'Ecological red lines': New no-development zones look to protect 30% of land in China
China has completed work on nationwide ‘ecological red lines’ aimed at preserving its ecosystems and resources.
First proposed in 2011, the initiative puts large parts of the country off-limits to development.
It is hoped it will halt and reverse some of the damage from rapid urbanisation and industrial growth, a government official said on Thursday.
How will ‘red lines’ protect China’s vulnerable ecosystems?
Since the red line scheme was first proposed, China has established numerous state-level nature reserves.
The goal is to combat what the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) termed in 2015 as “irrational development” that had encroached upon forests and wetlands.
The reserves act as sanctuaries for endangered species such as the Manchurian tiger, giant panda, snow leopard and golden monkey.
How much land will be protected in China?
The lines have now been fully decided. They protect roughly 3 million square kilometres of land - about 30 per cent of China's total - as well as 150,000 sq km of marine areas.
This is in line with the ‘30x30’ pledge made by almost 200 countries at COP15 in December as part of the Kumming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).
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The framework commits nations to protect 30 per cent of the planet by 2030, increase financing for nature restoration and protection, and halt human-induced extinction - among other measures.
China has already cleared hydropower plants, houses, farms and workshops from protected forests, wetlands and riverbanks.
But critics say enforcement of the red line scheme has remained patchy.
How will the red lines be enforced?
All of the protected areas are under state surveillance, Wang Zhibin, head of the nature protection office at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), told a briefing in Beijing.
The surveillance network makes use of 30 Chinese and foreign satellites that can spot human encroachment as it happens, he added.
However, recent policy guidelines say that some human activity - including commercial forestry and mineral resource exploitation - would still be allowed inside the red lines.
Wang said that biodiversity protection efforts were still under “a lot of pressure”, mainly because of supervision and enforcement gaps, but also because of vulnerability to climate change.
Pilot provincial supervision projects continue to see violations including illegal quarrying, sand mining and logging as well as livestock and poultry breeding facilities that encroach on protected areas.
“It is difficult to draw red lines, and it is even more difficult to strictly abide by them,” he said.