BEIJING – Representatives from governments, enterprises and non-governmental organizations around the world are gathering for a landmark event hosted by China to negotiate a once-in-a-decade consensus on protecting global biodiversity.
The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP15, kicks off on Oct. 11 in Kunming, a southwestern Chinese city.
As the first global conference convened by the United Nations on the topic of ecological civilization, a philosophy proposed by China, it will offer a platform for countries to find common ground on “Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth.”
Adhering to the vision of living in harmony with nature and guided by the philosophical framework of President Xi Jinping’s Thought on Ecological Civilization, China is striding towards constructing a green economy while promoting equitable biodiversity governance with the involvement of all parties.
RESTORING PEACE WITH NATURE
“We shall protect ecosystems as preciously as we protect our eyes, and cherish them as dearly as we cherish our lives,” Xi said.
He has stressed that the development model of “killing the hens for eggs” and “draining the lake for fish” is at a dead end, and the future will be illuminated by eco-friendly development that is in accordance with the rules of nature.
For that, history provides ample lessons. Back in the 1990s, Yucun, a mountain village in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, started exploiting mine resources in order to quickly get rich. The business, however, resulted in serious pollution years later.
In 2005, Yucun shut down three limestone quarries, gradually shifting towards eco-tourism and other eco-friendly industries.
When Xi, then secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, visited Yucun, he told the villagers that their decision was “wise,” stating that “mountains and rivers green are mountains of silver and gold.”
This concept, later incorporated into Xi’s Thought on Ecological Civilization, has encouraged numerous Chinese cities and villages to pursue high-quality and sustainable growth through protecting the environment, developing green industries, and preserving biodiversity.
During an official trip to Zimbabwe in 2015, Xi visited a local wildlife sanctuary, where he fed an orphaned elephant. He reiterated China’s commitment to wildlife protection and pledged to help Zimbabwe do so by donating equipment and sharing experience.
Recalling Xi’s explanation of China’s initiatives to breed giant pandas and expand protected areas, Roxy Danckwerts, the founder of the sanctuary, said, “I thought that was very significant that he is making such big strides in his own country.”
In July this year, Chinese authorities announced that the giant panda, with its wild population exceeding 1,800, was re-classified from “endangered” to “vulnerable,” throwing light on the improved conditions of the bears’ habitat in their homeland.
“China’s example with eco-civilization, looking at big picture, and putting the big picture to work locally in particular areas with community involvement, is exactly what the world needs to do,” said Vance Martin, president of the WILD Foundation.
Xi’s Thought on Ecological Civilization is resonating with more people around the world.
“Ecological civilization is an interesting concept. And why interesting? Because it’s looking at the relationship between the society and nature,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
This philosophy demonstrates “the mainstream of biodiversity across sectors, across departments, which is also critical for all countries to achieve the global biodiversity goals,” she said.
RALLYING GLOBAL CONSENSUS
In mid-September this year, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization raised the alarm on the unprecedented speed of global biodiversity loss, urging joint action to reconcile with nature.
To secure global consensus and translate commitments into actions, China launched the Kunming conference despite the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating its staunch commitment to a multilateral approach to preserving the world’s biodiversity.
“We need to each take stronger actions, strengthen partnerships and cooperation, learn from each other and make common progress in the new journey toward global carbon neutrality,” Xi said at the Leaders Summit on Climate on this year’s Earth Day.
And China walks the talk.
Over the four decades of building the Three-North Shelterbelt Forest Program, which covers about 42.4 percent of China’s land area, over 7.88 million hectares of windbreak trees have been planted and more than 10 million hectares of desertified grassland recuperated.
“The Chinese government has continued to apply a long-term approach to halt and reverse biodiversity loss with multiple disciplinary teams that can offer evidence-based solutions,” Mrema said.
According to data released by NASA, China alone accounted for at least one quarter of the 5 percent growth of global green coverage from 2000 to 2017.
Meanwhile, China is ready to share its rich expertise with the world. It has dispatched teams of ecologists to help the Great Green Wall — an African afforestation campaign — replicate China’s achievement in the Taklamakan Desert to the Sahara, with a memorandum of understanding signed in 2017 between the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography and the Pan-African Agency for the Great Green Wall to improve Africa’s ecological environment.
To enhance the environmental sustainability of the Belt and Road Initiative, China launched an international green development coalition in 2019, which is tasked with integrating sustainable development with the Initiative’s priorities, with more than 130 partners involved.
Waleed Gaballah, a professor of financial and economic jurisdictions at Cairo University, said Xi’s philosophy and China’s environmental endeavors have inspired the world, especially countries along the Belt and Road, as China has helped them move towards their own sustainable development goals.
“The Chinese notion of unity, of nature and man, we hope, will be a good example for other countries to follow or to emulate,” Mrema said.
BIGGER STEPS FORWARD
As the world undergoes profound changes unseen in a century, China has been taking firm and effective steps towards a truly green economy. It has incorporated biodiversity preservation into its overall economic and social development plans.
The upcoming Kunming conference is expected to review the “post-2020 global biodiversity framework” and draw a blueprint for global implementation over the next 10 years.
When addressing the 75th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2020, Xi said that China aims to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
At the 76th session of the UN General Assembly last month, Xi announced that China will step up support for other developing countries to develop green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.
China’s endeavors have been recognized by the international community and boosted confidence in other countries.
“This is a bold and consequential step for China, and for the rest of the world. It is also a clear signal of the country’s concrete commitment to global efforts to address one of the most pressing issues of our time,” said Jin Liqun, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Nigel Topping, Britain’s high-level climate action champion for UN climate talks, characterized ecological civilization as “the most exciting” of the ideas coming from China.
“Ever since I heard the term ‘ecological civilization’, I was like ‘yes’, that’s what we’re all trying to build, that’s what we have to build,” he said.