HomeEconomicHow has the Ramsar Convention shaped wetland conservation in China?

How has the Ramsar Convention shaped wetland conservation in China?

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After a delay, the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP 14) of the Convention on Wetlands was successfully held from November 5th to 13th, 2022 in Wuhan, China and Geneva, Switzerland. China, as the chairman of the conference, promoted 21 resolutions of the conference The final results of this conference also include the “2025-2030 Global Wetland Conservation Strategic Framework” and the “Wuhan Declaration”, demonstrating China’s leadership in international wetland governance.

China signed the Convention on Wetlands in 1992 and became the 67th party to the Convention. So far a full 30 years. This year, the “Wetland Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China” (hereinafter referred to as the “Wetland Protection Law”) was officially implemented, and the “National Wetland Protection Plan (2022-2030)” was also recently promulgated, marking that the legal basis for regulating wetland protection in China has been completed. tend to be perfect. Over the past 30 years, the implementation of the Convention on Ramsar and the protection of wetlands in China have interacted and promoted each other, jointly shaping the appearance of China’s wetlands today and will continue to influence the future of China’s wetlands.

Looking back: 30 years of wetland governance in China

As one of the important ecosystems, wetlands have ecological functions such as flood regulation and water storage, water purification, carbon storage and sequestration, and climate regulation, and contain rich biodiversity resources. Since the 1960s, the international community has continuously recognized the important role of wetlands in the sustainable development of human economy and society. Against this background, representatives from 18 countries signed the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, with a view to coordinating and taking practical actions to realize the protection and rational use of wetlands.

The wetland area in China is 56.35 million hectares, accounting for about 4% of the global wetland area. It is widely distributed and has many types, covering all types of wetlands stipulated in the Ramsar Convention. Since joining the Ramsar Convention, China has made recognized achievements in wetland protection. According to the different characteristics of the implementation practice in different periods, China’s wetland protection can be generally divided into three stages.

The first stage was from 1992 to 2003, and finding out the family background was the theme of this stage. When China first joined the Convention on Ramsar wetlands, China’s wetland protection had just started, and the situation of domestic wetlands was not yet accurately grasped. Therefore, it took China 8 years to complete the first national wetland resources survey, and initially grasped information such as the national wetland area. On this basis, China also began to plan for wetland protection at this stage. The “China Wetland Conservation Action Plan” led by the former State Forestry Administration was implemented in 2000. This plan aimed at the reality of over-exploitation of wetlands in China at that time, increased pollution, and continuous decline in wetland functions and benefits. The urgent task of reducing the trend has proposed 11 specific priority actions for wetland protection. The “National Wetland Protection Project Plan (2002-2030)” approved in 2003 was the first medium- and long-term plan for China’s wetland protection, and defined a series of quantifiable goals including reaching 80 wetlands of international importance by 2030.

The second stage is from 2004 to 2015, marked by the “Notice on Strengthening Wetland Protection and Management” issued in June 2004. This document, as the first State Council normative document with wetland protection as its content, calls for wetland protection to be an important task for improving ecology. Based on the notice, China has carried out a large number of salvage protection work on internationally important wetlands and wetlands with great ecological protection value, and combined the establishment of wetland parks with rescue protection in the process, accumulating beneficial experience. Since the “Eleventh Five-Year Plan” (2006-2010), wetland protection has also officially become an integral part of China’s national economic and social development strategy, and has been written into the outlines of previous five-year plans.

Since 2016, China’s wetland protection has entered the “comprehensive protection” stage. The General Office of the State Council issued the “Wetland Protection and Restoration System Plan” in December 2016. The plan aims to improve the function of wetlands, implements the total amount of wetland area control, and incorporates wetland protection effectiveness indicators into the performance evaluation system of local officials. Responsibilities of the government and ministries and commissions of the State Council on specific matters. During this period, wetland protection, as an integral part of the construction of ecological civilization, was considered by Chinese officials to be an important matter related to ecological security and the survival and well-being of future generations.

Contract Implementation: Remarkable Achievements, Still Insufficient

With the development of economy and society, the priority of wetland protection in China’s national agenda has been continuously increased in the past 30 years, and the implementation of the Ramsar Convention has played an important role in promoting this process.

The number of internationally important wetlands is an important indicator to measure the effectiveness of countries’ implementation of the Convention. When China joined the Ramsar Convention, it only designated 6 wetlands of international importance. Now, China has 64 internationally important wetlands with a total area of ​​7.32 million hectares. It has also identified 29 nationally important wetlands and 1,021 provincially important wetlands, which together constitute China’s wetland protection system. At present, there are still 21 wetlands in China that are undergoing the procedures for the inclusion of internationally important wetlands, and are expected to achieve the 2030 compliance target ahead of schedule.

From learning and following under the guidance of the Ramsar Convention at the beginning, to independent exploration, and then to sharing experience and providing solutions to other contracting parties, China has continuously strengthened its ability to implement the Convention in the process of protecting wetlands.

As the first country in the world to complete three national wetland surveys, China has established various wetland survey and monitoring stations in all provinces, and is gradually incorporating them into the national forestry and grassland ecological network perception system led by the State Forestry and Grassland Administration. Founded in 2020, it aims to use new-generation information technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and 5G to strengthen the perception of the state of various ecosystems and ecological communities across the country. In order to strengthen the supporting role of science and technology in the implementation of the Convention, a series of scientific research platforms including the National Wetland Research Center have been launched one after another, and the Chinese government has also effectively supported the research of major topics and key technologies through financial support. Through persisting in carrying out publicity activities on wetland protection, the Chinese public’s awareness of wetland protection has been improved; public welfare organizations including the Mangrove Forest Foundation and the China Wetland Conservation Association have been established one after another, and social forces are increasingly involved in wetland protection. important role in the governance structure.

As a member of the Standing Committee of the Convention on Ramsar and the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, China has been deeply involved in the affairs of the Convention and the formulation of rules. Since COP 12 passed the selection criteria, 13 cities in China have been awarded the title of International Wetland City, accounting for 30% of the total and ranking first in the world. China combines the protection of wetlands with the protection of migratory birds, and has identified and established many important wetlands and nature reserves, covering almost all key nodes in the flyover area. Among them, the Yellow (Bo) Sea Migratory Bird Habitat (Phase 1), which is completely composed of wetland ecosystems, has been included in the World Heritage List. In the future, China also plans to strengthen international cooperation on the basis of existing agreements and promote the establishment of China’s migratory bird flyway protection network.

But we also need to see that China’s wetland protection is not perfect, and there are still many areas that need to be improved. For example, various normative documents lack a clear definition of wetlands, and the relevant regulations and standards for wetland identification and catalog release are not perfect, especially the large number of “general wetlands” other than “national important wetlands” and “provincial important wetlands”. The lack of management has brought difficulties to governments at all levels to identify and protect wetlands. Although the agencies responsible for wetland protection have a division of labor, there is a lack of coordination, and there are sometimes cracks in the management system.

In addition, in some densely populated areas in the east, the conflict between wetland protection and economic development is still acute; some wetlands are of great ecological value, but have not been included in the important wetland list, or the protection level in the list is low, and they are not subject to due protection. Pay attention; although many projects have passed the EIA, but due to the lack of professionalism or even deliberate falsification of the EIA, the damage to the wetland has been caused.

Inspiration: The Future of Wetland Conservation in China

The Wetland Protection Law, which came into effect in June 2022, has effectively filled in the gaps in top-level design in the past, and is widely regarded as a landmark performance achievement. In fact, since the beginning of this century, 28 provincial-level administrative units have issued local wetland protection regulations and regulations according to their own needs. However, these normative documents are generally of low rank, and their scope of effect is relatively limited, unable to meet the needs of effectively guiding wetland protection across the country.

More importantly, for a long time, China’s ecological and environmental legislation has mostly followed the path of a single ecological element or environmental element as the basic unit, and wetland protection norms at the national level are scattered in laws such as the “Flood Control Law” and “Water Pollution Prevention and Control Law”. middle. According to Yu Wenxuan, deputy dean of the School of Civil and Commercial Economics and Law of China University of Political Science and Law, although this legislative model promotes the rapid development of ecological and environmental legislation, it also legally separates the protection and rational use of various ecological elements. Especially for ecosystems such as wetlands that cover multiple ecological elements, this legislative model reduces the effectiveness of relevant norms in the process of implementation.

The formulation and implementation of the “Wetland Protection Law” shows that China’s wetland legal system has changed to the path of ecological holism, and it will help various subjects, including the government, to enhance their awareness of the overall protection of wetlands. This legislative model is unique in international wetland protection. According to statistics, apart from mainland China, there are only two jurisdictions in the world, South Korea and Taiwan, that have special legislation on wetland protection.

China’s “Wetland Protection Law” embodies the concept of the “Convention on Wetlands” in many ways, showing the “shaping” effect of the implementation of the Convention on China’s domestic legislation. In response to the long-term lack of definition of wetlands, the “Wetland Protection Law” draws on the provisions of Article 1 of the “Convention on Ramsars” on the definition of wetlands, and fully considers the actual needs of wetland protection in China. It is the first time to clarify the concept of wetlands in domestic law. At the same time, it established five principles including the principle of priority of protection and the principle of reasonable utilization. While emphasizing the priority of protection, it requires the rational use and development of wetlands, which responds to the basic requirements of the Ramsar Convention on the sustainable use of wetlands within the scope of not damaging the wetland ecosystem. In addition, the “Wetland Protection Law” also divides wetlands into important wetlands and general wetlands, and stipulates the criteria for wetland classification. This is the first time that this system has been established at the legal level. The provision that “wetlands of international importance should be included in the List of Wetlands of National Importance” provides a domestic legal basis for the protection of wetlands of international importance in China, and strengthens the connection between this law and the Ramsar Convention.

The successful hosting of COP 14 shows that 30 years after joining the Ramsar Convention, China’s role is changing from a participant to a leader. As one of the main outcomes of COP14, the “Wuhan Declaration” pointed out that since the entry into force of the Ramsar Convention, although all parties have made many efforts to achieve sustainable wetland protection, the global natural wetland area has still decreased by 35%. The situation of global wetland protection is still grim. In the three years after COP 14, China will assume the presidency of the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention, and fully lead the work of the Secretariat and committees before the next Conference of the Parties. How to improve the effectiveness of domestic wetland protection while fully demonstrating wisdom and leadership to lead the global wetland protection process is both an opportunity and a challenge for China.

The “National Wetland Protection Plan (2022-2030)” (hereinafter referred to as the “Plan”) was released in October, which clarifies the overall requirements and specific goals for China’s domestic compliance by 2030, and will comprehensively guide China’s wetland protection in the next eight years . The “Plan” proposes that by 2030, wetland ecosystem functions and biodiversity will be significantly improved, and a “new pattern of high-quality development of wetland protection” will be initially established. Prior to this, by 2025, China’s wetland protection rate will reach 55%, and 20 new wetlands of international importance and 50 wetlands of national importance will be added. Compared with the previous planning documents, the new “Plan” combined with the national ecological protection and restoration pattern proposed in 2020, set higher goals on specific indicators such as internationally important wetlands, and set requirements for the scale and quality of mangroves. It shows China’s higher ambition to fulfill the contract.

Although wetland protection has received sufficient attention at the national level, the threats to wetlands still exist along with the increased pollution and land demand brought about by economic development. It is not easy to achieve the goals set in the “Planning”. The “Wetland Protection Law” laid the foundation for the protection and utilization of wetlands in accordance with the law, but the construction of the top-level design is only the first step, and its real service for wetland protection has yet to be fully, completely and continuously implemented. The follow-up of supporting systems, mechanisms and measures will become an important task for China in the next stage.

About the author: Hu Boxiang, a law undergraduate student at China University of Political Science and Law, whose main research direction is public international law. Shiyao Shan is currently studying for a master’s degree in environmental policy at Duke Kunshan University. She once worked in the China Environmental Policy Team of WWF, focusing on issues such as biodiversity conservation and climate change.

Note: This article was originally published on the environmental website“chinadialogue”. FTChinese.com reprinted this article with the authorization of chinadialogue. chinadialogue is a Chinese-English bilingual website dedicated to environmental issues, headquartered in London, is an independent non-profit organization.

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