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Insightful conversation over the Kunming-Montreal GBF


Quan Zhanjun, Director and Researcher at the Institute of Ecology, Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences

Mr. Quan Zhanjun is primarily engaged in the research of biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration, ecological planning and management, as well as the realization of ecological product value. He specializes in the development of biodiversity and ecological quality monitoring and assessment techniques, as well as the protection and restoration of mountain-river- forest-farmland-lake-grassland-sandy land ecosystems. He has led over 30 projects, including national key research and development programs, projects supported by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and various local consultancies. He has contributed over 10 policy recommendations and specialized reports to the Ministry of Ecology and Environment and local governments, authored three monographs, and published more than 40 papers in domestic and international journals.Mitigation and adaptation are two strategies to address climate change, and they are mutually reinforcing.

In December 2022, during the second phase meeting of the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Biodiversity Conference held in Montreal, Canada, China, as the presidency, contributed to the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and other landmark achievements featuring the balance of determination and pragmatism. This comprehensive framework notably established the historic "30 by 30" target, decided on the launch of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, charted a historic pathway for the integration of Digital Sequence Information (DSI) on genetic resources, and envisioned a harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature by the year 2050.

In December 2023, during the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, China took the lead in launching an initiative to shore up the implementation of the GBF. This initiative aims to establish a voluntary cooperation platform involving all parties and stakeholders, demonstrating political commitment to drive comprehensive implementation of the GBF.

Marking the one-year anniversary of the GBF, in a bid to further elucidate its goal system and support mechanism, China has taken systematic measures in implementing biodiversity conservation, with a specific focus on the balance and coordination between agriculture and biodiversity conservation. To delve deeper into these aspects, China Sustainability Tribune conducted an in-depth interview with Quan Zhanjun, Director at the Institute of Ecology of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, for an insightful analysis.

China will seek to basically build a climate-resilient society by 2035, with significant improvements in its ability to adapt to climate change, according to China's National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035, jointly released by 17 administries and departments including the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.

Q | China Sustainability Tribune
A | Quan Zhanjun
Support mechanism to the realization of GBF goals
Q: As a landmark global initiative for biodiversity conservation, what logic does the GBF follow in setting its objectives?

Quan Zhanjun:In terms of goal setting, the vision of the GBF is a world of living in harmony with nature where "by 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people." In terms of specific goals, it has four long-term goals for 2050: biodiversity status, sustainable use of biodiversity, fair and equitable sharing of benefits, and providing support for implementation. Additionally, it outlines 23 action-oriented global targets across three aspects: reducing threats to biodiversity (Targets 1–8), meeting people’s needs through sustainable and benefit sharing (Targets 9–13), and tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming (Targets 14–23).

Regarding the status of biodiversity, as proposed in the GBF, the integrity, connectivity and resilience of all ecosystems are maintained, enhanced, or restored, substantially increasing the area of natural ecosystems by 2050. Human induced extinction of known threatened species is halted, and, by 2050, the extinction rate and risk of all species are reduced tenfold, and the abundance of native wild species is increased to healthy and resilient levels. The genetic diversity within populations of wild and domesticated species, is maintained, safeguarding their adaptive potential. 

Regarding the sustainable use of biodiversity, the GBF proposes that biodiversity is sustainably used and managed, and ecosystem functions and services are restored, supporting the achievement of sustainable development by 2050.

Regarding fair and equitable benefit-sharing, the GBF suggests that the monetary and non-monetary benefits from the utilization of genetic resources and digital sequence information on genetic resources, and of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, as applicable, are shared fairly and equitably, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in accordance with internationally agreed access and benefit-sharing instruments.

Regarding providing implementation safeguards, the GBF maintains that adequate means of implementation, including financial resources, capacity-building, technical and scientific cooperation, and access to and transfer of technology shall be adopted to, progressively close the biodiversity finance gap of USD 700 billion per year.

Q: Compared to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets achieved 13 years ago, what are innovations in the GBF's support mechanism for the achievement of its goals?

Quan Zhanjun: Over the past 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity, three editions of global biodiversity targets have been published, including the GBF. Regrettably, the first two editions of global targets were only partially achieved, and the ongoing trend of global biodiversity loss remains inadequately addressed. It is a matter of shared concern for the international community to effectively drive the realization of the GBF goals and avoid a repetition of the shortcomings encountered with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. 

With the establishment of ambitious targets through extensive negotiations, the GBF notably elevates one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that by 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, are conserved to the target that by 2030 at least 30 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas is effectively conserved. Considering the significant shortfall in achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, China, as the host of COP15, consistently emphasizes the necessity for alignment between established ambitious targets and resource mobilization, capacity building, and technological support, reflecting a pragmatic balance.

One could argue that the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were also ambitious and inspiring upon their formulation. However, only 6 out of the 20 outlined objectives were partially achieved in the end. Of multifaceted reasons for this outcome, two primary factors stand out: inadequate funding and the need for enhanced implementation mechanisms. Hence, during the process of formulating the GBF, China, as the host, consistently emphasized the importance of striking a balance between ambition and pragmatism, improving and enhancing the support mechanism, and drawing valuable lessons from experiences in the realization of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Ultimately, not only did this drive the achievement of the GBF, but also led to the adoption of a package of complementary policy measures.

Two significant advancements are particularly crucial in ensuring the realization of the GBF goals. Firstly, a historic decision has been made to establish the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, aimed at mobilizing resources from all sources. At the same time, the goal of encompassing financial flows for biodiversity from development countries in developing countries, including increasing total biodiversity related international financial resources from developed countries and from countries that voluntarily assume obligations of developed country Parties, to developing countries, in particular the least developed countries and small island developing States, as well as countries with economies in transition, to at least USD 20 billion per year by 2025, and to at least USD 30 billion per year by 2030.

The second significant advancement lies in the establishment of a comprehensive and systematic implementation mechanism, including planning, reporting, monitoring, and review. It is a noteworthy requirement for countries to align national biodiversity strategies and action plans with global goals and targets of the GBF. For instance, there is a call for a global analysis of  information in these national determined targets to assess whether excpected collective endeavorsaligns with the direction and intensity outlined in the GBF goals and targets. Countries are also mandated to regularly submit national progress reports, followed by a global review of collective progress in impementation. These global-level insights will serve as vital references and political impetus for countries to voluntarily consider whether to enhance the intensity of their targets, actions, resource mobilization, international cooperation, and mutual support. Furthermore, the GBF places special emphasis on the engagement of various stakeholders, highlighting the importance of a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to drive the achievement of its goals and targets.

Source: Xu, J. & Wang, J. Z. Analysis of the main elements and implications of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. Biodiversity Science, 31 (04): 7-15 (2023).
Advance biodiversity conservation in a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach
Q: What significant measures has China taken for biodiversity conservation in recent years, and how would you evaluate the effectiveness of these measures?

Quan Zhanjun: China has taken effective and robust measures in biodiversity conservation in recent years. In the evaluation of achievement of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, China's performance has been above the global average. Apparently, China ranks at a global top in terms of conservation efforts. China's capacity of leading negotiations as a host of COP 15 is closely tied to the global recognition and appreciation of China's efforts.

Specifically, it is mainly reflected in China's efforts to promote biodiversity conservation in a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.

Firstly, China has demonstrated the highest level of political will on the top-level planning. In 2011, the China National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation (CNCBC), composed of 25 ministries or departments and headed by a Vice Premier, to coordinate nationwide biodiversity conservation actions. President Xi personally promoted biodiversity initiatives and works related to COP15. China has embarked on ecological civilization construction and has been determined to pursue a development path aiming to control pollution and reduce natural resource consumption at the source, which is distinct from Western countries. This reflects a top-level political commitment.

Secondly, at the governmental level, China has implemented legal and administrative measures to strengthen biodiversity conservation, including the establishment of a comprehensive legal system comprising the Environmental Protection Law, related legislations in key ecological areas and targeted regulations for ecological elements. Biodiversity conservation has been integrated into development plans of governments at various levels. National efforts have been made to update the China National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Plan, prepare implementation schemes for major biodiversity conservation projects, and vigorously promote biodiversity conservation, restoration, sustainable use, and benefit sharing, driving the mainstreaming of biodiversity. Substantial financial resources have been allocated for ecological compensation, and ecological conservation and restoration projects have been established, notably through extensive direct fiscal investment. For instance, a total of 52 integrated protection and restoration projects of mountains, rivers, forests, fields, lakes, grasslands and sand have been carried out since the 13th Five-Year Plan, with individual projects amounting to CNY 2 billion. Financial instruments have been adopted to explore protective development, encourage social capital participation and direct financial support toward ecosystem-oriented development patterns. Moreover, provincial-level governments have been actively formulating plans for biodiversity actions and major projects and conducted considerable practical initiatives.

Finally, social efforts are made to encourage the participation of enterprises, civil society organizations, local communities, and the general public in biodiversity conservation. While reinforcing the guiding role of governments at all levels in biodiversity governance, China is promoting the formation of a unified front for biodiversity governance with the collective engagement of stakeholders.

Despite that positive outcomes have been made in the adoption of the aforementioned critical measures, problems have inevitably arisen during the execution. For instance, formalism concerns have surfaced in ecological restoration, and there have been issues regarding the efficiency and effectiveness of fiscal investments. Therefore, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment is preparing to conduct an effectiveness assessment of ecological protection and restoration projects. This initiative aims to urge relevant departments to diligently implement measures and enhance their effectiveness.

Balance and coordination between biodiversity conservation and food security guarantee

Q: China is striding along the path to build a strong agricultural country, and it is crucial to ensure a stable and secure supply of grain and important agricultural products. How should the balance and coordination between biodiversity conservation and food production guarantee be achieved?

Quan Zhanjun: This is the primary contradiction that currently challenges us. China's basic national condition of limited land resources and a large population determines that there are no ready-made solutions to the typical problem facing China. It is a complex ecological-economic issue that involves people's livelihoods and social stability. At the macro level, it concerns ecological security and food security, while at the micro level, it involves ecological conservation and farmers' income increase. The essential requirement for such a balance and coordination is to implement President Xi's Thought on Ecological Civilization and his vision of "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets," by fostering the development of eco-friendly agriculture, eco-tourism, and eco-healthcare in rural areas. This approach aims to raise farmers' incomes while reducing land use demands and bolstering investments in agricultural ecosystem protection. In this regard, I propose the following five recommendations.

Firstly, the control and management of agricultural ecological spaces should be strengthened. It is necessary to enhance the planning and regulation of land use, construct an ecological countryside landscape pattern, and conduct systematic management within, around, and beyond the fields. Addressing issues of cultivated land non-agricultural and non-grain conversion is crucial to ensure food security. While the production function of agriculture is highlighted, its ecological function should not be disregarded. Agriculture is also an ecosystem that should be considered comprehensively. In essence, on one hand, there should be regulations on land use to avoid overexploitation, adhering to the concept of "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets." On the other hand, it's important to enhance ecological functions of agricultural land and emphasize agricultural biodiversity while developing intensive agriculture, so as to appropriately preserve ecological spaces and provide suitable habitats for diverse life forms.

Secondly, water resources for agricultural production should be rationally allocated. Water resources are limited, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions where the water usage conflict between agriculture and ecological safety is increasingly noticeable. Excessive water usage for agriculture in upstream areas diminishes the water available for downstream ecological processes, which consequently impacts natural ecosystems. It's crucial to reasonably allocate water resources for production, ecological and domestic purposes. Currently, the national scheme for water resource allocation remains somewhat indiscriminate. This is not a challenge that can be resolved at a regional level; instead, it requires higher-level planning and coordination at the national level.

Thirdly, investments in the restoration of agricultural ecosystems should be increased. Ecological restoration should not only focus on natural ecological spaces but also consider agricultural ecological areas. While the central government has made substantial investments in ecological protection and restoration, agricultural ecosystems in China are overly exploited, necessitating restoration for higher productivity. Special attention must be paid to soil quality issues. Previous exploitative farming practices have led to soil exhaustion, causing some barren lands that cannot yield crops without organic fertilizers. Now, some large-scale farming enterprises, which contract land from farmers, are employing cultivation methods that heavily deplete soil resources. Besides, investments in soil restoration are often overlooked. I believe that future funding for ecological restoration should tilt toward agriculture. It's essential to enhance compensation mechanisms for ecological protection in the agricultural sector and introduce relevant industry policies to guide and support the development of eco-friendly agriculture.

Fourthly, the agricultural industry structure should be progressively optimized. Agriculture also encompasses an industry structure involving the cultivation of cash crops, staple crops, or feed crops, and even the selection of  types of crops to be grown. Discussions over the agricultural industry structure are aimed to propose limitations on the scale of intensive monoculture planting models. While economies of scale are emphasized in economics, the agricultural industry structure of intensive monocultures might exert a greater ecological impact. Agricultural ecosystems require ecological spaces. Traditional agricultural production, with its field ridges, reserves ecological spaces, whereas extensive leveling through mechanized operations fails to leave such spaces. Additionally, there's a need to optimize agricultural subsidies to steer the development of ecological agriculture and establish corresponding policy frameworks to gradually alter the current high consumption of agricultural inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, mulching films, etc.).

Fifthly, supporting policies for the protection of agricultural biodiversity should be improved. As mandated by the European Union (EU), farmers with more than 10 hectares (Ha) of arable land, but less than 30 Ha, at least two crops must be grown; for those with more than 30 Ha, at least three crops must be grown; and along with the number crops farmers also must ensure that the main crop does not exceed 75% of the arable area and for those required to grow more than two crops that the two main crops do not exceed 95% of the arable area. The EU also demanded that farmers with more than 15 Ha of arable land must preserve at least 5% of ecologically significant areas such as fallow land, landscape belts, buffer grass zones, protective forests, and shrubbery, and the required proportion was raised to 7% after 2017. In terms of agricultural biodiversity enhancement, there is also a lack of regulations and incentive policies, which is an area that needs to be fixed in the future.

Four suggestions for advancing agricultural sustainable transformation

Q: Target 10 in the GBF proposes to "ensure that areas under agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries and forestry are managed sustainably." How do we comprehend this target and as for advancing sustainable agriculture, do you have any suggestions?

Quan Zhanjun: The sustainable management of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries stands as the main battlefield for addressing the issue of overexploitation of natural resources. Natural ecosystems offer ecological products up to their maximum extractable limit. Below this threshold, it is economically unfeasible for development, while surpassing it becomes ecologically unsound for conservation. Therefore, it is imperative to sustainably manage agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and similar sectors. Presently, China's measures such as fishing bans, logging bans, and grazing bans fall under this category. However, such complete prohibitions are merely rescue-oriented and excessive institutional arrangements. Ultimately, the achievement of sustainable management involves practices like balanced grazing in animal husbandry and selective logging in forests. This places higher demands on governance capabilities. On one hand, there's a need for comprehensive institutional frameworks involving laws, regulatory policies, and standardized norms. On the other hand, strengthening supervision and law enforcement is crucial. Most importantly, it requires triggering internal restraints and intrinsic motivations within farmers and enterprises.

For example, central finance provides a calculated incentive of CNY 2.5 per mu annually to farmers and herders who have fulfilled the obligation of achieving a balanced grazing system. However, further improvement is required in the implementation of this policy. Presently, China's subsidy policies are relatively broad, leaving considerable room for refinement. Taking subsidy regulations in Minnesota, USA as an example, cover crop planting receives a subsidy of USD 123.5 per Ha, native plantings vital for pollinators receive USD 504 per Ha, and planting buffer zones on sloped land exceeding 4 hectares receives USD 578 per Ha. These regulations are highly detailed and specific.

Here are four suggestions for advancing sustainable agricultural development.

Firstly, emphasis should be placed on the agricultural industry structure to reinforce guidance towards biodiversity-friendly agriculture. Comprehensive advancement should be made in the development of green, low-carbon, and cyclic agriculture to promote coordinated planning among grain, industrial crops, and animal husbandry while harmonizing agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, and fisheries.

Secondly, agricultural biodiversity should be stressed by strengthening the planning and control of agricultural ecological spaces. The construction of pastoral ecological landscapes such as ecological ditches and corridors should be advanced to promote biodiversity-friendly practices like ecological farming and symbiotic planting and breeding, enhance green control of pests and diseases, and facilitate the restoration of soil health and populations of pollinators like bees.

Thirdly, the governance capacity of agricultural ecological environments should be highlighted by reinforcing policies for safeguarding agricultural ecological spaces. Policies such as balanced grazing, rotational grazing bans, fishing moratoriums, and logging prohibitions should be improved on a scientific and operable basis.

Fourthly, rural livelihood alternatives should be prioritized by strengthening supply-oriented incentive policies to realize the value of ecological products. Innovations should be strengthened in models for transforming the value of ecological products to promote region-specific development of primitive breeding, ecological tourism blended with health and leisure, utilization of distinctive biological resources, and advocate biodiversity-friendly technologies and traditional knowledge concerning the protection and use of biological species resources.

Source: China Sustainability Tribune
Translated by GoldenBee
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