China launched an extensive program on Friday aimed at biodiversity conservation through a detailed nationwide assessment of threats to endangered species and ecosystems in the country.
Jointly conducted by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) and the Nature Conservancy (NC) of the United States, it has been the Chinese Government's first large-scale environmental protection project in cooperation with an overseas non-governmental organization.
The project, to be completed by 2008, will be divided into two phases. The first phase is an 18-month pilot project focusing on the upper Yangtze River basin.
It will evaluate the status quo of biodiversity in the region and develop a series of targeted and highly feasible recommendations and strategies for conservation action.
"If the results are satisfactory, the information will assist China in fulfilling its obligations under the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and will provide crucial support for government decisions about natural resources and sustainable development," said Song Xiaozhi, vice-director of the foreign cooperation center under the SEPA.
The pilot project will also help gain the experience necessary to complete the second phase of the program, which will start a comprehensive nationwide assessment, the official said.
With its vast terrain and varied climate, China has an abundance of globally significant biodiversity, with many unique ecosystems. China is one of the ancient civilization centers of the world, and over thousands of years its rich natural resources have heavily influenced the development of the country's distinctive society and culture.
However, rapid population and economic growth represent critical threats to China's rich biological heritage. Statistics show that 4,000 to 5,000 advanced plant species are in severe danger, 15 to 20 percent of the total number.
In 1992 China joined the CBD and has made great efforts in creating a CBD-mandated national Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. However the country still lacks a master vision of conservation priorities for its terrestrial, freshwater and marine systems.
"I hope the project will help craft this master vision," said Rose Niu, director of the NC's China program, "after we complete this country-wide conservation status map and database delineating the most vital conservation areas for biodiversity conservation and restoration in China in 2008."
Meanwhile, the cooperation will also stimulate increased cooperation between Chinese governmental agencies, research communities, and other organizations involved in biodiversity conservation activities, Niu added.
(China Daily November 18, 2006)