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Interview with Elizabeth Maruma Mrema: China is turning “living in harmony with nature” into attainable goal

Interview with Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): After overachieving the Aichi targets, China is turning “living in harmony with nature” into an attainable goal 

Ms. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema is a Council Member of the CCICED and Executive Secretary for the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). She has over two decades of extensive experience at the United Nations in global environmental law and policymaking, environmental and sustainable development program implementation, and multilateral processes.  

In this interview, Ms Mrema shares her concerns about biodiversity loss, her observations on China’s achievements in biodiversity conservation and China’s leadership role in global biodiversity conservation. She also addresses the importance of seeking synergies in climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation – two major global challenges. 

Q: What’s the most critical environmental and development issue today?  

Biodiversity loss is the most critical issue in my mind. It is estimated that humans have altered over 97% of ecosystems worldwide to date. We need to continue developing as a society while sustainably safeguarding biodiversity.  

Q: How do you assess China’s progress in biodiversity conservation? 

In the past ten years, what China has achieved in reaching Aichi targets is above the global average. Strong policy measures have been adopted by the Chinese government for biodiversity conservation.  

A good number of major biodiversity conservation projects have been conducted to achieve results, stating the wild populations of over 300 rare and endangered wild species have begun to recover and grow.  

The population of wild giant pandas is growing, and their habitat is expanding. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) now lists giant pandas as “vulnerable” instead of “endangered” species. It demonstrates that conservation efforts work and provide hope for the world’s other threatened wildlife.  

China has established a protected area system, with national parks being the main component. This is a practical step to improve in-situ and ex-situ conservation. The 11,800 protected areas account for more than 18% of China’s land mass. Such a percentage well exceeds the target set in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.  

With a forest coverage rate of 24.02%, China has contributed a quarter of the world’s new forest area in the past decade. These are just a few examples that illustrate what China has achieved in biodiversity conservation.  

Q: China faces multiple environmental and development challenges as the world’s largest developing economy. What’s your observation of the challenges and opportunities in its journey towards a “great modern socialist country”? 

China is rife with opportunities regarding biodiversity and development. As the biggest developing country in the world, China seeks a unique path featured by “ecological civilization”. China sees ecological progress as a priority in its overall development strategy and sticks to the development path with increased production, higher living standards and healthy ecosystems.  

Chinese modernization is the modernization of people living in harmony with nature. China has clearly accepted the challenge of using ecosystem-based approaches in its planning and development. It has introduced a red-line system for ecological protection.  

It is safe to say that China sees ecological progress as a priority in its overall development strategy. It has paved a positive path to development that ensures increased production, higher living standards, and healthy ecosystems. “Green” is increasingly becoming a defining feature of China’s high-quality development.  

Q: We are dealing with biodiversity loss and climate change – arguably the two biggest environmental crises of our time. How do you address the synergy between the two challenges in your work? 

As Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), I focus on biodiversity and its relationship and contribution to sustainable development. Biodiversity and climate change are two of the major challenges facing the global community, especially surrounding development and the environment. The synergies are widely discussed and suggested but only to some extent.  

Between the global climate, biodiversity crises, and the devastating impacts of COVID-19, we now see the vital importance of living in harmony with nature. We should emphasize why and how biodiversity can equally contribute to climate mitigation. We should also focus on designing and implementing policy measures to better incorporate and exemplify the intrinsic connection between biodiversity and climate change.  

Q: China is the Presidency of CBD COP 15. What’s your view on China’s leadership in global biodiversity governance? 

China is expected to play a leadership role in global biodiversity governance, and COP 15 would be an appropriate opportunity and entry point to do so. China has already shown its leadership in climate change, and now, as the Presidency of CBD COP 15, they have the opportunity to display further leadership in the area of biodiversity, too.  

China continues to lead by example. As the Presidency of CBD COP 15, China has taken on a leadership role in promoting the three objectives of the Convention. It is also being recognized as a contributor to multilateral processes and environmental governance. In fact, China is working hard with all Parties to address the serious challenges brought forth by the loss of biodiversity and find solutions to make the 2050 vision of “living in harmony with nature” not just a popular slogan but an attainable goal.  

Q:  In the past few years, CCICED has been gathering state-of-art knowledge from Chinese and international experts on biodiversity conservation and included policy recommendations on the CBD COP15 and biodiversity conservation at large to the Chinese government. In your new role as Council Member at CCICED, how do you see the Council’s contribution to biodiversity conservation? 

As a well-established platform, CCICED shares a similar length of history as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It has played an important role in the field of environment and development.  

I am glad to see that biodiversity conservation, among other environmental and development topics, has been listed as hot topics for CCICED Phase VII (2022-2027). I am honoured to serve as an international member of CCICED Phase VII. With China’s role as Presidency of CBD COP15, I am sure that CCICED can strengthen its role as thinktank to the Chinese government and continue contributing to global sustainable development. 

Interview conducted by Ms. Hongqiao Liu, Independent Journalist and Consultant

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