Written by: Yuqin Peng
On April 16 of this year, 17 elephants suddenly appeared in Yuanjiang County, Yuxi City, Yunnan Province, China. These Asian elephants headed 500 kilometers north in the direction of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province. “Migration is a normal habit of life for wild elephants.” Zhejiang University professor Fang explained that the spread of population migration helps elephants find new water sources and residences and carry out inter-population genetic exchanges. However, many experts are concerned that the continued movement of elephant herds northward away from suitable habitats may endanger the safety of the herds in the event of colder temperatures or extreme changes. The widespread expansion of elephant migration will also make conservation efforts and the prevention of human-elephant conflict difficult. This is a recent example of the reality of biodiversity change.
Status of biodiversity in China
China is one of the countries with the richest natural ecological wealth, and its biodiversity is highly endemic and specific. With 33,000 species of higher plants, China accounts for more than 11% of the global number of plant species, ranking third in the world in terms of plant diversity. However, some 3,000 species have been identified in China that are threatened on a global scale. Illegal harvesting and exploitation of plant and animal resources, as well as forest degradation, have caused severe “forest hollowing” in many areas of China. Water quality in major rivers continues to deteriorate, groundwater levels are dropping, and pollution and eutrophication are expanding. Wetlands and aquatic biodiversity are under serious threat and desertification processes are intensifying in arid areas, grasslands, and limestone karst areas.
Climate change and biodiversity
Rising carbon emissions will lead to a warmer climate and melting glaciers. For China, the possibility of increased frequency of extreme weather and climate events within China in the next 100 years will have a great impact on economic and social development and people’s lives. The extent of drought areas in China may expand and desertification may increase. Sea level will continue to rise along China’s coast. The retreat of glaciers on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and some small glaciers will disappear. Climate and biodiversity are interdependent, and a well-functioning natural system and a habitable climate are the basis for a good quality of life for people. They are ultimately driven by and share multiple indirect drivers that are based on societal values.
The second high-level dialogue between China and European Commission held on 27 September 2021 and on which they reached 13 conclusions, reaffirmed that the China-EU will continue to serve as an important platform for strengthening bilateral cooperation actions on the environment and combating climate change. China is committed to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and working towards carbon neutrality by 2060. Both sides will adopt various means to achieve the carbon neutrality target, for example, China will support the green and low-carbon development of energy in developing countries and will not build new coal power projects outside China. Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the areas of conservation and sustainable management of forest resources, sustainable supply chains, and combating illegal timber harvesting and related trade in support of reducing global deforestation.
Meanwhile, the COP15 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) was held in Kunming, Yunnan Province between 2021 to 2022. Yunnan has a very important ecological status, spanning three biodiversity hotspots, with snow glaciers at an altitude of over 6700 meters and tropical river valleys at an altitude of several tens of meters, with a three-dimensional and diverse climate and rich biological resources. It is known as the “Kingdom of Plants and Animals” and “Garden of the World”. The first phase of COP15 in October adopted the Kunming Declaration, which commits to ensuring that the second phase develops and implements an effective “post-2020 global biodiversity framework” with 21 specific targets to be achieved by 2030 for the conservation of biodiversity. These include protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and marine areas and contributing at least the equivalent of 10 billion tons of CO2 per year to global climate change mitigation efforts. In addition, the draft framework proposes to increase financial resources to at least $200 billion per year. At the conference, Chinese Chairman Xi announced an investment of 1.5 billion yuan ($230 million) to establish the Kunming Biodiversity Fund to support biodiversity conservation in developing countries. In recent years, China has continued to increase the funds invested in the field of biodiversity conservation, arranging more than 260 billion RMB in 2017-2018 for two consecutive years to invest in biodiversity-related work, six times the amount invested in 2008. 2020 the National Green Development Fund is established, with an initial fundraising scale of 88.5 billion yuan.
White Paper on Biodiversity Conservation in China
On October 8, 2021, China also released a white paper on “China’s Biodiversity Conservation”. Based on the concept of harmonious coexistence between human beings and nature, it proposed to improve the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation, enhance biodiversity governance capacity as well as strengthen global biodiversity cooperation.
Since 2015, China has effectively protected 90% of terrestrial ecosystem types and 71% of nationally protected wildlife species through the construction of a scientific and reasonable nature reserve system. For example, the number of giant pandas in the wild has increased from 1,114 to 1,864 in 40 years and the threat level of giant pandas has been reduced from “endangered” to “vulnerable”.
China’s innovative ecological space protection model, with biodiversity maintenance and other ecological functions of extremely important areas and ecologically fragile areas into the ecological protection red line, for strict protection. The ecological protection red line covers important ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, deserts, wetlands, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass beds, covering key areas of biodiversity distribution nationwide and protecting most rare and endangered species and their habitats. China’s initiative of “Defining Ecological Protection Red Line, Mitigating and Adapting to Climate Change” has been selected as one of the 15 best examples of “Nature-based Solutions” in the world.
In the past 10 years, China has promulgated and amended more than 20 biodiversity-related laws and regulations, including the Forest Law, Grassland Law, Fisheries Law, Wildlife Protection Law, Environmental Protection Law, Marine Environmental Protection Law, etc. These laws providing solid legal safeguards for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. In 2020, because of the epidemic, China adopted the Decision on Comprehensively Banning Illegal Wildlife Trade.
China has established the “Belt and Road” International Alliance for Green Development, and more than 40 countries have become partners to carry out cooperation in biodiversity conservation, global climate change governance and green transformation. China has actively supported developing countries in biodiversity conservation under the framework of South-South cooperation, benefiting more than 80 countries worldwide. For example, China has established the Lancang-Mekong, the China-ASEAN Environmental Cooperation Center, the Greater Mekong Subregion Core Environmental Project. On biodiversity issues, China’s role as a facilitator and leader for other developing countries is evident, which will promote the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity among other parties.
Biodiversity and Poverty
Globally, the “employment gap” caused by COVID-19 will reach 75 million in 2021 and decline to 23 million in 2022. The total number of unemployed people is expected to reach 205 million in 2022 and the global unemployment rate will reach 5.7%. The number of workers in poverty or extreme poverty will increase by 108 million compared to 2019 and achieving the 2030 Agenda for SDG of poverty eradication will also become more difficult. In 1978, when China first began its economic reforms, more than 80% of the population lived in absolute poverty. By 2019, this proportion had fallen to less than 1% (ADB, 2020a). This is equivalent to 850 million people lifted out of absolute poverty, representing about 70% of the world’s population lifted out of poverty during this period.
To solve the problem of large numbers of unemployed migrant workers and with biodiversity conservation as a prerequisite, China is actively exploring the synergistic promotion of biodiversity conservation and rural revitalization, cultivating advantageous resources, developing ecological industries, promoting green and high-quality development of cities and villages, and building a beautiful home where people and nature live in harmony and coexist. For example, by establishing a poverty reduction model that coordinates honeybee breeding and biodiversity conservation, Wufeng Tujia Autonomous County in Hubei Province has driven farmers to increase their income and escape from poverty, and the disposable income of the rural resident population has increased from 7,880 yuan in 2015 to 11,735 yuan in 2020. This poverty alleviation case was also selected as one of the “110 Best Global Poverty Reduction Cases” jointly sponsored by the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
However, by the end of July last year, more than 13 million new migrant workers had returned to their hometown to work locally, and 5% of them had returned to their hometowns to work through new economy such as video and live streaming to sell agricultural products based on the rural revitalization policy. As more companies shift to Internet+ platforms based on informal economy, many platform workers are under civil law contractual arrangements, often in the form of labour service contracts. This limits these migrants from enjoying labour rights and social protection compared to formal employees.