions and mechanisms have been established to achieve China’s goals of ecological protection. Being a developing country with a large population, China’s exploration for a path of development amid ecological preservation is also meaningful to other countries.
Participation by Corporations and Social Organizations
China’s position paper recognizes the contribution by businesses and social organizations. For instance, it mentions the Forest Declaration: in 2015, nine Chinese enterprises, WWF and six NGOs and industrial associations jointly issued the Forest Declaration, calling on relevant Chinese enterprises to work together toward the goal of zero deforestation in the supply chain of timber products by 2030. Following its unveiling at the 2015 climate conference in Paris, more companies and organizations endorsed the declaration, representing half of the real estate market and 30 percent of the wood flooring producers in China.
In June the next year another 28 Chinese wood flooring companies signed up to uphold it, and made action plans accordingly. They are also members of Global Forest & Trade Network-China (GFTN-China). At present more than 92 percent of GFTN participating companies are able to trace the whole sourcing and processing steps of their products, and 50 percent of them have Forest Management and Chain of Custody certifications. In doing so they have minimized the negative impact on forests by logging.
Chinese companies are also leading global efforts to stop the illegal trade of wild life through the Internet. According to Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the annual volume of illegal trade of wild plants and animals stands at US $20 billion. As the global combat against such trade is intensifying, more transactions have been moved from real-world markets to online platforms. In response, in 2017 the WWF, TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and 11 Chinese Internet companies jointly founded an alliance to combat illegal trade of wildlife in the cyberspace. Its members conduct rigorous censoring of trade information about wildlife and relevant products, stop the circulation of illegal information, assist in law enforcement, and formulate actions plans on combating illegal trade of wildlife and related products on the Internet.
In March 2018, 21 Internet giants in North America, Asia, Europe, and Africa, including eBay, Google, and Microsoft joined in, making the alliance a global one. By March this year member companies had removed or prohibited about three million pieces of information about illegal transactions involving wildlife on their websites.
With support from China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, eight organizations including the Paradise International Foundation and WWF founded a civilian organization for biodiversity preservation in May 2019. More than 60 entities signed on to it within a year, affirming the public’s strong interest in this endeavor and in international cooperation on biodiversity protection.
More International Cooperation Needed
We humans share this beautiful planet with all other animals, plants, and microorganisms on it. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, has warned the international community that COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic; and UNEP revealed in a recent report that about 75 percent of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and are closely related with human activities. In the face of global environmental challenges, no country can remain insulated from them; all countries should, and must, step up cooperation with each other.
In a time of a slumping global economy and resurgent unilateralism, consensus should be reached worldwide that we humans should respect and follow the rule of nature, protect nature, and rehabilitate it.
In May next year, parties to the CBD will convene in Kunming to discuss a post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Topics are expected to cover setting of goals, mobilization of more resources to ensure implementation and accountability, and effective enforcement of the convention. We believe that China will play an exemplary role in advancing this framework, conduct green diplomacy, enhance cooperation with other CBD signature countries, and make the 15th conference a milestone event in the CBD history.
LI NAN is priority project coordinator of Convention on Biological Diversity, WWF China.