Achieving Climate and Biodiversity Synergy in China

2023-11-24 Author: Nan Zeng

@Zeng Nan  

Well-functioning natural ecosystems play a crucial role in regulating climate by sequestering carbon on a massive scale. However, extreme events such as droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires, fueled by climate change, pose threats to biodiversity and the entire biosphere. As global biodiversity declines steeply, climate change is exacerbated. Addressing the twin issues in a synergistic manner is imperative to protect the progress made in climate action.  

China's commitment to addressing climate change and biodiversity has implications not only domestically but globally. As COP28 convenes in Dubai, we delve into China's policies on climate change and biodiversity synergy since 2020, the achievements and areas for further improvement.

Key Initiatives

One of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF)'s twenty-three targets, known as 30x30, aims to protect at least 30 percent of the planet's land and water by 2030. Achieving the target not only conserves the planet’s most valuable biodiversity, but also safeguards carbon-dense areas while maintaining essential ecosystem services. Ensuring success in protecting such a large area, while at the same time satisfying economic development and livelihoods, requires a comprehensive decision-making process with spatial planning techniques to address policy objectives and trade-offs.

China has come up with a unique solution - the Ecological Conservation Redline (ECRL). It has drawn red lines for its crucial ecological conservation areas of 3.19 million square kilometers covering more than 90 percent of typical ecosystems in over 30% of its land area. The area in the ECRL include important ecological function area, ecological sensitive and fragile area, and habitats of key species and ecosystems. Developmental and productive construction activities are strictly prohibited in the ECRL. The effective implementation of ECRL can safeguard 95% of the key species in the country, 40% of the water retention and regulation functions, and 32% of the windbreak and sand control functions. It also covers nearly 45% of China’s terrestrial carbon sequestration.

Bai et al., 2021

Complementing China’s existing protected areas, which cover 18% of the country’s land area, the ECRL provides a powerful tool for large-scale and holistic biodiversity conservation. To tackle trade-offs among multiple policy objectives while ensuring the well-being of 1.4 billion people, the ECRL system offers an innovative approach to integrate climate, biodiversity, and sustainable land-use strategies.

Apart from spatial planning, China has recognized the potential of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises, notably incorporating it into the "1+N" national policy framework for carbon peaking and neutrality. China’s Mid-Century Long-Term Low Greenhouse Gas Emission Development Strategy ranks NbS as one of the top ten strategic climate actions. NbS is defined as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously benefiting people and nature”. It’s widely recognized as a win-win solution for climate and biodiversity.

The National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation 2035 proposes the integration of NbS with climate change adaptation, enhancing climate resilience through ecosystem protection, restoration, and sustainable management.

China’s political momentum and resolve on climate and biodiversity synergy are also reflected in its international collaborations. China and France reaffirmed their strong commitments to enhance international cooperation on climate change and biodiversity conservation earlier this year. The KMGBF adopted at CBD COP15, which China presided, also emphasized that minimizing the impact of climate change on biodiversity and increase its resilience through NbS, while fostering positive impacts of climate action on biodiversity.

China has made significant strides in synergizing climate and biodiversity efforts, but there remains room for further improvement. NRDC worked with a leading local thinktank to analyze 200 relevant policy documents released in the last decade and found that less than half of these policies emphasize the synergy between climate and biodiversity. Climate change and biodiversity policies are often developed and implemented by different government departments. This results in fragmented and uncoordinated policies, as different departments may have conflicting objectives, making it challenging to achieve synergies. Fragmentated policy development can also lead to policy incoherence, insufficient data sharing, and uneven resource allocation. Therefore, cross-departmental collaboration mechanisms should be established to ensure consistent strategies in addressing climate and biodiversity.

Upcoming Opportunities

The global stocktake will be conducted at COP28, which presents an opportunity for Parties to elevate their ambitions to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. China can take the chance to review the progress of its current National Determined Contribution (NDC) and conduct research for development of its next NDC due in 2025. China's updated NDC in 2020 set an ambitious goal to increase forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from the 2005 level. In May 2022, China announced an initiative to plant, conserve, restore, and manage 70 billion trees by 2030.

CBD COP15 requested Parties to revise and update their National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan (NBSAP) aligned with the KMGBF. China’s NBSAP is underway for completion. China is also initiating the development of the 15th Five-Year Plan. It is important to prioritize climate and biodiversity synergy throughout these policy planning to ensure a comprehensive approach that tackles both challenges concurrently.

About the Author

  • Nan Zeng

    Project Manager, Conservation Project, NRDC China