Building a community of life on earth: Chinese experience in ecosystem conservation and restoration

By Wu Ning, Chen Huai and Lu Tao Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/17 18:58:12

Photo taken on Nov. 5, 2020 shows a black-headed gull at the confluence of the Yangtze River and the Jialing River in southwest China's Chongqing.Photo:Xinhua

The Chinese government has long been attaching great importance to the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems. Since the 1980s, relevant work has been carried out in the construction of the "Three-North" Shelterbelt and the Yangtze River Shelterbelt. Since the beginning of the 21st century, China has been adhering to the new concept of development, and coordinating the integrated conservation and restoration of mountains, waters, forests, farmlands, lakes and grasslands. In response to ecological degradation and damage, the country has carried out a series of key programs including Natural Forest Resource Protection, Conversion of Grazing land to Forest and Grassland, Comprehensive Treatment of Rocky Desertification, Key Projects of Soil and Water Conservation, Ecological Protection and Restoration of Mountains, Waters, Forests, Farmlands, Lakes and Grasslands. Through the implementation of the above-mentioned programs, the habitat conditions of wildlife in key areas have been improved and restored, the ecological connectivity has been significantly enhanced, the overall improvement of ecosystem quality and ecosystem service delivery capacity has been enhanced, and remarkable achievements have been made in effectively controlling the ecological degradation and ensuring the regional ecological security.

Forest protection and restoration

Since the tail-end of the 1980s, both forest cover and stock have grown for 30 consecutive years. For example, the Chinese government launched the program to protect natural forests in 1998, with a total investment of more than 500 billion RMB. Nearly 20,000 hectares of natural forest have been preserved, and the forest coverage rate in the project area has increased by more than 4 percentage points. The data released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) showed that, during the period from 2000 to 2017, a net increase of green area in China was around 1.35 million square kilometers and the increasing rate of green area was up to 17.8%, ranking the first in the world. About 25% of the global new green area was contributed by China, equaling to the combined contribution of Russia, the United States and Australia.

Grassland protection and restoration

Through implementing the program of Returning Grazing Land to Grassland and the Grassland Ecological Protection and Restoration, the Chinese government has enclosed 80 million hectares of degraded grasslands banned from grazing, 18,000 hectares of grasslands approached a balance state with grazing and livestock, and the grassland area under restoration and rehabilitation has exceeded an area of 66.67 million hectares. The overgrazing rate on typical grasslands has been declining for many years. By the end of 2018, the overgrazing rate had dropped to 10.2%, a 23.8% decrease comparing with the rate of 2006. For example, in the Sanjiangyuan (water-source of three rivers) National Park, the coverage of grasslands had increased from 50.2% to 56.8% after the implementation of a series of grassland protection and restoration projects.

Wetland protection and restoration

At present, China has designated 64 wetlands as Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar sites), 156 wetlands as Wetland Nature Reserves, and 899 wetlands as National Wetland Parks, which means 52.2% of wetlands in China are under effective protection. For example, in Maduo County, Guoluo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai Province, the quantity of lakes increased from 4,077 in 2000 to 5,849 in 2018, and a marvelous spectacle of "one-thousand lakes" reappears in the source area of Yellow River.

Prevention and control of sandification and desertification

Since 2004, both desertification and sandification areas in China have been decreasing. The desertification area used to extend about 10,400 square kilometers per year by the end of last century. Now, each year sees a decrease of 2,424 square kilometers of such area. The sandification area (sand dune area) extended about 3,436 square kilometers per year by the end of last century, while at present, such area decreases by 1,980 square kilometers annually. Therefore, the Chinese government has achieved in advance the goal of the United Nations about "a zero growth in land degradation by 2030" in terms of prevention and control of desertification.

The Chinese government keeps intensifying its efforts to protecting and restoring ecosystems, and great achievements have been made in an array of major ecological protection and restoration programs, which has become a sign that the Chinese government attaches great importance to the construction of ecological civilization and actively implements international conventions. In June 2020, the Chinese government issued the Master Plan for Major National Ecological System Protection and Restoration Projects (2021-2035), 9 major projects and 47 specific tasks have been fully deployed. Through the implementation of a series of ecological projects, the Chinese government aims to increase the forest coverage rate to 26%, the forest stock to 21 billion cubic meters, the comprehensive vegetation coverage rate of grasslands to 60%, the percentage of protected wetlands to 60%, and the percentage of rehabilitated sandy lands that are recoverable to 75% by 2035.

A series of major measures adopted by China are not only a realistic need for the protection and restoration of ecosystems, but also the objective needs for better fulfillment of international conventions. It plays an important role in promoting global ecological governance, charting the course for global ecological civilization and facilitating global sustainable development.

The authors are from Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences


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