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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

China is among the 12 mega-biodiverse countries in the world. Forest cover accounts for 20.36% of the total land area, while the stock volume of forest plantations may be the largest in the world, harboring abundant and diverse wildlife. China is also one of the eight centers of origin for crops, with nearly 10,000 species of crops, including their wild relatives. Among them are 528 genera and 1,339 species of main cultivated plants, half of which originated in China. The country is also rich in wetlands, with 13,700,300 ha of marsh wetlands, 8,351,500 ha of lake wetlands and 8,207,000 ha of river wetlands. Grasslands cover about 41.7% of the country, harboring 6,704 known species of forage plants, among which 320 species are endemic to China. Natural grasslands are inhabited by more than 2,000 species of wild animals and a large number of plant resources with economic and medicinal values, such as liquorice, ephedra sinica stapf, aweto, snow lotuse and saline cistanche. In marine areas, some 20,278 marine species were recorded, representing over 10% of the world’s total. China also has 2,636,200 km² of deserts (27.46% of the total area) which are however relatively poor in terms of species composition. In 2008, an overall inventories report indicated the presence of more than 35,000 species of higher plants (of which 17,300 are endemic, ranking China third in the world after Brazil and Colombia), 6,445 species of vertebrates (667 being endemic) and 10% of the world’s invertebrates throughout the country. Among them are 1,371 species of birds (placing China first in the world) and 3,862 fish species (which account for 20.3% of the world’s total).

Despite some positive trends (China’s forest resources have witnessed continuous growth and forest cover has increased from 8.6% in 1949 to 20.36% at present), many natural areas and habitats are threatened nowadays. In particular, about 90% of grasslands are experiencing different degrees of degradation and desertification and 40% of China’s major wetlands are facing threats of severe degradation, especially mudflats and mangroves. Similarly, net reduction was observed in the total area of deserts which was reduced by 6,416 km2 on the whole between 2000 and 2004. Species loss is rather serious too. According to the 2004 Red List, figures on endangered species is much worse than in previous assessments, with the number of endangered plant species far exceeding earlier estimates. The Red List Index of Freshwater Fishes and Mammals decreased between 1998 and 2004 and, while the Red List Index of Birds increased, the rate of loss of critically endangered birds rose. Groundfish resources have declined, catches are of younger ages, smaller sizes and lower values and river fishery resources have degraded badly. Moreover, it is estimated that 15% to 20% of wild higher plants are endangered, 233 vertebrate species face extinction and about 44% of wild animals are in decline. Loss of genetic resources is also great. For example, local rice varieties planted by farmers fell from over 46,000 in the 1950s to slightly over 1,000 in 2006.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Accelerated urbanization and industrialization have brought threats to and increased pressure on the habitats of species and ecosystems. Overexploitation and disorderly development of biological resources have aggravated the negative impacts on biodiversity. Environmental pollution has greatly impacted aquatic and river coastal biodiversity and habitats. The release of invasive alien species and genetically modified organisms into the environment has increased pressures on biological security. The production of biological fuels has created new threats to biodiversity conservation. The impacts of climate change on biodiversity are yet to be evaluated.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

A Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, officially released by the State Council in June 1994, defines the overall target for China’s biodiversity conservation as “taking effective measures as soon as possible to avoid further losses of biodiversity by reversing or reducing the current rate of loss of biodiversity”. More recently, China updated its NBSAP for the next two decades (2011-2030). The new strategy contains 3 goals, 8 strategic tasks, 10 priority domains, 30 priority actions, 35 priority areas for conservation and 39 priority projects for implementation. The principles enshrined in this strategy are fourfold, namely “conservation being a first priority, sustainable use, public participation and benefit-sharing”.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

First of all, notable achievements have been made in regard to in situ conservation. At the end of 2011, China had established 2,640 nature reserves at different levels (not including those in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao), covering 149.71 million ha, representing 14.93% of the total land area (the global average is 12%). There are 335 national reserves, 2,747 forest parks (covering 1.83% of China’s total land area), including 746 national parks, 225 national scenic areas, 213 pilot national wetland parks and 219 national geological parks. In this light, the total protected area throughout the country thus covers about 17% of China’s total land area, to which must be added 17 national marine reserves and 113 national field sites and protected areas for the conservation of genetic resources and domesticated animals.

In parallel to its protected area policy, the Chinese Government has also launched several projects for the preservation of ecosystems. In particular, 6 major forestry projects have been implemented to mitigate impacts on ecosystems, including a natural forests protection project, returning farmlands to forests, afforestation, sandstorm source control projects and the building of forest belts in north, northeast and northwest China. China has also adopted a number of management measures for the use of wildlife resources, such as licensing the hunting of protected wild animals, pharmaceutical manufacturing using protected wild plants and the domestication of protected wild animals. A quota system has been put in place for logging, along with a compensation system for forest ecological benefits and grassland non-use. In the aquatic and marine environment, China has also adopted a fishing licensing system, a fishing ban season and a non-fishing area system, as well as a plan for “zero or negative increase” in marine fish catches. Some positive trends are already reported, such as the number of giant pandas which rose from 1,000 in the 1980s to over 1,800 at present. In 2011, the total emission of chemical oxygen demand decreased by 2.04%, compared with 2010, and that of sulfur dioxide decreased by 2.21%, while the overall quality of coastal waters across the country is improving from year to year.

Efforts have also been made to strengthen ex situ conservation. China has established 234 botanical gardens and arboreta, conserving over 20,000 species of higher plants; 240 zoos; 2 national long-term banks and 25 medium-terms banks for agricultural crop germplasm resources; 32 national gardens for germplasm resources, etc.

Finally, other milestones include the development of a policy on invasive alien species; establishment of an Office of Biosafety Management to manage the risks arising from the cultivation of GMOs; EIA legislation requiring that the public be involved in environmental impact assessment of development projects, including those impacting biodiversity; progress made in international cooperation and exchange; construction of facilities and capacity-building for public awareness-raising and education on environmental issues.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

To support national implementation of biodiversity policy, China has developed a wide range of economic instruments in financing, taxation, banking, credit, pricing and trade for environmental protection and reducing pollutant emissions. In policy and legal terms, the implementation of a number of international conventions, such as CITES, Ramsar, UNFCCC and UNCCD, is a means for China to translate biodiversity protection into national targets. Main legislative tools framing biodiversity protection at the national level include a series of laws (Wild Animal Protection Law, Forest Law, Grassland Law, etc.) and administrative regulations (e.g Regulation on Nature Reserves, Regulation on the Protection of Wild Plants). Programs and plans specifically dedicated to biodiversity include China’s Biodiversity Conservation Action Plan, National Sustainable Development Strategy, China’s Agenda 21 and the National Ecological Environment Plan. In addition, biodiversity has been mainstreamed in a number of sectoral policies. Examples of national strategies and plans integrating biodiversity include the 11th Five-Year Plan for Agricultural and Rural Development, National Plan for Grassland Conservation, Natural Forest Conservation Plan, Wetland Conservation Plan and the National Program for Marine Development. Biodiversity protection is also included in national and local poverty reduction plans, such as the Program for Poverty Alleviation and Development of China’s Rural Areas (2001-2010), which requires that poverty reduction must be linked with natural resources and ecological conservation. In China’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) for National Economic and Social Development, an entire chapter is devoted to promoting ecological protection and remediation. Finally, according to the report of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), held in November 2012, China will give high priority to making ecological progress through integrating ecological issues into all relevant sectors and processes of advancing economic, political, cultural and social progress, and through initiatives such as Building a Beautiful Country, and achieving sustainable development in China.

The investment by the Chinese governments in the environment, including ecology improvement and biodiversity conservation, has reached over 1% of its GDP. These domestic expenses are supplemented by international financial support. China has undertaken extensive cooperation with international organizations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, United Nations Development Program and the United Nations Environment Program, as well as with the European Union, Italy, Japan, Germany, Canada and the United States. A great number of multilateral and bilateral programs were launched. For instance, since 1991, GEF alone has approved a total grant of USD 99.06 million to China’s biodiversity project.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

In recent years, China has completed a number of large-scale surveys on natural resources and biodiversity. These include the Sixth National Forest Resources Inventory, National Wetland Survey, National Wildlife Resources Survey and the National Survey on Livestock Genetic Resources, resulting in the publication of inventories such as the China Red Data Book on Endangered Animals. The next round of such surveys (e.g. Second National Wetland Survey, National Wildlife Resources Survey) is in process at the moment. China is currently undertaking a national survey on key biological resources and a national survey on the status of the marine environment. An ecosystem research network has also been set up with 36 field research stations throughout the country and in key regions. In addition, China has established a national forest resources monitoring system, with four monitoring centers set up in northeast, east, northwest and south central China; 800 agricultural environmental monitoring institutions at the municipal and county levels; and a national system for monitoring the marine environment. Finally, a set of national indicators has been developed to measure progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme