Chinese conservationists call for ‘human-based’ approach to protecting biodiversity

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Chinese conservationists have set out a number of proposals to protect biodiversity ahead of a major United Nations conference in the southwestern city of Kunming next week.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, a Beijing-based non-profit organisation, said “human-based” schemes could help to protect species and habitats in areas of extensive human activity.

“The situation of aggravated biodiversity loss may change only if everyone participates in biodiversity conservation around them,” Zhou Jinfeng, secretary general of the foundation, said.

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One concept Zhou’s group has proposed is the Biodiversity Conservation in Our Neighbourhood (BCON) scheme, which aims to coordinate sustainable development and conservation and “will most likely become a major strategy to curb the global rate of biodiversity loss”.

“Since the Convention on Biological Diversity was signed in 1992, we have not made any effective changes in reversing biodiversity loss,” Zhou said.

We used to protect species in national and provincial conservation areas, but these areas only account for more than 10 per cent of China’s total land area. The protected area is far from enough.”

Examples he cited include schemes to promote ecological farming and reduce the use of pesticides, as well as eco-friendly cultivation techniques in lotus ponds.

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Li Zhenwen, a bird conservation expert from Wuhan, said a scheme in the city that used traditional methods and avoided the use of disinfectants had helped boost the number of migratory shorebirds.

“We found about 2,000 aquatic birds in a 100 mu [6-hectare] lotus pond in Wuhan … Most fishermen do not interfere with the birds and they adapt to each other,” he said.

The UN Biodiversity Conference, also known as COP15, aims to set goals for tackling the biodiversity crisis up to 2030 and longer-term plans for the middle of the century.

The summit has been split into two parts because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

China has been struggling to stem the loss of habitants and species. Photo: Xinhua
China has been struggling to stem the loss of habitants and species. Photo: Xinhua

The first part, which starts on Monday, will review the “post-2020 global biodiversity framework” and issue a declaration on preserving biodiversity around the world.

The second part, to be held in person next spring, will aim to pass a new accord on reversing nature loss by 2030 and set out a vision for living in harmony with nature by 2050.

The meeting comes at a time when the world is facing biodiversity loss at an unprecedented level in human history. A 2019 UN report warned that over a million species of plants and animals face extinction, many within decades, because of human activities.

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Last week the US government declared that 23 federally protected species had become extinct, including the country’s largest woodpecker, the ivory billed woodpecker, and Bachman’s warbler.

Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Centre for Biological Diversity, told National Public Radio it was the largest extinction announcement ever made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Meanwhile, a 2015 review of China’s Millennium Development Goals found that while the country had made remarkable progress in fields such as poverty alleviation, education and health, it had failed to arrest biodiversity loss.

Last year a UN report concluded that the international community had failed to meet any of the Aichi targets, agreed in Japan a decade earlier, on stopping the destruction of nature and wildlife.

Observers said one way to avoid similar failures in future was to ensure full public participation in conservation work.

“Nature reserves, ecological red lines, community conservation areas and BCON are all important conservation methods,” Zhou said.

The foundation established its first community conservation area in 2016 and now has more than 170 across China.

Unlike national or provincial protected areas, the conservation areas supported by the foundation are mostly organised by non-governmental organisations and volunteers.

Song Keming, a veteran conservationist who founded the first community conservation area in China in 2016, said the site near Changyuan in the central province of Henan had helped increase the number of Asian great bustards, a vulnerable migratory bird.

Thanks to Song and other volunteers’ efforts, the number of the birds in China has doubled from about 800 to 1,600 last year, according to investigations by SEE Conservation, an environmental non-profit organisation.

“Biodiversity loss is different from pollution,” Song said. “If water is polluted, we can still treat it. But biodiversity loss is irreversible.”

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