November 20, 2018
I’ve just spent three weeks in China — my second visit this year. It’s part of an overall commitment to conserving China’s biodiversity that now accounts for a month to six weeks every year of my time.
Well, in large part it’s because China is so important for its exceptional biodiversity. China holds 15% of the world’s vertebrate and 12% of its plant species. Its ecosystems range from permanent ice fields to tropical moist forests. Importantly, it is becoming an international leader.
The International Convention of Biological Diversity’s Aichi targets specify quantitative targets for areas protected (target 11), stopping loss of natural habitats (target 5), and the extinction of threatened species (target 12), while underscoring the vital importance of the ecosystem services natural ecosystems provide (target 14). In 2020, China will host the Convention’s 15th Conference of Parties. Under President Xi, improving the environment has become a national priority.
China is also looking outward, to developing infrastructure across Asia and particularly Southeast Asia. One of my reasons for being in China was to attend a conference, organised in part by Professor Binbin Li, a former Ph.D student of mine and now an assistant professor at Duke University Kunshan.
Binbin and I have published key papers on identifying which areas of China are important for biodiversity. In particular, we have examined to what extent protecting giant pandas protects other species and also what places are important for species across Southeast Asia (SavingSpecies Vice President, Dr. Clinton Jenkins, was a co-author of the latter paper, too.)
There’s a lot we can do as conservation professionals to help our Chinese colleagues. I have seven papers in giant pandas (and many others on other issues) because I’ve been able to help with analyses and structuring conservation work using skills and experiences I’ve developed elsewhere.
Is there an Important Role for SavingSpecies in All This?
Well, yes, but it’s a distant vision. The SavingSpecies model helps local conservation groups buy and restore land to reconnect isolated landscapes. We take this approach because almost all the key places for threatened species are in fragmented landscapes. It’s a niche, of course, but one we fill very successfully. We can’t buy land in China, but the model of reconnecting habitat fragments applies there as is does elsewhere. So, we’re talking with our Professor Li and other colleagues about how to apply our approaches there.
Finally, mitigating the effects of the infrastructure projects of the Belt and Road Initiative will require understanding where these projects intersect key areas for biodiversity. Identifying them — and looking for ways to minimise their harm to biodiversity— has to be a first step. So, no, we aren’t building habitat corridors in China yet. But keep watching this space.