Could China make it as the leader in global efforts in wildlife conservation? They’re certainly struggling for the title. China has eagerly announced it’s most ambitious conservation plan in a generation before the opening tomorrow of a UN biodiversity conference.
The plan consists of 52 priority conservation areas, taking up 23% of the country, aiming to control biodiversity loss by 2020. Starting with Sichuan, a massive 930m yuan has been promised to build on existing nature reserves, panda reserves, as well as conserve semi-tropical flora and fauna and restore an area damaged by industry. And this is just the beginning, folks!
Ouyang Zhiyun, vice president of the Ecological Society of China, said moves were also afoot to revise wildlife protection laws and ramp up “ecological transfer funds” that reward counties for safeguarding areas that sequester carbon, conserve soil and biodiversity. This year the government has budgeted 30bn yuan for such environmental service payments, up from 12bn yuan last year.
Gretchen Daily, associate professor at Stanford University, claimed China went further than any other country in embedding “natural capital” into decision making.
The Nature Conservancy, a major conservation organization, urged China’s move forward with their new Blueprint, which the Chinese government has used as grounds for their latest plan. It was the only NGO to contribute to the plan, with eyes to establish China as a safe habitat for the countless plants and animals that need a suitable environment to thrive in.
So, China, what’s the catch? Critics have targeted China’s economic interests as the prime suspect, mentioning that their conservation plans are so domestically focused that little will be done to stop illegal trade of endangered species. The failures set 10 years ago from the last Conference on Biological Diversity also cast a dark cloud over these proposals.
Conservationists have warned that poor enforcement often undermines such initiatives. “Sometimes the laws are not well implemented so the destruction … goes unpunished,” said Yan Xie, of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “China has done a great deal, but we cannot be optimistic about biodiversity conservation while the underlying problems remain of habitat loss, pollution, overuse of pesticides and over consumption.”
The Guardian pinpoints several issues with biodiversity in China, stemming from an ineffective law protecting endangered species to the large-scale poisoning of mountain pikas. Captive breeding centres, which are currently legal, end up supplying restaurants and pharmacies despite being listed as conservation centres.
According to Sun Youhai, the director of the law-proposing office, the National People’s Congress’s environment and resources protection committee: “Wildlife cannot breed and live without a favourable environment. In the past we only focused on protecting wild animals, however, not enough attention had been paid to wildlife habitat, and that should be strengthened in the revision of wildlife protection law.”
Looks like China will have to do more than pour its money into developing centres to keep everyone happy. Only time will tell if the right changes can be made before it’s too late, hopefully leading to the same amount of success that was generated by the “Pambassadors” recently.