Wed, Dec 05, 2018 - Page 9 News List

China urged to lead the way in efforts to save life on Earth

Delegates at last week’s UN biodiversity conference turned to Beijing to help reverse the worst wave of extinction the planet has seen since the age of the dinosaurs

By Jonathan Watts  /  The Guardian, SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt

China must play a leading role if the world is to draw up a new and more effective strategy to halt the collapse of life on Earth, senior delegates at the close of last week’s UN biodiversity conference said.

With the US absent, Europe distracted and Brazil tilting away from global cooperation, the onus has shifted toward Beijing, the diplomats said after two weeks of slow-moving talks on how to maintain the natural infrastructure on which humanity depends.

China will host the next high-level negotiations in 2020, which is to be the most important in more than 10 years. This is the deadline for nations to agree on fresh global targets for the protection and management of forests, rivers, oceans, pollinators and other wildlife.

Conservationists hope this “new deal for nature and people” becomes as much of a priority as the Paris climate accord and helps to reverse the current wave of extinction, which is at the highest rate the world has seen since the age of the dinosaurs.

Over the coming two years, China should champion the cause of nature as France championed the cause of climate in the run-up to the Paris deal in 2016, the diplomats said.

“China is very important. It can be a great leader,” said Mexican Director-General of International Cooperation Hesiquio Benitez Diaz, who helped organize the previous global biodiversity conference. “We’re reaching the point of no return for many species. It’s really bad, but people don’t see this issue.”

Rather than leaving biodiversity on the fringes, where it has until now been dealt with mostly by politically weak environment ministers and non-governmental organizations (NGO), he hoped Beijing would use its clout to ensure the subject was high on the agenda of G8 and G20 summits, and to press for participation by heads of state in 2020.

They also want the issue to be taken up by communities, companies and individuals.

The message was echoed by Cristiana Paca Palmer, executive secretary of the biodiversity convention.

“We tell China that the biodiversity agenda needs a lot of championing,” she said. “They were instrumental in the success of Paris and they can play a very important role.”

Until recently, China’s dire pollution problems and woeful record on wildlife conservation meant it would have been an unlikely champion of nature.

However, under Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) perceptions have started to shift.

The government has promoted the concept of “ecological conservation,” established hundreds of environmental courts and played a positive role in global climate talks.

At the conference, Beijing sent mixed messages. It initially ignored a proposal to get involved in preparations with Mexico (the previous host) and Egypt (the host this year), and it remained low-key in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, over the past two weeks of talks.

“We were very nervous about their silence,” one foreign diplomat said.

However, those familiar with the Chinese delegation said this reflected a difference of approach.

Rather than set ambitious public goals, they said the country preferred to set expectations low and work at a higher level behind the scenes.

“They are really determined to succeed, but they don’t know how to do it,” another source said.

A shift in pace and priorities is essential. Delegate after delegate in Sharm el-Sheikh warned of risks to food production and human wellbeing from the loss of corals, forests and the 60 percent loss of biodiversity since 1972.

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