FAO official: We are creating a global common good

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-05-22 08:13
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Editor's note: May 22nd marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. Why does biodiversity matter? What is the connection between agriculture and biodiversity? Carlos Watson, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Representative to China, shares his view with China Daily's Zhao Manfeng. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

Q1: May 22nd marks the International Day for Biological Diversity and also your birthday. What is the connection between agriculture and biodiversity? And what is the connection between your personal story and biodiversity?

You did your homework. Yes. Indeed the 22nd of May is my birthday and I am privileged that they have chosen that day to be the International Day of Biodiversity.

I am fully committed to this topic because it's the future of humanity.

You see, biodiversity is a variety of genetic, species and ecosystem levels.

Biodiversity for food and agriculture is a subset of standards, you know, that has to do with the contribution that biodiversity has to agricultural food system production. And things like domesticated animals, also the wild versions of these domesticated animals, also wild animals used for food production, and other things are elements of this biodiversity for food and agriculture.

Biodiversity is essential for food security and sustainable development. It provides many vital ecosystems, for example, pollination of plants, pest control, provision of habitat for wildlife, and this is just to mention a few.

These ecosystem services are indispensable to sustainable food production and agricultural development.

The theme of the International Biodiversity Day 2023 is "From Agreement To Action: Build Back Biodiversity". As you know, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was adopted during COP15 in 2022, which sets out an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision in the world we are living for a harmonious coexistence between man and nature.

Q2: In the past decade, China has been deeply involved in global biodiversity governance, including COP15. China also facilitates dialogue and actions on better global governance and cooperation among countries. What do you think of China's leadership in global biodiversity protection?

China is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Through the years of hard work and continuous efforts, China has achieved remarkable results on biodiversity conservation, especially in the last 10 years. With the guiding concept of ecologocal civilization, biodiversity conservation has been elevated to a national strategy here in China.

Around 90 percent of typical terrestrial ecosystems types and over 70 percent of key State-protected wildlife species have been effectively protected in China, through drawing of redlines for ecological conservation and establishing protected area systems with focus on national parks. It is impressive to know that China is the biggest contributor to the world to combat forest loss. About 25 percent of the newly added green spaces of forests came from China.

In order to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity in the Yangtze River, a 10-year fishing ban has been established and, I think, from January 1, 2021, on the mainstream and key tributaries of the Yangtze River and major lakes connected to it. A new law also has been passed in 2022 to strengthen black soil protection, conservation and restoration. Just to name a few of the laws that China has done very proactively.

One of the first countries to sign and approve the Convention On Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1992, it was China. China has also been highly involved in global biodiversity governance, playing an active role in solving global environmental challenges.

Especially, as CBD COP15 president, China has played a leadership role in facilitating the adoption of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which commits the parties to stop, to reverse biodiversity degradation by 2030.

In fact, China has become the largest contributor to the core financial resources to the CBD and its Protocols since 2019 and recently China has become the largest developing donor country to the Global Environment Facility, the GEF.

China has also provided support in biodiversity conservation in developing countries through the multilateral cooperation such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), South-South Cooperation, the newly-launched GDI (initiative) and is doing very many things to support developing countries in their own development aspirations.

Q3: Most of the public's understanding of FAO is in the fields of food and agriculture, and few people know that you have actually done a lot of work in biodiversity conservation. Can you introduce any of your projects in China to promote biodiversity conservation?

Indeed, people tend to associate FAO with a limited range of activities, but as I mentioned, healthy ecosystem is vital for food protection and agri-food system. And indeed we have very much been involved in China in several fronts and one of them, to mention, is several GEF or global environment facility-funded projects. You know, we have about, I think, eight or nine ongoing projects right now. Also, these projects are what I call, all the projects that we do in China, not only the GEF projects, the GEF-funded projects, but all projects that we do in China, what we try to do is to create what I call the national common good, or a global common good, meaning that the results of these specific projects could be used and applied in different parts of the country to make the impact much broader.

Since 2014, FAO has jointly developed 9 GEF projects with 7 national and provincial government partners in 17 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in China. The total GEF budget is nearly 40 million USD with co-financing over 220 million USD. FAO China has been effectively promoting biodiversity conservation in different ecosystems, through policy dialogue, pilot activities of the projects, capacity building, raising public awareness as well as sharing knowledge.

From China to the world, the FAO GEF projects have served as an important platform to share experience and knowledge to other countries.. China representatives also delivered speeches and presentations in international exchange activities, such as the Poyang Lake International Bird Watching Week in Jiangxi, the side event of CBD COP15 in Kunming, and the first FOLUR Annual Meeting in Brazil. China's work on biodiversity conservation is well recognized by the international community and many countries will benefit from China experience.

Q4: You just mentioned that FAO has recently closed or is about to close 3 projects in China. Can you briefly introduce the achievements and impacts of the projects?

All three projects got the Satisfactory rating in the final evaluation and the outcomes and outputs had achieved impressive results, which are the basis, as I mentioned before, for a very catalytic possibility in other areas of China and the world.

For example, I am gonna give you a couple of examples or maybe a little bit of each. The New Green Line Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation Objective and Practices into China Water Resources Management Policy and Planning, yeah it's a bit long, the name. But that's what we do.
We partnered in that project with the Ministry of Water Resources and we have developed practical policies, methodologies, technologies, knowledge from, in a form of a useful toolkit, to manage the River Chief System. Although the project implementation is mainly in Yunnan province and Chongqing municipality, the toolkit has the potential to support a nationwide River Chief System.

Q5: Do you have any new work plans for biodiversity conservation in FAO's representative office in China?

Indeed, this is an ongoing project, it is non-stop. As I mentioned there are work plans here in China for the next five years, (and) everything that has to do with biodiversity conversation has a very relevant prominence in our work. So we are working with different partners at different levels, trying to establish priorities in areas of work.

Biodiversity conservation remains one of the most import topics FAO will continue to work on with China in the future years, as described in the latest FAO CPF (2021-2025).

Taking the opportunity of the 8 replenishment of GEF starting in 2022, and to support the post-2020 global biodiversity framework and food security, FAO has worked closely with partners in China, and prepared several proposals on biodiversity conservation in agriculture, forest and wetland ecosystems. FAO will also share more knowledge and best practice on biodiversity conservation with other countries through south-south cooperation and other international platforms.


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