China leads world in efforts to protect biodiversity, ecosystem
China has gone further than any other country in bringing the science and economics of the environment into decision-making, and its efforts are a model for the world, said an environmental scientist at Stanford University.
“In the face of deepening environmental crisis, China has become very ambitious and innovative in its new conservation science and policies and has implemented them on a breathtaking scale,” said Gretchen Daily, professor of biology at Stanford and co-author of recent research on China’s biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Following severe environmental degradation from rapid economic development, China is now advancing policies to secure biodiversity and ecosystem services, according to the research recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research team used ecomapping software to identify places of high ecological importance for the country. The Chinese government is expected to establish a series of protected areas based on the research findings as part of its 21st-century ecological initiative.
The research identified five vital life support services in China: flood control, sandstorm control, provision of abundant water, stabilization of soil and biodiversity.
“China has experienced some of the most devastating flooding in the world — and now is investing in restoring forests that soak up, store and slowly release the heavy monsoonal rains that come each year,” Daily said.
This control of water flow not only protects lives, homes and other infrastructure, but also improves the efficiency and security of hydropower generation and irrigation and drinking water supply, buffering against periods of low supply, she explained.
Similarly, regeneration of grasslands and shrub lands helps hold sand particles to the earth where they belong and prevents their forming massive sand storms, she added.
Daily also stressed the importance of stabilization of soil as the key to sustaining any civilization.
“It takes thousands of years to generate fertile soil, and very few to see it wash or blow away,” she said. “This investment is crucial to farm productivity and to sustaining the many other life-support services of land.”
However, the nature reserves encompass only 10.2 percent — 12.5 percent of the source areas for the key ecosystem services. They are concentrated in western China, whereas much threatened species’ habitat and regulating service source areas occur in eastern provinces, according to the research.
The researchers’ strategy is to create a comprehensive national park system — the first of its kind of China. The country started to pilot an integrated national park system in nine provinces in 2015, aiming eventually to establish a comprehensive, nationwide system to protect important natural ecosystems and wildlife in China.
The research’s analysis will serve as a basis for this new system, which is expected to be formally proposed to the Chinese government this summer.
China has invested $150 billion in conservation and restoration efforts over the past 16 years.