After Decades of Rapid Development and Urbanisation China Pledges to make Environmental Protection a Top Priority

Vice-Premier Han Zheng said on Monday at the start of UN talks aimed at making headway on a worldwide pact to prevent mass extinction that China will incorporate biodiversity protection into development plans in all areas and sectors.

The world has reached “a moment of truth” when it comes to maintaining its ecosystems, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Protection, at the beginning of the summit in Kunming.

After decades of rapid expansion and urbanisation damaged ecosystems pushed dozens of species to the verge of extinction, and increased the risk of deadly zoonotic illnesses, China has pledged to make environmental protection a top priority.

Following an opening ceremony that included a musical performance by ethnic minorities and a film praising the safe movement of 15 Asian elephants across southwest China this year, Han stated that China will “make sure its important species and ecological resources were fully protected”.

The “COP15” biodiversity discussions are aimed at generating momentum for the signature of a new global biodiversity treaty targeted at reversing severe species loss after governments failed to meet any of the 2010 targets set in Aichi, Japan.

Han also stated that China is dedicated to worldwide conservation cooperation, notably as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to expand infrastructural and energy ties from Asia to the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

Experts are concerned about the environmental consequences of China’s global economic ambitions. Mrema cautioned that the world had failed to make the necessary breakthroughs between 2011 and 2020 and that the ecological services critical to human well-being had yet to be safeguarded.

The “COP15” negotiations will continue till Friday. During the second session, which will take place in April-May of next year, a post-2020 biodiversity pact is likely to be finalised. On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping will deliver a video speech at the conference.