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Dimitri de Boer

12th October 2021

China

Highlights of President Xi's Speech at COP15

On 12 October 2021, President Xi Jinping made an important speech at the leader’s segment of the first phase of COP15. This moment marks China taking over the presidency of CBD, so it is the time for China to shine, and inject some much-needed momentum into the global biodiversity arena.

His speech (full text in Chinese and English here) also comes just days after the EU and China issued a joint press communique about climate and environment.

Here I briefly analyse what I consider highlights of his address:

  • Financial resources. China will commit 1.5 billion RMB to a newly established “Kunming Biodiversity Fund” (about 230 million USD). China welcomes outside participation in this new fund. Far too little financial resources are currently made available to biodiversity conservation, especially in the developing world. The availability of sufficient financial resources could be the key to securing an ambitious and realistic post-2020 global framework for biodiversity. With its financial commitment, China joins a number of countries and private actors in providing large amounts of financial resources, which will hopefully further spur other countries to step up their level of resource mobilization, especially the rich, developed nations. These financial commitments from government, in turn, should be designed to better leverage private sector resources.

  • National parks. China will formally establish its first batch of large national parks, including Sanjiangyuan National Park, Wuyi Mountain National Park, Giant Panda National Park, Northeast China Tiger and Leopard National Park and Hainan Tropical Rainforest National Park. These national parks cover some of China’s most valuable areas of biodiversity. I have some confidence that these parks will be well designed, benefit local communities, and that their protection will be rigidly enforced.

  • Carbon peaking and neutrality. President Xi reconfirmed that China will soon share the much anticipated “1+N” policy system for achieving carbon peaking. He also mentioned that China is constructing a ‘first phase’ of over 100 GW of wind and solar energy. That represents an increase of almost 20% in these two forms of renewable energy, and obviously more should follow in the coming years. The rapid deployment of renewable energy in China is critical to ensure a stable and reliable energy supply throughout the gradual phase-out of coal power.

  • Ecological civilization. President Xi emphasised ecological development, sharing ecological civilization, and keeping all human activities within the limits of environmental capacity. This may sound rather fluffy, but it provides a high level principle which, if fully implemented, is very powerful.

  • On the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, President Xi emphasized the need to balance ambition and feasibility. This is not to undercut the need for ambition, but it rather supports the notion that China wants to see all parties, including all developing countries, really embrace the new agreement, and for its targets to really be achieved by 2030. That would be the ultimate sign of success of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

While President Xi mentioned the establishment of several flagship national parks, he didn’t mention China’s ecological redlines. This leaves the question open of whether China is ready to embrace the proposed target of protecting 30% of the planet by 2030.

As above, I believe China’s hesitation in formally supporting this target is mainly because China doesn’t want to alienate certain developing countries which may not yet be ready to embrace that target.

However, this isn’t holding China back from acting domestically. China’s recent whitepaper on biodiversity mentions that 28.8% of China’s land is delineated into ecological redlines, and the drawing of marine ecological redlines is actively underway. And the ecological redlines are already being effectively protected.

I believe China’s total share of land and marine ecological redlines will be impressive, and will be announced ahead of the second phase of COP15 in April or May 2022. The methodology of ecological redline delineation is world class – it combines assessments of biodiversity value, ecosystem services value, and disaster risk prevention value.

The result is the designation of ecological redlines across the full range from remote to highly populated areas, and their economic benefits are an integral part of their rationale.

President Xi also didn’t specifically commit to efforts to reduce the biodiversity impacts of China’s overseas investments and trade.

Nonetheless, rapid progress is being made in greening China’s overseas investments, and just days ago, a joint EU – China press communique was released following the High Level Environment and Climate Dialogue between vice premier Han Zheng and executive vice president Timmermans on 27 September 2021 (see the full text of the communique in English and Chinese), which included major progress for biodiversity, including:

  • Deforestation and supply chains. The communique mentions: “Both sides agreed to engage collaboratively in support of reducing global deforestation through enhancing cooperation in conservation and sustainable management of forests, making supply chain more sustainable, and combating illegal logging and associated trade.” This is the first time that one of China’s top leaders has explicitly emphasized this, and it is an extremely important step in the context of global action for biodiversity. One of the key drivers behind global biodiversity loss is the conversion of rainforest for the production of soft commodities such as soy, palm oil, beef, pulp and paper, and timber. European leaders and environmental advisors, including CCICED, have repeatedly emphasized this as a critical issue. Having this important point included in the communique gives me increased confidence that both China and Europe will quickly step up their efforts in this regard.

  • Strong implementation mechanisms in the post-2020 GBF. The communique mentions: “…measurable goals and targets and appropriate mechanisms for monitoring, reporting and review, as well as strong provisions for implementation and planning, and means to support implementation.” Many country negotiators and environmental groups have insisted that much stronger implementation provisions are needed for an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework. Unlike the climate convention, currently the CBD has no convenient mechanisms to keep track of the collective ambitions of countries, nor to regularly take stock of global progress. Clear systems of common indicators, monitoring, reporting and review, and global stocktaking of progress and ratcheting of ambitions, are all urgently needed to reverse biodiversity loss. This is the first time for a Chinese leader to explicitly support the need for this.

Much remains to be done to achieve the objective of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity for humans to live in harmony with nature by 2050. President Xi’s new commitments today are significant, and will hopefully inspire further political momentum within China and internationally. The above progress in the EU – China communique is perhaps as important, because that also has the full weight of the Chinese government, and those points give further guidance into some of the key steps needed to protect global biodiversity.

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