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From Nagoya to Kunming


Reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming biodiversity conference

Having already been enthused by China's recent announcement on quitting overseas coal power projects, the world has every reason to bet on success at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Kunming. Hopes are high that China can inject fresh momentum into the global biodiversity arena. Humans need a new compact with nature.

As Norwegian environment minister, I was the facilitator for the negotiation process, together with my Brazilian counterpart, in the years leading up to the 2010 biodiversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan. On that occasion, the world came together to agree on how to share the economic benefits originating in nature. Years of negotiations, long hours of talks with little sleep and a lot of strong coffee brought us to the Aichi targets and to a protocol on benefit sharing. The Japanese environment minister cried from exhaustion and joy when we finally arrived there. We were all happy and relieved.

That was the last breakthrough for global nature protection. Now, 11 years later, Kunming offers the opportunity for taking the next big step forward.

In fact, we have reasons to feel optimistic. Several events augur well for the Kunming conference.

China's announcement on quitting overseas coal power projects at last month's UN General Assembly was a shot in the arm for the world's collective climate action. In the lead-up to the announcement, China released its "Green Development Guidance for Overseas Investment and Cooperation "emphasizing environmental safeguards throughout the process of overseas investment. As climate and nature agendas are closely linked, the decision will no doubt bring great benefits to the world's biodiversity conservation efforts. The decision will drive environment-friendly technologies along the Belt and Road. We will see major Chinese overseas investment in solar and wind power, green hydrogen and electric mobility. This is good news indeed, for both the climate and nature.

In July, China completed drawing up ecological conservation red lines nationwide, designating 25 percent of its land area as crucial for ecosystem and biodiversity health. This significant strategy has the potential to help the world solve the problem of how to live in harmony with the Earth. There is hope that China may extend the protection to 30 percent. Redlining shows a way to conserve nature where it is most endangered, such as in heavily populated areas like the lower Yangtze River Delta and Pearl River Delta. While redlining is specifically adapted to Chinese circumstances, it's also a best practice that other nations can be inspired by.

The 10-year fishing ban in the Yangtze River will ensure fish come back in abundance. It is a visionary effort to restore the ecosystem and protect rare aquatic species such as the Chinese sturgeon. As a Norwegian I understand how difficult it is to inflict short-term pain for the fishing population even if there are massive long-term ecological benefits to be gained. We have been through similar processes in the North Sea, restoring the once depleted stocks of herring and cod.

In recent years, the populations of many rare and endangered wild species in China have experienced steady growth. Wild giant pandas, Asian elephants and wild Tibetan antelopes have rebounded in remarkable numbers. And in addition to China's wildlife protection, the country's use of artificial breeding technology has also helped bring endangered animals such as wild horses and Milu deer back from the brink of extinction. As one of the most beloved animals in the world, more than 600 giant pandas have been bred using this technology.

China built a national park for the giant pandas, the world's symbol of endangered wildlife. Spanning over three provinces, the giant panda national park is part of a new national park system of 10 pilot parks. Those parks spread across 12 provinces, covering a stunning 220,000 square kilometers, are dedicated to protecting the habitats of endangered species. The world at large needs an abundance of such new protected areas.

Apart from that, a series of measures have been taken for ecological governance in pilot areas of national parks, such as constructing ecological corridors, removing alien species and restoring vegetation on bare mountains.

Tree planting has been at the heart of China's environmental efforts for decades and is a major part of its plans to bring carbon emissions down to net zero before 2060. As a land-greening effort, China will plant 36,000 square kilometers of new forest each year by 2025 as a measure to combat climate change and better protect natural habitats. If that number doesn't impress you, let's put it this way: China will annually green an area that is greater than the size of Belgium.

To protect marine species, China is investing heavily in marine science and has stepped up efforts to manage its waters. Marine nature reserves have been established across coastal regions such as Liaoning, Hebei and Tianjin. The reserves are home to several rare or endangered marine species including Chinese white dolphins, harbor seals and sea turtles.

Working for the UN, I was privileged to award the community of Saihanba in Hebei province with a "Champion of the Earth" Award. Three generations of Chinese have through hard and dedicated work greened this cold and once bare area at the edge of the Mongolian desert. During his recent visit to beautiful Saihanba, President Xi Jinping hailed the Saihanba Spirit as part of the Chinese civilization, calling the story of Saihanba an epic history of an arduous struggle. He encouraged the people of China to carry forward this spirit to develop a green economy and ecological civilization. With the same spirit, China with partners in the West and in the developing world will lead the world toward a brighter future for our Earth.

The author is president of the Belt and Road Initiative Green Development Institute and former executive director of the United Nation Environment Programme.

The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.