UNITED NATIONS — Achim Steiner, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has applauded China’s efforts to protect biodiversity, and expressed great expectations for the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which began on Monday in Kunming, China.
Speaking to Xinhua via Zoom link, Steiner, who is in charge of the UN’s global development efforts, commended China for its decision to invite the conference of the parties on biological diversity to convene in China.
On China’s efforts to protect biodiversity, the UNDP chief noted that the rapid industrialization and urbanization in China, like many other countries, has led to the loss of its ecological infrastructure over the past 30 or 40 years. Having realized its catastrophic impact, China has taken many “corrective” measures to restore its ecosystems through “different investment approaches” and policies to reduce the destruction and finally restore ecosystem health.
Setting red lines in national development plans is a good practice, said Steiner, noting that China has drawn very explicit red lines in its national development plans for “critical ecosystems,” which need to be protected.
According to the UN development chief, the most important aspect of China’s ecological protection is that “people have developed an awareness of how important nature is.”
“Public awareness is fundamental because at the end of the day, government can regulate” in a country with a population of 1.4 billion people, he added.
Among Steiner’s other observations was the fact that China’s effort to plant trees in recent decades, which “single-handedly led to net positive expansion in forest cover in Asia.”
Steiner talked about ocean protection as well, highlighting that people tend to underestimate how much chemical pollution, nitrogen, and other dangerous substances end up in the sea.
“Again, measures have been taken also in China to try and reduce that runoff” into the oceans, he added.
He also praised China’s efforts to combat air pollution and make cities green.
Talking about his expectations for COP15, Steiner said he has “very high expectations” for the event, because “the functioning of our ecosystems, clearly with every year that is passing, is moving more and more into a critical, endangerment zone.”
Scientific reports published this year “are pointing to essentially a destruction of the very foundations that really support, not just natural life on the planet, but our economies, our society.”
“I think COP15 is a vital moment in which the world is really being asked to adopt a new framework, the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which will allow countries both nationally and internationally to raise the level of ambition so that we can stop this destruction of nature,” he added.
The draft post-2020 global biodiversity framework recognizes that urgent policy action is required to transform economic, social, and financial models at various levels so that the trends that have exacerbated biodiversity loss will stabilize by 2030, allowing for the recovery of natural ecosystems in the following 20 years, with net improvements by 2050.
“Kunming is a moment where you know perhaps analogous to the journey on climate change the world took two (to) three decades to understand the profound threat to human wellbeing and our future of climate change,” the UNDP chief stressed.
“In fact, scientists often speak about us living through the sixth extinction crisis in the history of this planet. And this one is largely human induced. So, it also means humans can do something about it,” he said.
“I think we are at a point where the world is also beginning to realize that humans cannot exist in the 21st century without nature,” he said.