In 2020, China was to host the 15th UN Conference on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Kunming, capital of the southern Yunnan Province. China is considered to be one of 17 global mega-biodiversity countries with 10% of all plant species and 14% of all animal species on earth. The conference was to be a milestone for biodiversity by agreeing on a new 10-year framework to halt biodiversity loss.
Due to COVID-19 the conference has been postponed to 2021. Yet, the epidemic has had an unexpected impact on China’s biodiversity: in January 2020, the government enacted a temporary blanket ban on all wildlife trade and consumption. This ban came as a response to reports that the Coronavirus jumped species from wildlife to humans in a wet market.
In recent years, China has made efforts to protect its diverse and often fragile environments, ranging from the high-mountain plateaus of Tibet, to the Taklaman desert of Xinjiang, the grassland steppes of Inner Mongolia, the bamboo forests of Sichuan, the river deltas of East China, the Loess Plateau along the Yellow River or the rainforests of Xishuangbana.
Large parts of China’s land have seen use changes since the implementation of economic reforms in 1982. A two-pronged, resource-intensive plan highlighted agriculture and industrial development. Large stretches of grassland had disappeared over centuries due to overgrazing, forests had disappeared within decades to make way to monoculture agriculture, while farm land had gotten converted for non-agricultural uses to accommodate urban sprawl and industrial expansion.
Industrial development has outgrown agriculture in terms of economic importance. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, in 2018 less than 18% of China’s land cover was cropland (~1.7 mio km2). Only about 20% of China’s total greenhouse gases result from agriculture. The largest emission sources today are coal and coal-fired power plants.
China has been mitigating the loss of forests and grasslands since the 1970ies. In 2016 it recognized the need to reform the agricultural sector and stop arable land from being converted to non-agricultural use: the 13th Five-year Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture regulates land development intensity, the planning and construction of medium-and-small-sized towns, population concentrations, scale of agricultural production and industrialization and limits large-scale industrialization and urbanization. It defines ecological red lines and sets constrains to the development of any new carbon intensive projects in key ecological zones. Concomitant authorities to set and enforce environmental and biodiversity protection policies were created in 2018, and the Ministry of Environment was transformed into the Ministry of Ecology and Environment with wide-reaching powers. The Ministry of Natural Resources was set up. Its Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation manages the country’s biodiversity and China’s various types of nature reserves.
Efforts to return land to its former uses are ongoing. In 2019 afforestation added some 70,700 km2 to forest cover. 54,000 km2 of land was saved from soil erosion. There are 474 national natural reserves. For 2020 China plans to increase the afforested areas by around 67,000 km2 and grassland areas by 34,600 km2. As of March 10, 2020, China had already planted 8,740 km2 trees and returned 8,570 km2 of farmland to forest.
Activity Rating: *** Moving Forward
China has one of the most successful track records in recovering forest coverage from formerly degraded land. And with planting technologies becoming more sophisticated it is expected that forest coverage is there to stay. In addition, the country has over the past years increasingly recognized the need to protect wildlife and their habitats, ranging from the Panda to Tibetan Antelope and the – now unfortunately extinct –Yangzi Dolphins.
A step forward is also the temporary ban on wildlife trade and consumption which is expected to pass as an improved law on wildlife during China’s upcoming Two Sessions in May. If it does, it is remarkable because it will seriously impede an industry that is valued at 520 billion yuan (US$74 billion) and provides employment and wealth especially in the more remote parts of China.
Yet, as experience with legislation in China has shown, constant vigilance to ensure enforcement of laws is of utmost importance, especially in times of slowing economic growth. In the past, cash strapped cities contributed to the conversion and sale of agricultural land for urbanization purposes by selling land to developers whenever cash was needed. The 13th Five-year Plan for the Modernization of Agriculture was meant to address this problem.
Loopholes or simply lack of resources to ensure constant tight monitoring across the vast country allow for breaches of regulations in remote places. As to the new and improved law to protect wildlife, some critics are saying that it contains loopholes that can be easily exploited by the industry. It will need to be seen whether the new law will be promulgated end of May and then how will monitoring and enforcement be handled.
Please send the following message to the policymaker(s) below.
Dear Minister / Dear Premier Li,
China has made great strides over the past decades to protect its environment and native animals. The increasing forest coverage and the government’s determination to continue on this path give hope that climate change can be mitigated. China’s most recent move to ban wildlife trade and consumption has been welcomed by the world as good news. Yet, given the complexities of governing a country of China’s size both in terms of geography as well as population, it is of utmost importance to establish a closely-knit, tight and effective system of monitoring the enforcement of the wildlife and all laws pertaining to saving vulnerable environments and animals. We hope that China will step up concomitant measures to improve overall control and governance for environmental protection.
Ministry of Natural Resources of the Republic of China /中华人民共和国自然资源部
Minister Hao LU/ 陆昊
(For Chinese): http://box.mnr.gov.cn
(For English) firstname.lastname@example.org
Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China / 中华人民共和国生态环境不
(For Chinese): http://www.mee.gov.cn/hdjl/bzxxzs_1/
(For English) email@example.com
The State Council, Share your ideas with China’s Premier (in English)
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager: Annette Wiedenbach
- http://zdscxx.moa.gov.cn:8080/nyb/pc/index.jsp ).