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Xi Focus: China's biodiversity push and its broader ecological ambition

Updated: May 24, 2022 Xinhua Print
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BEIJING -- May 22 marks the International Day for Biological Diversity 2022. As one of the 17 mega biodiversity countries, China has achieved steady progress in addressing biodiversity loss across its steamy jungles, tranquil wetlands and vast forests.

China harbors nearly 10 percent of all plant species and 14 percent of animals on earth, according to the United Nations (UN) Development Program.

"Protecting biodiversity helps protect Earth, our common homeland, and contributes to humanity's sustainable development," Chinese President Xi Jinping said when addressing the leaders' summit of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15).

The first phase of COP15 was held in southwest China's Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, in October last year.

Xi has hailed the importance of harmony between humanity and nature, saying that "if we humanity do not fail nature, nature will not fail us. Ecological civilization represents the development trend of human civilization."

The president's philosophical thinking on the relationship between humankind and nature has served as the guiding theory and charted the course for the country's sustainable development.

FRESH CONSERVATION EFFORTS

Since COP15, Xi's vision of ecological civilization, which had already been written into China's Constitution in 2018, has been further denoted with fresh practices.

Xi announced at COP15 that the country officially established the first batch of five national parks, stretching from the giant panda habitats in the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi, to the only home of the Hainan gibbons, a rare primate, in southern China's tropical island of Hainan.

With a protected land area of 230,000 square km, the five national parks are home to nearly 30 percent of the key terrestrial wildlife species found in the country.

When Xi conducted an inspection tour of Hainan last month, he paid a special visit to a tropical rainforest national park in Wuzhishan.

"The tropical rainforest in Hainan belongs to the province itself, the people of the whole country, and mother Earth. It is a national treasure," Xi said.

Xi inquired about the gibbon's population, which plunged to as few as seven primates in the 1980s due to excessive hunting and lumbering.

With a new gibbon cub spotted in January this year, the gibbon population has increased to 36 in five families in the island province, according to the Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park.

Xi has highlighted the importance of tropical rainforest preservation, and the synchronized progress of ecological conservation, green development and people's well-being.

In April, China also made another milestone move to strengthen biodiversity protection. It established the China National Botanical Garden in Beijing.

With a planned area of 600 hectares, the garden has more than 30,000 kinds of plants and 5 million representative plant specimens from five continents.

China has established a system with national parks as its mainstay, supported by nature reserves and supplemented by nature parks. The system has protected over 90 percent of terrestrial ecosystem types and 71 percent of wild flora and fauna species by placing them on a national protection list.

TOP PRIORITY OF A COUNTRY

During his inspection in Hainan, Xi reiterated what he considers to be "a top priority of a country" -- ecological conservation.

It was not the first time that Xi used the phrase to highlight the significance of ecological protection. The term was brought up during his inspections to Shaanxi in 2020, and Qinghai in 2021.

Envisioning a homeland where humans and nature can live in harmony, Xi has long emphasized the importance of environmental protection, leading the world's largest developing country toward a high-quality development path.

"Mother Nature has nourished us, and we must treat nature as our root, respect it, protect it, and follow its laws. Failure to respect nature or follow its laws will only invite its revenge," Xi said in April last year while addressing the Leaders Summit on Climate.

Xi has participated in tree-planting activities for 10 consecutive years, greening the land with his own deeds.

China has made unprecedented efforts to fight pollution, protect the ecosystem and improve its legal system over the past decade.

Xi has led China to identify pollution control as one of its "three tough battles" in 2017, targeting a significant reduction in the emissions of major pollutants and an improvement in the overall ecological environment.

China has taken a series of major policy measures to protect the ecosystem, including the ecological protection "red line," the high-quality development of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, as well as the systemic protection, restoration and controlling of mountains, rivers, forests, farmland, lakes, grass and sand across the country.

The past decade has also seen an improved legal system for ecosystem conservation in the country. Issuances or revisions of over 30 laws and regulations during the period represent China's solid steps toward forging a stronger legal guarantee for the ecosystem.

China's endeavors in ecological and environmental conservation over the past 10 years have reaped "notable progress," said Shi Lei, a professor with Renmin University of China. "The changes are historic, transformational and overarching."

CHINA WISDOM IN BRAVING GLOBAL CHALLENGES

Faced with unprecedented challenges in global environmental governance, the international community needs to come up with unprecedented ambition and action, Xi said when addressing the Leaders Summit on Climate in April last year. "We need to act with a sense of responsibility and unity, and work together to foster a community of life for man and Nature."

In September 2021, at another UN conference, Xi made a widely praised promise that China would not build any new coal-fired power projects abroad. A year earlier, he pledged that China would strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, a galvanizing target in the eyes of most experts.

The country's carbon neutrality goal entails extra strenuous efforts down the road, but the pledge also represents its share of contributions to global climate governance and offers "China wisdom" for global low-carbon development, Shi said.

At COP15, Xi announced a new set of measures, including China's earmarking of 1.5 billion yuan (about 222 million U.S. dollars) for a new fund on biodiversity protection, saying that the country encourages global participation in it.

As part of efforts to expand collaboration with other parties, China has approved the implementation of over 30 multilateral agreements or protocols on ecological protection.

Philip Clayton, president of the Institute for Postmodern Development of China, a U.S. think tank, said China's contributions to ecological civilization had empowered the international community to pursue environmental reforms and more robust ecological governance.

Clayton's view echoed that of Shi. In addition to advocating the building of a beautiful China through the actions of all citizens, Xi's thought seeks to achieve good environmental governance through multilateralism, Shi noted.

"I believe that Xi's thought is of great value for improving global ecological well-being and global environmental quality," Shi said.

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