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COP15 president lauds progress, looks ahead

By Erik Nilsson | China Daily | Updated: 2022-12-02 09:35
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Huang Runqiu discusses China's biodiversity achievements, need for global cooperation

Minister of Ecology and Environment Huang Runqiu talks with Erik Nilsson in his office in Beijing. JIANG DONG/CHINA DAILY

Editor's Note: The highly anticipated second phase of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity will soon start in Montreal, Canada. What should you expect? And what's China's role in the COP15 presidency? Erik Nilsson, a senior reporter at China Daily, spoke with Huang Runqiu, COP15 president and China's minister of ecology and environment, about the upcoming conference and more. Here are the excerpts:

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). In your view, why is biodiversity conservation important? And what challenges does the world face in this respect?

As a Chinese saying goes, "All beings flourish when they live in harmony and receive nourishment from nature." Biodiversity lays the foundation for human survival and development. Our clothing, food, shelter, means of travel — every aspect of our material and cultural lives — are closely related to biodiversity.

Data show that about half of global GDP is related to biodiversity. Over 3 billion livelihoods depend on marine and coastal biodiversity. Over 1.6 billion livelihoods depend on forests and non-lumber forest products. And about 70 percent of people living in poverty depend on activities such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. As for healthcare, 70 percent of cancer drugs are natural products or originate from chemical compounds found in natural products.

In addition, biodiversity plays an important role in maintaining the natural ecological balance — for instance, by purifying the environment, preventing or mediating natural disasters, safeguarding food security and protecting human health.

Over the years, the international community has become fully aware that biodiversity is of the utmost importance and has acted to protect it. However, the global biodiversity crisis is worsening.

Due to human activity, 75 percent of the terrestrial environment and 66 percent of the marine environment have been significantly altered. In addition, more than 85 percent of wetlands have been lost, and about one-fourth of species face the threat of extinction, according to a report published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in May 2019. The International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a 2020 report that 41 percent of amphibians, 26 percent of mammals and 14 percent of birds are threatened with extinction.

In the face of global biodiversity loss, we humans have a shared future, and no country, organization or individual can remain apart.

Last year, President Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the leaders' summit of the first phase of the COP15. He said that the international community must enhance cooperation, build consensus and pool strength to build a community of all life on Earth.

Therefore, the international community should work together to advance biodiversity protection, champion harmonious coexistence between humans and nature, respect, adapt to and protect nature, promote global cooperation in biodiversity protection and uphold multilateralism and the principle of equal consultation. Only in this way can we pool strength to protect biodiversity, achieve win-win results and build a better home together.

Milu, a deer species endemic to China that became extinct in the wild now inhabits the Nanhaizi Milu Park in Beijing's Daxing district. [PHOTO BY GENG FEIFEI/CHINA DAILY]

Global biodiversity loss is accelerating, and this is a challenge for all humankind. What achievements has China made in recent years in this respect?

We have made clear progress in conserving biodiversity and have earned international acclaim.

For instance, the population of wild giant pandas has increased from 1,114 to 1,864. Their classification has been downgraded from "endangered" to "vulnerable".

Yangtze finless porpoises now frequently appear in different sections of the Yangtze River. Snow leopards have been frequently spotted in the Sanjiangyuan National Park. Marbled cats, which had not been seen for more than 30 years, have reappeared in the Gaoligong Mountains in Yunnan province.

The wild population of Hainan black-crested gibbons has increased from fewer than 10 in two groups 40 years ago, to 36 in five groups. The crested ibis population has increased from only seven in 1981 to over 5,000, and the population of Tibetan antelopes has grown from 70,000 during the 1980s-1990s to more than 300,000.

In our view, this progress can be attributed to several factors.

First, we have increased efforts at the administrative level. We have elevated biodiversity protection to a national strategy in China. We have drafted or revised a series of relevant laws and regulations, included biodiversity conservation in development plans for governments at the central and local levels and have actively pushed for mainstream protection.

Over the past decade, China has drafted and revised 20 laws and regulations pertinent to biodiversity conservation, including laws on forestry, grasslands, fisheries, wild animals, the environment, seeds, wetlands, the Yangtze River and biosecurity.

We have also rolled out the Opinions on Further Strengthening the Protection of Biological Diversity and have implemented the China National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2011-30).

Second, we have established a system of protected areas with a focus on national parks. To date, China has established its first five national parks, nearly 200 botanical gardens and 250 wildlife rehabilitation and breeding centers. It has created nearly 10,000 protected areas of all types and at all levels, accounting for about 18 percent of its surface area. In this respect, we have achieved the 17 percent mandated by the Aichi Target 11 ahead of time.

China has also set up a relatively complete ex situ conservation system, including botanical gardens, germ plasm-resource centers, gene banks and wildlife rehabilitation and breeding centers.

Third, we have strengthened the conservation and restoration of natural spaces. We have taken the initiative to draw ecological conservation red lines nationwide, which is an innovation, globally.

The red lines cover zones that are critical to environmental function or are ecologically sensitive, and stringent protection is enforced in those areas. They account for 31.7 percent of China's total land area and protect nearly 40 percent of the water-source conservation and flood-regulation resources, 32 percent of those used to fend off sandstorms, and 45 percent of those designated for carbon storage. Our forest coverage and forest reserves have both maintained growth over the last 30 years.

Fourth, we have raised public awareness and encouraged social participation. We have encouraged the involvement of various parties, facilitated ways for them to participate and improved incentive mechanisms.

On important occasions, such as the International Day for Biological Diversity and World Environment Day, events are held to promote public awareness of biodiversity. Public awareness and participation are continuing to grow, and an atmosphere in which everyone works to promote biodiversity conservation is gradually taking shape.

What is China doing to implement its plans?

China plans to make efforts in multiple fields. The first is to improve policies and regulations on biodiversity.

We will update the China National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan (2011-30) and improve the policy and system guarantees.

We will actively study and plan for special legislation on biodiversity and make the legal system for biodiversity conservation more systematic and complete.

We will enact solution-based laws in areas such as nature reserves and improve corresponding supervisory systems.

We will also strictly implement the Biosecurity Law, strengthen the environmental safety management of biotechnologies and continue to improve the prevention and control of invasive species.

Second, we will continue to optimize the biodiversity conservation network and promote the systematic restoration of environments.

We will continue to implement major projects for biodiversity conservation, step up the construction of a system of protected areas with national parks as the mainstay, strengthen the protection and supervision of key areas and improve the ex situ conservation system for rare and endangered animals and plants.

We will also focus on building a complete biodiversity-protection monitoring system, continue to carry out biodiversity background surveys, observation and evaluations, improve the technical standard system related to biodiversity surveying and monitoring and explore ways to establish technical systems for biodiversity evaluation and for protection effectiveness assessment.

Third, we will strengthen the sustainable use of biodiversity.

Without good and sustainable use, it is difficult to achieve effective conservation. Therefore, we will build a whole-process, whole-chain and regular biodiversity protection and supervision mechanism and crack down on the illegal use of biological resources.

We will strengthen technical research on the development and sustainable use of biological resources, oversee and regulate biodiversity-friendly business activities, promote the development of green industries and franchising, and create a high-quality, diversified ecological product system.

Fourth, we will also deepen international cooperation and exchange.

We will incorporate the topic of biodiversity conservation into high-level international exchange, promote international cooperation on the issue at high levels, actively participate in global biodiversity governance, honor the CBD and other international conventions, strengthen communication, enhance partnership recognition and promote global multilateral environmental governance according to our stated national concept of building a shared future for all life on Earth.

Last but not least, we will encourage public involvement. We need to be innovative in terms of popularization and education and enhance public awareness of and attention to biodiversity through understanding the concept of biodiversity.

A photo shows black storks flying along the banks of the Yangtze River in Yidu, Hubei province. [Photo by Feng Jian/For]

The second phase of COP15, to be held in Montreal, will define and adopt the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Could you describe the consultation process, the results so far and the positive role that China has played during its presidency?

The main task of COP15's second phase is to draw upon past experience in the development and implementation of previous global targets on biodiversity to formulate the post-2020 GBF. The aim is to put global biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030 — that is, to end the current situation of biodiversity loss.

It can be said that the framework is a guiding political document on global biodiversity governance. There are also high hopes for its adoption during the meeting.

Currently, the structure and core content of the post-2020 framework has been agreed upon, laying a solid foundation for finalizing a solution that is acceptable to all concerned parties.

There is much work to be done to ensure that the targets set by the framework are realistic yet ambitious, practical and balanced, and that they help promote the sustainable recovery of biodiversity.

In addition, the framework's realization ultimately depends on its implementation mechanism.

For developing countries, the biggest concern is the mobilization of funds. Funding is obviously very important. It's an important and difficult part of the negotiations.

Since assuming the COP15 presidency, China has exercised leadership and coordination in its efforts to advance negotiations for the post-2020 GBF.

So far, China has convened 37 COP15 meetings of the presidium. It has also presided over four meetings of the open-ended working group on the post-2020 GBF in Geneva and Nairobi, among other locations, in collaboration with the CBD secretariat.

China has made significant efforts to advance framework negotiations. Frequent meetings, especially presidium meetings, are quite rare in the process of multilateral environmental negotiations.

Moreover, China has made use of gatherings such as the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the G20 Joint Environment and Climate Ministerial Meeting, the high-level week of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, and COP27, to organize exchanges on key COP15 issues.

These efforts have both maintained the political momentum of COP15 and facilitated the bridging of differences among contracting parties to achieve greater consensus.

Although there are still many difficulties and demands, all parties have expressed their firm political support and confidence in the negotiation process and in China's role in the COP15 presidency.

I am confident the international community will respond positively to the spirit of community embodied in the theme of the upcoming conference "Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth" and demonstrate the wisdom and courage to overcome these difficulties and differences.

During the second phase of COP15, China will continue to perform its presidency well. With the support of the CBD secretariat, the presidium and the host country, China will work with fellow contracting parties, international organizations and stakeholders and spare no effort in advancing the negotiation process, building the broadest possible consensus in the international community, promoting the adoption of the framework and ensuring the second phase of COP15 in Montreal is successful.




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