China's increasing efforts in biodiversity and sustainability

Wang Yong
The country is preparing to preside over a global meeting next week, to redress the worldwide imbalance between human development and ecological protection.
Wang Yong
China's increasing efforts in biodiversity and sustainability
Xinhua / Xinhua

People jog in a wetland park in Zhejiang Province in November.

Biodiversity is becoming a buzzword across China as the country prepares to preside over a global meeting next week, to redress the worldwide imbalance between human development and ecological protection.

At a press conference held in Beijing on November 28, senior Chinese officials said a solid foundation had been laid to implement the much-anticipated global biodiversity framework. It will be outlined at the second phase of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), slated for December 7-19 in Montreal, Canada. The first phase of the UN meeting was held in Kunming, southwest China's Yunnan Province, last year. China holds the presidency during both phases.

If passed, the global biodiversity framework will go a long way toward anchoring the world in harmony with nature by 2050, reversing the current imbalance caused in large part by an excessive expansion of human footprints, at the expense of biodiversity. Scientists worldwide have been warning about a possible sixth major extinction of certain species on Earth.

Public awareness and determined actions are needed to create an ultimate check on our carbon footprints. In this sense, China has been leading by example.

Public awareness

"Look, we have taken photos of the footprints of roe deer!" a group of children screamed with joy at a giant wetland park in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, in north China. Accompanied by their parents and teachers, the kids went to observe wildlife at close range in October. Aside from roe deer, they also found common shelducks.

This exploration of nature was recorded in a video, which was released by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment on December 1. It was the latest in a series of educational videos the ministry had collected from nature lovers across the country to raise public awareness of biodiversity ahead of the coming UN conference.

At the end of the aforementioned video, kids collected leaves from different trees and turned them into dried labeled plant specimen. Each holding two herbarium sheets in the hands, the children said to the audience: "We are paying attention to plant diversity."

China's increasing efforts in biodiversity and sustainability
Xinhua / Xinhua

A new species of frog has been found in Lishui, Zhejiang Province, in the past three years.

Solid actions

Also on December 1, the department of ecology and environment of Zhejiang Province published a report noting 16 new species had been discovered since 2019 in Lishui, a picturesque city in the southwest of the province.

For example, the discovery of a new kind of freshwater fish, named Microphysogobio oujiangensis, was announced in a recent issue of Zoological Research, a renowned global publication on the study of zoology. The fish is named after the Oujiang River, where it was found.

"The discovery of all these new species once again attests to Lishui's unique and rich biodiversity," said the report.

Lishui's success is by no means accidental. According to the report, the city is one of the areas which gave rise to the well-known sustainable development concept: Clear waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets.

"For many years, Lishui has carried out this green development strategy by giving priority to ecological protection," the report noted. "In 2021, Lishui ranked among China's top 10 cities in all three categories: water quality, air quality and overall environmental quality. No other city achieved the same status."

What surprised me most, however, is that forests cover nearly 82 percent of the city. Compare that with the country's average forest coverage rate of 23 percent.

On November 29, Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu Province, announced the discovery of many metasequoia sprouts between the bricks of city walls built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), saying they form the world's largest cluster of such wild plants in an urban environment.

Lishui and Nanjing are two examples of how China has been mapping its biosphere for better protection.

A vision for nature

British zoologist Alice Hughes, who has worked in China for about eight years, said in an interview with Nature magazine last year: "In the past two years, there has been a complete inventory of all China's marine and terrestrial protected areas so they can be accurately mapped and future targets can be based on them. That really is an unparalleled effort. This involved mapping 400 marine protected areas, and 13,600 terrestrial ones. I haven't heard of anything equivalent to this scale and speed in any other country."

"If you ask people where on Earth the greatest concentrations of wild species are found, many will assume it's in rainforests or tropical coral reefs. But China too boasts a rich ecological environment. It's home to nearly 38,000 higher plant species like trees, shrubs and ferns. There are over 8,100 species of vertebrate animals, and over 1,400 species of birds. Twenty percent of the world's fish species also exist in China," wrote Vanessa Hull, assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, in an article published on November 30, titled "China to Run UN Biodiversity Conference."

"Western media coverage of environmental issues in China often focuses on the nation's severe urban air pollution and its role as the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter. But China has a vision for protecting nature, and it has made progress since the last global biodiversity conference in 2018," she pointed out. "In 2021 President Xi Jinping announced that China was formally augmenting this system with a network of five national parks covering 88,000 square miles (227,000 square kilometers) – the largest such system in the world."

According to her study, China also has the fastest-expanding forest area in the world. From 2013 to 2017 alone, China reforested 825 million acres (334 million hectares) of bare or cultivated land – an area four times as large as the entire US national forest system.

In her view, China has a key role to play in protecting nature, despite certain challenges lying ahead.

She wrote: "As a wildlife ecologist, I'm eager to see China step into a global leadership role. Biodiversity matters, because having more ecosystems, species and genes makes nature more resilient and able to weather stresses like diseases and climate change."

I would add one footnote, that is, by protecting its own and the world's bioreserves, China is essentially creating an ecological civilization that puts man back into nature, not above it. It's a new concept in civilization, in contrast to erstwhile ones based on modern Western beliefs in so-called "machine power over nature."

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