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Reset and Restore Our Relationship with Nature

By Wu Changhua

Chinese presidency of COP15 for Biodiversity delivered a landmark deal – Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework for 2030. Ambitious and historic, the Framework is expected to help recover and reset our relationship with nature, rebuild the integrity, connectivity and resilience of ecosystems and biodiversity, and reform current policies and subsidies that harm lives in nature. And all those targets, when delivered, shall ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are respected and protected.

Huang Runqiu (C), COP15 president and China's minister of ecology and environment, speaks during a press conference in Montreal, Canada, on Dec. 17, 2022. (Xinhua/Ren Pengfei)

As an observer and current affairs commentator of the whole process, I want to highlight four of my key takeaways. 

Four Takeaways

The first is that we now have the global consensus of drawing the planetary boundary and shrinking our footprints for long-term human survival. Collectively, the 190 nations to the Convention of Biological Conservation (CBD) have enshrined the popularly known 30*30 target, by committing to protect at least 30% of land, inland water, and coastal and marine areas of important biodiversity and ecosystems by 2030. 

Also regarded as the “Paris moment for biodiversity”, when the 1.5C° warming goal became the lighthouse to guide the global community to organize and accelerate the clean energy transition, the biodiversity target provides the biggest lever for the implementation of the new Framework when national governments can set steps and mobilize resources towards delivering a shared target. 

The second is that we have learned many lessons from the previous decade’s experience under the Aichi Targets (2010) which had been mostly coined as failures, and the new Framework has embraced right-based, integrated, and systemic approaches, with ambitious targets to be aligned with corresponding means of implementation, especially finance, to be mobilized to support the delivery of the committed targets. 

Though never adequate and with gaps remaining, the current financial commitments showcase a pathway of doubling by 2025 and tripling by 2030 for developed nations to pay biodiversity-rich developing nations to protect and restore nature; and in a broader financing nature agenda, globally, nations are committed to address the $700 billion per year, including raising $200 billion from all possible sources every year and turning $500 billion environmentally-harmful subsidies into nature positive solutions.

The third is deepening knowledge, especially the indigenous knowledge that safeguards 80% of global biodiversity today, data and information of not only the health of nature, but also the root causes for the unprecedented acceleration of the loss of nature. Such knowledge has been well-built into the global governance for biodiversity and has supported successful outcomes.  The five identified culprits – change of use in land and ocean, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and waste, as well as invasive alien species – are literally “guiding” the what’s and the how’s of actions and solutions in the Framework.

Those targets will substantially and significantly impact how we farm and what we eat, how we will fish and harvest wildlife for food, how we plan and develop our cities and infrastructure, as well as how to ensure just, fairness and equity in not only utilizing genetic resources but generally when deploying biotechnology that benefits human wellbeing.

And the fourth is the leadership role and contribution of China in global environmental governance. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s video remarks to the opening of the second week’s high-level sessions is regarded as a “booster shot” for the final race of the journey and assured representatives from all countries of the strongest political will and solidarity. China’s leadership is well-recognized by all parties in brokering the deal and ensuring its success. 

Now humanity stands at the juncture of a new trajectory that will halt and reverse loss of nature, ensure sustainable use of biological resources plus a fair and equitable share of the benefits arising from utilization of genetic resources, and will transform how we produce and consume.  

Embedding conservation everywhere at national level:

Not surprisingly, China has also been recognized for its ambitious actions and outcomes in protecting nature. Signing up to the CBD in 1992 has led to a transformative journey of three decades in protecting, conserving, and restoring ecosystems and biodiversity. A case was made “on the spot” when the Shan-Shui Initiative of China became one of the ten inaugural UN Ecosystems Restoration Flagships announced during the COP15 Summit.  

A typical nature restoration endeavor in an integrated and systemic manner to scale, the Initiative, started in 2016, showcases a nation-wide ambition and effort to restore 10 million ha of nature spaces, including forests, grasslands, wetlands and waterways. Between 2021 and 2030, China aims to complete 50 such projects stretching 700 counties to achieve large-scale projection and restoration of entire ecosystems, to benefit an estimated 70 million households, or 200 million people.

Like many other countries around the world, China’s pathway to protect nature “matches” and “manifests” the global governance process. And the country has demonstrated an impressive track record in delivering globally committed biodiversity targets. One example is expanding protected land areas. China is one of the very few countries that has achieved protection of more than 17% of its land area in the last decade. And another is bringing back some species gravely endangered and on extinction list, such as the Giant Panda, Asian Elephants, Tibetan Antilopes, Hainan Gibbons, and ibis among others through habitat protection, as well as investing in R&D and biotechnological solutions.

Very importantly, through CBD’s implementation, the government and its people have developed a national integrated strategy of combining the in-situ and ex-situ conservation, setting goals and targets, providing legal and regulatory foundation, offering incentives, developing and implementing plans and actions that embed protection of nature across all policy making and development planning that cover all imaginable sectors and corners. 

Three China Highlights

First, ecological civilization has been solidly enshrined in both the Constitution of the CPC and the Chinese Constitution. It’s a fundamental shift in the worldview of relationship between man and nature. Just as President Xi said last year at the Climate Leadership Summit, “we need to follow the innate laws of the ecosystems and properly balance all elements and aspects of nature. This is a way that may take us where we want to be, an ecosystem in sound circulation and overall balance.”

There are three core, but integrated, elements in the framework of ecological civilization – ecological boundaries or redlines (first proposed in 2011); pricing natural capital; and ecological compensation, or payment transfer from developed regions to less developed regions. Sounds familiar? They are well built in the new global Framework now. 

Second, addressing root causes, just like those five identified as major threats globally, has become focus on national strategy. For example, “shrinking” ecological footprints has been a major agenda in the last decade. Today, a third of the country’s land is off-limits to development under the redline protection. And the establishment of national parks and the restoration of ecosystems have now helped bring its total area under protection to more than 30% of its territory.

Another example is the 10-year Fishing Ban along the Yangtze River 2021-2030. The purpose is clear and simple – to recover and restore biodiversity along the country’s longest river and healthy functions and services of the watershed ecosystems. In 2020, Chinese law makers adopted the country’s first law specifically designated to protect one river and its watershed – the Yangtze River Protection Law.

And third, China champions to align nature protection with other UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not only an emphasis on the nexus of nature-food-water-climate change, but also poverty alleviation, elimination of hunger and sanitation, the policy makers are also using them as a key vehicle to transition and transform production and consumption. China has been recognized as a global champion to achieve the 2030 SDG of extreme poverty alleviation 10 years ahead of target. 

China’s learning is increasingly shared with the global community, particularly through the COP14 presidency in the last few years. But China’s task and dedications do not end at Montreal, rather it marshals a beginning of a new journey of implementation. The financial commitments of $233 million to set up the Kunming Biodiversity Fund represents how China is taking on, voluntarily, more obligation to working with other developing countries and collectively achieve substantial outcomes this decade to reverse the decline of nature for the sake of our own existence on the Mother Earth, collectively. 

Wu Changhua is a specialist and policy analyst of China’s sustainability. She is Asia Director of Office of Jeremy Rifkin and non-resident senior fellow of Center for China and Globalization (CCG).

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at newsguangdong@sina.com.)

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