OPINION – The Kunming Declaration is ringing the alarm bells for the conservation of biodiversity in the Greater Bay Area

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Macau business | December 2021

By Zhang Ruopiao

On October 13, 2021, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, Yunnan Province, adopted a declaration on the need for concerted efforts and impulses to stop and reverse the loss of biodiversity. The Kunming Declaration embodies the political determination of the Chinese government to face the challenges of biodiversity and to build a community on earth together. The declaration pledges to ensure the formulation, adoption and implementation of an effective global framework for post-2020 biodiversity.

Zhang Ruopiao
Member of the Executive Board
Macau Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility in Greater China (MICSRGC)

The framework aims to reverse the current loss of biodiversity and bring it on the road to recovery by 2030 at the latest in order to achieve the 2050 vision of a life in harmony with nature. Along with the Kunming Declaration, China’s First White Paper (a detailed report), Conservation of Biodiversity in China, was published in October this year and promises a new chapter for environmental protection in China.

The term “biodiversity” refers to the total variability of life on earth and the environments in which it thrives. The ecological goods and services of biodiversity provide the basis for human civilization and long-term development (WWF (2018). Living Planet Report 2018). However, the world is facing a critical situation of unprecedented extinction of species. The loss of biodiversity and the deterioration of ecosystems pose great threats to human survival and sustainable development. In 1972 the United Nations convened the Conference on the Human Environment. The participating countries signed the Declaration on the Human Environment, in which the conservation of biological resources was included in the 26 principles. In 1993 the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into force.

China is a huge country with complex and diverse landscapes and climates, which makes it one of the richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity. Rapid urbanization and industrialization, however, have brought new threats to species and ecosystems as well as increased demand for their habitats. The harmful effects on biodiversity are exacerbated by overexploitation and the uncontrolled growth of biological resources. Pollution has a significant impact on the biodiversity and ecosystems of water bodies and rivers. Hence, China’s rapid economic expansion is unsustainable as it has exceeded its environmental capacity and ecological bio-capacity in the past few decades. To curb biodiversity loss, China has made significant strides in building a system of environmental reserves and protecting endangered species since 2017. The Ministry of Natural Resources and the Provincial Ecological Redlines have been established. In addition, the supervision of nature reserves has been tightened to an unprecedented level and considerable successful experience has been gained in protecting biodiversity.

On February 18, 2019, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council released the draft development plan for the Greater Bay Area of ​​Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau. The plan proposed applying a rigorous ecological protection system while renewing a green and low-carbon development model. In the past few decades, the urban development of the Greater Bay Area Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau has caused ecological damage. For example, during the industrialization and urbanization of Guangzhou’s Panyu and Nansha districts, most of the wetland landscapes were replaced by infrastructure such as bridges, roads and ports. This change led to severe damage to the biodiversity of the insects there.

According to the Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao Greater Bay Area Ecological Footprint Report 2019, the Greater Bay Area has just 0.27 global acres of biological load-bearing capacity per capita, which is a quarter of the national average and a sixth of the global average. The Kunming Declaration also rings the alarm bells for the conservation of biodiversity in the area. the Guangdong Marine Ecological Red Line Report shows that resource constraints are tightening on the coast of the Greater Bay Area. In addition, the loss rate of coastal wetlands in this area is high and the quality of marine organisms is deteriorating.

The natural systems and biochemical cycles associated with biodiversity are prerequisites for the prosperity of the Greater Bay Area. In the next 10 to 20 years the population of the region is expected to increase significantly, which poses greater challenges for the ecosystem. After a series of summit meetings on biodiversity, the Greater Bay Area is launching various programs to promote regional biodiversity. Specifically, the National Development and Reform Commission and the Ministry of Natural Resources have jointly the Key projects for the conservation of biodiversity in the Greater Bay Area Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macaoand the Triennial Action Plan to Promote Ecological Protection, Restoration and Mitigation in the Coastal Zone of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (2020-2022)These action plans strengthen cooperation between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau in data sharing, scientific research and innovation to improve ecological corridors and networks to protect biodiversity.

However, this article argues that most ecosystem services “provided” by nature are public goods that, in an economic sense, fall under the category of “externalities”. Hence, we cannot expect market forces alone to solve the biodiversity loss problem. Political intervention by the government is essential.

The global devastation of the COVID-19 epidemic is a warning sign that we should be aware of the close connection between humans and nature and the catastrophic consequences of breaking that connection. At the same time, however, we must also be aware that we have ignored the even greater risks for humanity from global climate change and the previously sharply declining biodiversity. Biodiversity is related to human well-being and is an essential basis for human survival and development. COP-15 calls for the protection of biological diversity to be included in long-term socio-economic and industrial development planning. COP-15 and the Kunming Declaration shed light on how the international community should work together to address these major biodiversity risks. The Greater Bay Area faces complex challenges and opportunities to conserve biodiversity and, more than ever, it is critical to the future of ecological and community life and the systems that support them that biodiversity be at the heart of sustainable development .


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