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Natural shared future


Building an ecological civilization offers developing countries a solution to conserving biodiversity

Building protected areas is a common practice and an important way of protecting biodiversity. According to the Protected Planet Report 2020 by the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, 42 percent of the area now marked protected and conserved worldwide was added during the period from 2010 to 2020, making it one of the few goals of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets to have been partially realized. It lays a solid foundation for biodiversity conservation and brings huge benefits to humanity.

Since it joined the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, China has taken effective measures to conserve biodiversity and it has enhanced its efforts to build protected areas in accordance with the requirements of the convention. In recent years, China has been moving faster to establish a protected areas system with national parks as the mainstay.

By the end of 2020, China had 11,800 protected areas of various types. They cover 18 percent of the country's land area, meeting the Aichi Targets' goal of protecting 17 percent of terrestrial areas ahead of schedule. The protected areas system with national parks as a major component is playing an increasingly significant role in connecting people with nature and conserving biodiversity.

The natural protected areas are attracting more and more people to enjoy the beauty of nature and relax both physically and spiritually. In 2021, more than 2 billion visits were made to the country's protected areas. In the first batch of five national parks--namely the Three-River-Source National Park, the Wuyishan National Park, the Giant Panda National Park, the Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park and the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park--teenagers have the opportunity to relish the primitive beauty and wonders of nature and learn about ecological conservation.

In many protected areas, such as the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve and Poyang Lake, ecotourism has been thriving, with tourists flocking to relax in the lap of nature. Other nature reserves such as forest parks, wetland parks and geological parks are also attracting people to have close contacts with nature during weekends and holidays. The growing diversified green services and products provided by protected areas have raised citizens' awareness of ecological conservation.

In terms of biodiversity conservation, China's protected areas have brought 90 percent of terrestrial ecosystem types and 85 percent of key State-protected wildlife specifies under effective protection. The first batch of five national parks are sanctuaries for rare animals such as giant pandas, Siberian tigers, Amur leopard, black crested gibbon, and white-lipped deer, as well as key State-protected wild plants such as Cycas hainanensis and Hopea hainanensis.

As the sole habitat of wild Asian elephants in China, Yunnan province has seen the population of elephants grow from 150 in 1975 to 360, and core population live in nature reserves such as the one in Xishuangbanna. By providing shelter for wildlife, nature reserves are playing an exemplary role in building a shared home for all life on Earth.

These achievements can be credited to China's consistent efforts to build an ecological civilization, including its adhering to an ecological "redline" strategy, and leveraging its advantage in mobilizing resources to accomplish major initiatives. These achievements have offered the global community, especially developing countries, which are plagued by resources and environmental constraints caused by fast-growing population, urbanization and economic development, a solution to conserving biodiversity and building a shared future for all life on Earth.

Some world-famous national parks, such as the Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Kellerwald-Edersee National Park in Germany and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, are uninhabited. But in China, national parks and nature reserves are home to a large number of human residents. In the Three-River-Source National Park, for example, there are more than 60,000 herdsmen from 16,000 households. And a survey in 2013 found that China's nature reserves were home to more than 10 million people.

As such, the country's protected areas are intended to protect not only ecosystems, natural scenery and biodiversity, but also cultural relics within each region, and serve as ecological demonstration zones where human and nature coexist harmoniously, and economic development doesn't come at the expense of biodiversity. One such example is Wuyishan National Park where local farmers' incomes have increased through growing eco-friendly tea, with technical support from the park's administration.

China's natural protected areas not only include State-owned land, but also collectively-owned rural land, particularly collective forest land. To safeguard the interests and rights of owners of collective forest land, administrations of protected areas have to sign a trusteeship agreement with local communities before incorporating collective forest land into nature reserves. The forests covered by protected areas should be managed for ecological significance, which must not be cut down for timber. The financial losses incurred can be offset through the ecological compensation mechanism.

For instance, 80 percent of the forests in the Qianjiangyuan National Forest Park in Zhejiang province, which was established in 2018, is collectively owned. All the 21 administrative villages involved have signed a trusteeship agreement with the park administration, with ecological compensation covered by provincial fiscal revenue.

The author is a professor with Beijing Forestry University. 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. Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn