On the morning of Feb. 20, MEP held the February regular press conference, introducing China’s natural and ecological conservation conditions, as well as the developments in ecological conservation red lines, development of nature reserves, biodiversity conservation, and other major ecological conservation efforts. Director General of the Ministry’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation Cheng Lifeng and President of Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences Gao Jixi attended the press conference, introduced relevant developments and responded to the questions raised by the news outlets. Liu Youbin, Counselor with the Department of Communications and Education, chaired the press conference.
Moderator: Good morning, my friends in the news circle, welcome to the second regular press conference of Ministry of Environmental Protection. Natural and ecological conservation is an integral part of our efforts to develop ecological civilization and protect the environment, and a close concern of the news outlets and all walks of life as well. At today’s regular press conference, we will introduce relevant developments on natural and ecological conservation and we are open to your questions.
Here with us are Cheng Lifeng, Director General of the Department of Natural and Ecological Conservation, and Gao Jixi, President of Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences. Now I’ll give floor to Director General Cheng.
CHENG: Good morning, my friends in the news circle!
First of all, I’d like to express gratitude for your long-term concerns and support for the natural and ecological conservation work. I’m very glad to have the opportunity to inform you of the developments in natural and ecological conservation. I’d also like to respond to some questions of your concern.
MEP has made earnest efforts to implement the decisions and deployments of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council and made positive progress in natural and ecological conservation work for years, which can be reflected by the following respects.
First, we have made full-throttled efforts to move forward with the drawing and strict observation of the ecological conservation red lines. On Nov. 1, the 29th session of the Central Leading Team for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms deliberated and adopted “Some Opinions on Drawing and Strictly Observing the Ecological Conservation Red Lines” (hereinafter referred to as the Opinions). On Feb. 7, the General Offices of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council released the full text of this document. The drafting and release of the document is of great significance and has profound influence, as it is a new measure and a new deployment taken by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council towards sustainable development in a new era, marks a new tool for ecological conservation and regulation and a new trail blazed, and will definitely navigate the ecological conservation effort in the new era. The Opinions specifies the guidelines, overarching targets, and cardinal principles for drawing and strictly observing the ecological conservation red lines, and points it out that the red lines are the bottom line and lifeline of national ecological security and that the core is to regulate key ecological space with red lines and make sure the ecosystem functions will not degrade, the conservation areas will not shrink, and the nature of ecological conservation will not change. The Leading Party Group of the Ministry held a thematic meeting to learn this document and make deployments, when Minister Chen stressed that “we will implement the document with the spirit of nailing a nail (perseverance)”, map out a work plan to facilitate the implementation of the document as soon as possible, and organize the implementation of the plan very soon. After the document was released, Minister Chen published a signed article on it, and quite some news outlets reported and interpreted it. Those reports and interpretations were not only brilliant but also to the point and down-to-earth. In my opinion, the most impressive report was entitled “ecological conservation red lines should be imprinted in mind and drawn on the ground”. The title was keenly to the point. Our department already compiled the news outlets’ interpretations on the document and we plan to distribute them as future training materials.
Second, we have constantly enhanced the integrated nature reserves management capacity. A total of 2,740 nature reserves have been established so far across China, the area of which accounts for about 14.8 percent of the national land area. Specifically, there are 446 national nature reserves that cover a total area of 970,000 km2, and as many as 109 of them were established during the 12th Five-Year Plan period from 2010 to 2015. A network of nature reserves that include almost all categories and have reasonable layouts and relatively complete functions has been established. The regulation over nature reserves has been constantly enhanced, a sky-earth integrated system using remote sensing technology has been set up to monitor national nature reserves regularly, and the irregular and illegal activities have been seriously investigated based on the leads on the problems revealed. We have arranged meetings with the local governments and the administrations of the national nature reserves which have pressing problems, and worked with relevant State departments and organized the assessment of 396 national nature reserves. Furthermore, we have launched basic investigations on nature reserves, worked harder to sum up, analyze and integrate the basic data, and established a preliminary platform for the IT-based management of nature reserves.
Third, we have made positive progress in the biodiversity conservation. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have highly valued the biodiversity conservation and set up China National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation, which was chaired first by Premier Li Keqiang and then by Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli. In 2010, the State Council adopted and released the Strategy and Action Plan for Biodiversity Conservation in China (hereinafter referred to as the Strategy and Action Plan), specifying the guidelines, basic principles, strategic goals, and strategic tasks for biodiversity conservation, and delineated 35 priority areas for biodiversity conservation. In an effort to implement the Strategy and Action Plan, the Ministry has acted enthusiastically and in accordance with the Implementation Plan for Major Biodiversity Conservation Projects adopted by the State Council, launched biodiversity investigations and observations, and constantly consolidated the groundwork for biodiversity conservation. We have finalized the boundaries of priority areas for biodiversity conservation, defined the key areas for such conservation, and proposed the regulatory requirements. We have worked with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and released the Red List of Biodiversity in China, and proposed a list of species in need of major concerns and under key protection. Besides, China officially became a signatory country in September 2016 to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. China National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation deliberated, adopted, and released the National Work Plan for Enhanced Management of Biological Genetic Resources, in order to tighten the regulation over biological genetic resources. Moreover, MEP, together with five other State departments, printed and distributed the Circular on Strengthening the Utilization and Benefit Sharing of Biological Genetic Resources in Foreign Cooperation and Communications.
In particular, China succeeded in its bid to host the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2020, at the COP13 last December. The COP15 was scheduled to summarize the global biodiversity conservation practices over the previous decade, and set forth the global biodiversity conservation goals for 2030. I’d like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the Mexican stations of such news outlets as Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, and CCTV for covering the news of China’s successful bid as soon as possible, and to the major domestic news outlets which forwarded this news, because their coverage had sparked extensive attention from all walks of life. The comrades with our department were all exhilarating and thrilled by the CCTV footage showing our fellow comrade Bai Chengshou expressing gratitude at the scene on behalf of the Chinese Government.
Fourth, the typical demonstration initiatives have played a leading role. The local areas have made tremendous efforts in the explorations and practices in developing ecological civilization, and compete against each other to implement the concept that “clean waters and green mountains are invaluable assets”. MEP organized the local areas to exchange experience, and through the typical demonstration projects, pushed them to constantly improve the eco-environmental quality and strive to advance the green development. We held the first commendation meeting for China Ecological Civilization Award & the symposium on development of ecological civilization, which praised 19 advanced collectives and 33 advanced individuals at the community level. We launched the national eco-city and eco-county initiatives, and 183 localities were designated as such since they had met the yardsticks. We organized the studies on the ecological civilization theories and took the initiative to help set forth the indicators measuring the performances in attaining ecological civilization development objectives, which were already printed and distributed by the central government. To be specific, there are a total of 23 indicators specified by the Objectives for Assessing the Ecological Civilization Development Performances, 11 of which are about the environmental protection work.
In spite of all these achievements, we should also be clearly aware that the ecological conservation still faces a very daunting situation. The ecosystems seriously degenerate in some areas, the quality of biodiversity degrades at an uncontrolled rate, and the damages to the ecological environment happen from time to time. All these problems need to be addressed in the future.
At the 13th Five-Year Plan period, we will press ahead with the natural and ecological conservation, and with the environmental improvement at the core and the safeguarding and maintenance of the ecosystem functions as the main theme, draw ecological conservation red lines and establish a tough regulation system, further optimize the layout of nature reserves, and safeguard and maintain the national ecological space security. We will strengthen the area-wide ecological conservation and restoration, by taking the enhanced biodiversity as the cutting point, and based on the ecological conservation and development of major projects. We will, by establishing a sky-earth integrated monitoring and regulatory framework and improving the policies, laws, and regulations, continue to enhance the ecological environment regulatory and enforcement capacities, give strong support to the ecological security of the national territory, and provide more eco-friendly products for the people.
Moderator: The next is the Q&As. Friends at the media circle please feel free to ask questions.
CYOL: I have two concerns. The first concern is that Some Opinions on Drawing and Strictly Observing the Ecological Conservation Red Lines highlights that the ecological conservation red lines will have been delineated in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the Yangtze River economic belt by 2017. So the questions are, a. why is the plan to delineate the red lines first in these two regions in 2017? b. what preparations have been done for this purpose? The second concern is, I just read a data which indicates that the ecological conservation red lines have been drawn in 13 provinces and municipalities since 2000, whereas the guidance was not released until 2015. So my question are, how do we match the previous initiative to draw the red lines with the timetable we propose now? Are there any improvements that need to be made? We brought up the idea of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area again. Will the two municipalities and one province draw the red lines separately, or will they do it together as an entire area? The same question can be asked for the Yangtze River economic belt. Moreover, for the provinces that have already drawn their own red lines like Jiangsu, how do they coordinate with the remaining provinces and municipality in the belt? Thank you.
CHENG: Thank you for your questions. The Opinions specifies the overarching objective for drawing the ecological conservation red lines as: the ecological conservation red lines will have been drawn in the provinces and municipalities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the Yangtze River economic belt by end of 2017; in other provinces (autonomous regions, and municipalities) by the end of 2018; and on a national scale by the end of 2020, by then a basic framework of ecological conservation red lines will have been established. To establish such a framework is a really important decision made by the central government. What I’m trying to tell you is that China is now carrying out two major development initiatives, one in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the other in Yangtze River economic belt. The decision to start the drawing of the ecological conservation red lines with the two regions is one of the major steps taken to support the development initiatives. In the meantime, the two regions are given the first priority in ecological conservation, especially the Yangtze River economic belt, which will take the lead in drawing ecological conservation red lines by meeting the requirements of General Secretary Xi Jinping for “collaborating on ecological conservation rather than development activities” to the letter.
For the moment, the local provinces are organizing the implementation of the Opinions. Before this, we’ve already completed the draft Technical Guidance for the Delineation of Ecological Conservation Red Lines, assembled an expert panel, provided technical guidance for local provinces and municipalities, and preliminarily decided the distribution of the ecological conservation red lines in those provinces and the key areas inside the red lines. In the next step, we will work with the NDRC and propose the specific procedures, methodologies, and technical indicators for demarcation of red lines. We’re now consulting relevant State departments on the draft technical guidance mentioned above and plan to have it printed and distributed to local provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities) by the end of June, in accordance with the Opinions. In the meantime, we are going to establish a leading team for delineation of red lines together with relevant State departments, put forward recommendations on the distribution of such red lines in local provinces, and urge them for delineation. Also, we will do well in connecting the red lines in adjacent provinces to meet the requirements for maintaining the integrity and intactness of the area-wide ecosystems.
GAO: Please allow me to answer questions of your second concern. First, the ecological conservation red lines have already been demarcated in 13 provinces and municipalities, and more, actually, since almost every province is working on delineating such lines right now. If we compare the just released Opinions with the Technical Guidance before, we can see that the two are basically consistent in terms of the nature of the ecological conservation red lines, and the requirements and the methodologies for delineation. Therefore, no contradiction exists.
However, the Guidelines for the Delineation of Ecological Conservation Red Lines that we are jointly amending with the NDRC may make certain changes to the technical guidance. The red lines drawn by local provinces and municipalities will also make small changes and be finalized based on the Guidelines.
Second, we should pay attention to the integration of the boundaries when we have the red lines drawn, and make sure the ecosystems are intact. It is easier to delineate the red lines based on the way we’ve divided the administrative jurisdictions. However, in the end, the boundaries of the ecological conservation red lines should be naturally connected on a national scale in order to preserve the integrity of the ecosystems. It may well be said that the delineation process falls into two stages, first, each province (autonomous region, municipality) draws the red lines on its own, second, the province-wide red lines are connected and integrated on a national scale. For the moment, the red lines are being drawn in the provinces and municipalities in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the Yangtze River delta, and a national top-down design is in progress for the demarcation of the ecological conservation red lines. So, the red lines will be delineated based on both the administrative jurisdictions which makes it easier to get things done, and on the ecosystem integrity of a certain region or watershed.
China Daily: It has come to our attention that there are certain key areas involved when the ecological conservation red lines are being drawn, as a matter of fact, China has also established other protection systems which have a similar concern. Some areas covered by the multiple ongoing protection systems overlap with the areas inside the ecological conservation red lines. Then, how do we handle the relation between the different kinds of protected areas and define the responsibilities of the competent departments? Thank you.
CHENG: We share your concern. And you are absolutely correct about the considerable overlapping of the multiple protection systems with the ecological conservation red lines from the perspective of geographical distribution. China has established multiple kinds of protected areas including nature reserves, scenic and historic interest areas, and forest parks, which amount to as many as over 10,000 ones. Those protected areas constitute China’s protected area system and play an essential role in preserving biodiversity and maintaining national ecological security. Undoubtedly, they will become the main areas protected by the ecological conservation red lines once they are drawn.
In the interpretation on the Opinions, a news outlet commented that “the drawing of the red lines lays the groundwork and strict observation is the key”. Here I’d like to introduce the previous experience and practices of local areas in drawing the red lines.
Taking Hainan Province as an example, first, before starting the drawing process, Hainan launched systematic and scientific evaluation in order to identify the key ecosystem function areas and ecological sensitive areas in dire need of protection and put the ecological elements in these key areas under protection by drawing red lines.
Second, the red lines are complementary with the province-wide spatial planning. The ecological red lines were drawn through scientific evaluation, which preceded the urbanization planning, the industrialization planning, and the planning of resource development activities, so that the red lines could truly serve as the “bottom lines” for preserving the ecosystems.
Third, the drawing of red lines helped solve the problem of not implementing the spatial plans. The scopes and objectives for protection proposed by the main functional area planning, ecosystem functional zoning, and environmental protection programs and plans were assigned precisely to specific land plots.
Fourth, tremendous efforts were made to solve the problem with the land-sea interfaces. The drawing of red lines helped further solve the problem with the land-sea transitional areas because of undefined and overlapping jurisdictions, so as to protect the lands and seas comprehensively.
The Opinions clearly specifies the responsibilities of the local Party committees, governments, and departments as “local Party committees and governments should take the main responsibility for strict observation of the ecological conservation red lines, and relevant departments should, based on their specific responsibilities, tighten supervision and management, do well in offering guidance, making coordination, conducting routine tour inspections and compliance inspection, and work together to make sure the ecological conservation red lines are not crossed”. This means the local Party committees and governments should assume the main responsibilities for drawing and strictly observing ecological conservation red lines. The relevant departments should, based on their respective responsibilities, work hard and cooperate and coordinate on this endeavor. In the meantime, cooperation is needed at both the central and local levels. Thank you.
CBN: I recall several environmental violation cases related to nature reserves were investigated and handled thanks to the central inspection on environmental protection. My question is, what concrete measures have been taken by MEP for strengthening the integrated nature reserve management, and what are your next plans? Thank you.
CHENG: Thank you for your questions. We’re all very concerned about the nature reserves management. The Regulations on Nature Reserves issued by the State Council identifies MEP as the comprehensive management department of nature reserves. Accordingly, we’ve accomplished the following tasks for such comprehensive management for many years, with the support of the competent nature reserve departments of the State Council.
First, we’ve worked out the policies, standards, and technical specifications. We’ve worked with relevant departments under the State Council and drafted plural policy documents for strengthening nature reserve management, and submitted them to the State Council for approval, for example, Circular of the State Council General Office for Better Management of Nature Reserves, Administrative Regulations on the Redefinition of National Nature Reserves, and Circular on Further Strengthening the Supervision and Management of Nature Reserve Related Development Activities. An initial framework of standards and technical specifications has been outlined with regard to the supervision and inspection, standardization, scientific investigations, and eco-environmental inspection of nature reserves.
Second, we’ve put forward recommendations to the State Council on the approval of new and redefined national nature reserves, and announced the scopes and functional zoning of national nature reserves. The Ministry has renewed the National Nature Reserve Review Committee for five times since the appraisal and review mechanism was introduced, and submitted 23 proposals to the State Council on the establishment of a total of 379 national nature reserves.
Third, we’ve launched inspection on all sorts of nature reserves. A sky-earth integrated monitoring system using the remote sensing technology has been established for national nature reserves, so that the problems can be spotted immediately and rectification measures can be taken soon. We’ve arranged interviews with the local government, provincial competent department for nature reserve management, and the administration of each of six national nature reserves which were found with prominent problems, based on the remote sensing monitoring results and field verifications in 2015. Also, we circulated criticisms about another four national nature reserves at the end of last year.
Fourth, we’ve put in place an assessment system for national nature reserve management, together with the land resources, water resources, agriculture, forestry, and ocean departments of the State Council, as well as the Chinese Academy of Sciences. We had completed the assessment on the management of 396 national nature reserves distributed in 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities by the end of the year 2016.
The greatest problem facing China’s nature reserve management is what you just mentioned, the sharp conflict between the protection and the development. The central government has declared time and again that preserving the natural resources and the ecological environment is a bottom line not to be crossed, however, environmental violations that lead to damages to the nature reserves still happen from time to time. The inappropriate development activities occupy increasingly more ecological space, constantly eat up nature reserves, undermine their functions, and depreciate their values.
Lately, the news presses have exposed a batch of nature reserve related incompliances and irregularities which sparks fierce discussions in society. As the comprehensive management department of nature reserves, we are deeply aware of our heavy responsibilities and strive to better regulate the nature reserves. In the next step, we will take the initiative to reveal and handle the nature reserve related incompliances and irregularities instead of responding passively before, and as instructed by the ministerial leaders, “act preemptively, reveal problems early, and solve them soon”. The following aspects will be highlighted.
First, we will tighten comprehensive regulation. We will continue with the monitoring of nature reserves with remote sensing technology. Starting the year 2017, the national nature reserves across China will be so monitored twice every year, one in the first six months and the other in the second. Such monitoring will be extended to cover the provincial nature reserves and conducted once every year. The problems identified by the monitoring will be investigated and handled on a timely basis. In the meantime, we’re drafting the Measures for Monitoring, Verifying, and Handling Human Activities in National Nature Reserves with Remote Sensing Technology, in order to enable such monitoring to be institutionalized and carried out regularly. In particular, a long-term follow-up and monitoring system will be set up for certain nature reserves highly worthy of protection and raising close public concerns. We will urge the nature reserves with prominent environmental violations to make rectifications by way of arranging interviews, circulating criticisms, and monitoring the rectification progress, and strengthen the accountability in the process. We will take the initiative to share the government affairs related to the integrated nature reserves management.
Second, we will deepen the management and assessment. We will further improve the joint assessment mechanism. Apart from the annual regular assessment, we’ve also identified the priority assessment areas as Yangtze River economic belt, Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and transboundary nature reserves, the same as the priority areas for drawing ecological conservation red lines. A nature reserve monitoring and assessment network will be established to master the status quo and the developments of the nature reserves across China.
Third, we will consolidate the groundwork. We will set up a database and a regulatory platform for the integrated management of nature reserves. We will work with relevant departments to finalize the scope of nature reserves and their functional zoning, integrate data on remote sensing imaging, ground control, and remote and real-time monitoring, establish an IT-based management framework that connects the national, local, and nature reserve levels, and achieve the science-based, IT-based, and delicate overall regulation.
Fourth, we will facilitate the legislative process. As is known to all, the Regulations on Nature Reserves has been promulgated for more than two decades, and suffice it to say that it falls short of the need for current development. We still have one more task to do, which is, to delegate Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences to conduct post-assessment of the Regulations, together with China University of Political science and Law and other partner organizations. We will, based on the pilot projects on national parks, put forward the opinions and recommendations for improving the legislations on nature reserves, especially tightening the accountability for violations. In the meantime, we will work with relevant legislative bodies to facilitate the nature reserve related lawmaking, and provide legal support for the healthy and sustainable development of nature reserves.
At last, my friends at the news circle, you are invited to show care and support for the nature reserve management and play the supervision role as always, so that, with the above measures taken, added by the public supervision and media supervision, the violators cannot afford to cause damages to the nature reserves and such violations will be rendered impossible. A firewall will be established to maintain the ecological security of nature reserves. Thank you.
Nanfang Metropolis Daily: I have two questions. The first one is about nature reserves. I’ve noticed that the Outline of the 13th Five-Year Plan for National Ecological Conservation, which was released before, proposed to establish another 30 to 50 national nature reserves, so that by the end of 2020, the national nature reserves will have accounted for around 14.8 percent of total nature reserves. So far, the percentage has already reached about this figure, so the question is, does that mean we will make certain changes to the established national nature reserves, for example, by having some to cover a smaller area or being withdrawn at all? The second question is about piloting the national park system. For the moment, NDRC is taking the lead in the piloting work, and MEP is also one of the guiding organizations for the three pilot projects including the one in Sanjiangyuan in Qinghai. So the question is, how are the national parks different from other protected areas we already have, and do they serve to preserve the biodiversity or other purposes? Thank you.
CHENG: Thank you for your questions. Now I’d like to share some information in this regard and about how we have redefined the nature reserves. Over more than six decades’ development, the coverage of nature reserves in China already account for 14.8 percent of the national land area, making it one of the largest around the world. It can well be said that considering the current national circumstances and the social and economic conditions, the nature reserves in China have reached a fairly high level in both amount and coverage, and their percentage in the national land area is basically reasonable.
National nature reserves are the essence of the nature reserves in China. New national nature reserves are designated with the main aim to fill in a gap and/or upgrade the protection. They help improve the geographical distribution of nature reserves and strengthen the protection. A bottom-up promotion system is introduced for establishing new national nature reserves, which are promoted from provincial nature reserves. In this sense, the new national nature reserves generally don’t increase the total area of nature reserves nationwide.
Actually, we support the policy on the promotion of national nature reserves. What we’re mainly concerned is the redefinition of nature reserves. I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the relevant requirements and latest developments in such redefinition. The nature reserves in China are undergoing changes from “speed-and scale-oriented” to “quality-and benefit-oriented”. Some nature reserves were established at the early stage under the policy of “rescue protection” in order to exercise mandatory protection and they have played important roles. However, some nature reserves also have problems with the unscientific and unreasonable delineation of scopes and functional zoning. In some cases especially, densely populated villages and towns, and certain farmlands and commercial forests with low protection values are covered by some nature reserves as well. This disrupts the local residents’ work and life and is not good for the standard management of nature reserves. So, it is imperative to redefine those nature reserves appropriately in the precondition of protection first.
And yet, there are strict restrictions for the redefinition of nature reserves, and tough preconditions and rigid protocols have been set out. The State Council printed and distributed the Administrative Regulations on the Redefinition of National Nature Reserves in 2013, which stipulated the principles of exercising strict redefinition, category-specific management, whole-process management, and enhancing responsibilities. The causes for redefinition of nature reserves are strictly restricted to three ones: a. the changes in natural conditions, including encouraging the expansion of national nature reserves, as can be demonstrated in many practical cases; b. active human activities; c. making room for major national projects. The Regulations also have specific provisions in respect of setting a deadline for redefinition, reflecting the concept of special protection, improving the redefinition protocols, and strengthening the accountability.
All in all, the State Council sent a very clear message by drafting the above said regulations, which is, that the scope and functional zoning of a nature reserve shall not be redefined or altered without approval, and any redefinition, if necessary, shall be carried out in a discreet and scientific approach.
To set up a national park system is an integral part of the development of ecological civilization institutions. The Opinions on Faster Promotion of Ecological Progress, and the Integrated Reform Plan for Promoting Ecological Progress, which were issued by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, made overall plans for establishing a national park system. As you just said, the central government decided to set up a “leading team for the pilot projects on national parks”, which is under the leadership of the NDRC and composed of 13 State departments and the local governments concerned. It also printed and distributed the Plan for the Pilot Projects on National Parks, and designated nine pilot areas-Sanjiangyuan, Shennongjia, Mount Wuyi, Qianjiangyuan, Mount Nan, the Great Wall, Potatso, Giant Panda, and Amur tiger and Amur leopard national parks, which are distributed in 12 pilot provinces/municipalities including Qinghai, Hubei, Fujian, Zhejiang, Hunan, Beijing, Yunnan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, Gansu, Jilin, and Heilongjiang. As a member of the said leading team, MEP has taken the initiative to advance the piloting work and accomplished the following tasks.
First, the Ministry contributed to the drafting of the Plan for the Pilot Projects on National Parks, which was printed and distributed upon the approval of the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. Second, MEP was part of the efforts to review and offer technical guidance to the implementation plans of nine pilot national parks. Third, the Ministry worked with the State Commission for Public Sector Reform, NDRC and MLR and launched investigations in three pilot areas Sanjiangyuan, Shennongjia, and Qianjiangyuan, and urged and inspected the piloting progress. Fourth, the Ministry launched studies on the establishment of a national park system around how to set up and manage national parks, and a preliminary report has been produced.
So far, the piloting plans of Sanjiangyuan, Giant Panda, and Amur tiger and Amur leopard national parks have been deliberated and adopted by the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms. Other piloting plans also have been adopted and ready to put into practice. In accordance with the overall requirements, MEP will take the lead to give guidance to Sanjiangyuan, Shennongjia, and Qianjiangyuan pilot areas, and launch a round of inspection and guidance before April. The nine pilot projects will be concluded in the first six months of the year, in accordance with the unified plan of the leading team. A master plan for establishing the national park system will be developed based on the piloting.
The master plan will provide a top-down design of the national park system, based on what General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized at the 12th session of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs-“that the national parks are established to preserve the authenticity and integrity of national ecosystems and leave some natural legacy behind to future generations, instead of running tourism development businesses. This is a basic direction we will not divert from”, and “that we should protect the sites in direst need of protection, and solve the cross-region and inter-departmental problems.” I believe the master plan will help address your concerns. Thank you.
Xinhua: I have two questions. The first one is about the redefinition of nature reserves. As you just mentioned, there are strict restrictions about the redefinition. However, taking the Mount Qilian National Nature Reserve as an example, our reporters found in surveys that the nature reserve has been re-delineated about four times, and some of the development projects inside the nature reserve were already approved through legal formalities, so how do you perceive such obsolete problems and how do you plan to solve them? The second one is, the Ministry’s Department of Nature and Ecology Conservation also released the monitoring data by remote sensing technology, which showed that 33 nature reserves were significantly violated by human activities and 89 ones notably affected, and that the values and functions of certain nature reserves were undermined, and several protection targets saw significantly less population or even vanished. Would you please tell us some information about the seriously violated nature reserves? Thank you.
CHENG: I talked about the protocols and requirements for the redefinition of nature reserves just now. Also, there was some news coverage on the problems with Mount Qilian. And those problems have become the main targets of central environmental protection inspection.
In respect of the incompliances and irregularities in the core zone and buffer zone of the nature reserves, I can tell you very clearly that those are intolerable and serious violations. The development activities inside a core zone and buffer zone of a nature reserve should be banned by all means. We will make greater efforts in the supervision and inspection, and conduct regular tour inspections using remote sensing technology, in order to step up the regulation over nature reserves, especially identify the unlawful and irregular development activities inside the core zone and buffer zone of nature reserves in a timely fashion and resolutely put a stop to them.
As a matter of fact, MEP, other State departments, and local provinces all have set up specific enforcement and supervision systems targeting the 446 national nature reserves across China. The human activities in national nature reserves are monitored, and the problems found have been feedback to local authorities. So, please be rest-assured. We will strengthen the monitoring of and inspection on those problems. In the next step, the Ministry is about to set up a platform for regulation over the ecological conservation red lines while drawing them. The platform will be put into trial operation within the year and oversee, inspect, and monitor the problems spotted in the nature reserves inside the red lines. A list of previous problems will also be prepared to urge the local governments to make rectifications within a prescribed period of time.
In the first six months of the year, we organized the monitoring of the changes in human activities in 446 nationwide national nature reserves between 2013 and 2015, and made public the monitoring results. In the meantime, we required local areas to verify and confirm the found problems and seriously investigate and punish the incompliances and irregularities. The rectifications are now under way. Violent human activities were found out in 33 nature reserves, especially in four national nature reserves, which is, Jilin Mount Bai Moschus moschiferus National Nature Reserve, Hubei Mount Jiugong National Nature Reserve, Guizhou Weining Grass Sea National Nature Reserve, and Gansu Zhangye Heihe River Basin Wetland National Nature Reserve. The environmental protection departments of the four provinces concerned, together with local governments and relevant departments, also launched field verifications in a timely basis, and identified the rectification measures, the responsible organizations, the responsible persons, and the deadlines, which will be submitted to MEP by the end of May. We will follow up the rectification progress, the investigation and punishment results, and rectification results, and made them public in a timely fashion.
As I just mentioned, we will set up a system to monitor and confirm the human activities in national nature reserves using remote sensing technology, and handle them accordingly. Last year, we released the remote monitoring data between 2013 and 2015. We will announce the monitoring data on human activities in 446 national nature reserves between 2015 and 2016 soon, circulate the identified problems to relevant State departments, and order the local people’s governments concerned to make rectifications.
Here I’d like to clarify my position that we will make the national nature reserves that are found with repeated problems the key targets of future monitoring and regulation actions, and conduct post-supervision on the rectifications. We will expose those which have encountered many problems without making effective rectifications. Also, we will strengthen the accountability in accordance with relevant regulations of the central government. Thank you.
Economic Daily: As you just mentioned, China succeeded last December in its bid to host the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. My questions are, how well is biodiversity being protected in China? And what do you expect from COP15?
CHENG: You’ve asked two very important questions. The first one is about the biodiversity conservation in China and the second is about the implementation of the international conventions. The two are closely related. China is among the countries that boast the most abundant biodiversity in the world. Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC was held, the central leaders have made important instructions on multiple occasions on enhancing biodiversity conservation and attached unprecedented importance and taken unparalleled measures. Under the leadership of the National Committee for Biodiversity Conservation in China, the local areas and State departments have quickened the pace to implement the Strategy and Action Plan for Biodiversity Conservation in China, organized key projects on biodiversity conservation, and made positive progress in this regard.
The forest coverage in China has been raised to 21.66 percent, the grassland coverage has reached 54 percent, and the area of terrestrial protected areas has spread over 1.7 mil. km2, about 18 percent of the terrestrial land area, meeting the goal specified by the CBD ahead of schedule to have it reach 17 percent by 2020. Over 90 percent of the total categories of the terrestrial natural ecosystems, and more than 89 percent of the total species of wild fauna and flora under national key protection programs, as well as the majority of the natural relics have been protected by nature reserves. The populations of Giant Panda, Amur Tiger, crested ibis, Tibetan antelope, and other rare and endangered species that live in the wild all have seen a steady growth.
China’s achievements in biodiversity conservation have been widely acknowledged by the international community. My fellow colleagues told me that at the COP13 of CBD, when the chairman announced “the hosting country of the COP15 goes to China”, a long period of applauds echoed at the venue, and the heads of several delegations walked up to shake hands with the Chinese delegation and extend congratulations. The members of the Chinese delegation all felt a deep sense of pride and honor. Our success in the bid to host the COP15 should be attributed to, first and foremost, the increasingly growing comprehensive strength of China, and then our achievements in biodiversity conservation, as well as China’s contributions to biodiversity conservation in the world as a whole.
Now I’d like to share some information on the conference of parties (COP) to the CBD. The Convention on Biological Diversity is the world’s most important convention on biodiversity conservation. It was effective as of Dec. 29, 1993 and has by far a total of 196 parties. The success in the bid is the first time China will ever host a COP since it acceded to the CBD 25 years ago. As the paramount meeting under the framework of the CBD, the COP is held once every two years. The COP15 will be a milestone in the history of the Convention and it means a lot for China to be the hosting country. It will wrap up the global biodiversity conservation work in previous decade and set forth the objectives and strategies for the biodiversity conservation around the world by 2030. By then six to eight thousands delegates representing the CBD parties, the NGOs and the overseas news presses will come to the COP15, which will become a major diplomatic event held in China in the arena of ecological conservation and environmental protection.
China will have completed the building of a moderately prosperous society by the year 2020, when the country will host the COP 15. The timing provides a platform for China to contribute wisdom and national program to global biodiversity conservation, and to tell Chinese success stories, and an opportunity for China and the international community to explore a path to promote ecological progress all over the world. We still have more than three years left to prepare for the COP15, however, considering that the preparation work involves many respects at both national and international levels and the workload is massive, we’re really on a very tight schedule. As protectors of the nature, we’re deeply honored and inspired to be able to be part of the preparatory work, what’s more important, we feel a heavy responsibility. The preparatory work has already been commenced. We will work with relevant State departments and other international and national parties to discuss the strategic objectives and action plans for the global biodiversity conservation in the next decade.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to invite my friends at the news circle to contribute your wisdoms and help with the publicity of our preparatory work. Thank you.
Ifeng.com: Let’s go back to the ecological conservation red lines. As you said earlier, the local Party committees and governments should assume the responsibility for how well the ecological conservation red lines are strictly observed in their administrative jurisdictions. The question is, how do they make sure the red lines are strictly observed by introducing institutions? In some cases, the red lines are crossed either in plain sight or in disguise, owing to the habitual inclination of the local areas to pursue economic growth. Are there any measures put in place to prevent this, for example, by audit-on-departure, accountability, or promotion restrictions of the officials? Do we have any detailed plan? Besides, MEP is racing against the clock to develop and improve relevant supplementary measures. What are they? Thank you.
GAO: As important as it is to draw the ecological conservation red lines, it is even more important to exercise rigorous management over them. How do we do this? The Opinions already puts forward specific measures. Some local areas also have drafted local management measures in the delineation process, to clarify how to observe the red lines more efficiently.
About how to enable the local governments to do a good job in the work around the red lines, as soon as such lines are finalized, we will carry out daily monitoring and evaluation, and then monitor how well the red lines are being observed by sky-earth integrated surveillance technology, and make assessment every year based on what the Opinions specified-“make sure the conservation areas will not shrink, the nature of conservation will not change, and the ecosystem functions will not degrade”. The monitoring and assessment results will be the major yardstick to measure local officials’ performances, and once they are poor, the officials concerned will be held accountable. Generally speaking, for the management of ecological conservation red lines, we highlight both the finalization of the red lines and the strict observation of them, and we value the contributions of both the public and the local governments in this process.
RMZXB: My questions are for President Gao. Does the finalization of ecological conservation red lines root out the possibility of re-delineation? If not, how do we make the re-delineation? Thank you.
GAO: The Opinions makes it very clear that the ecological conservation red lines have to be deemed as mandatory requirements in order to represent its nature as the bottom lines for safeguarding national ecological security. They wouldn’t be called red lines if they can be re-delineated without discretion. They are also known as another lifeline after the basic farmland protection lines. This lifeline protects invaluable assets and is not meant to be altered without approval. However, the Opinions also makes it clear that the ecological conservation red lines, if having anything to do with people’s welfare and major infrastructures, may be re-delineated, on the condition of scientific assessment and strict measures taken for re-delineation. All in all, the ecological conservation red lines, once finalized, shall not be re-delineated in principle. This sends a clear message that the ecological conservation red lines have to reflect its nature as bottom lines, restraints, and a lifeline. We can drop the idea of re-delineation now.
CHENG: Please allow me to add my opinions about this. There are very rigorous restrictions on the re-delineation of red lines. What I’m trying to emphasize is that the re-delineation of ecological conservation red lines should be based on “increasing rather than reducing the conservation areas”. That’s because as the bottom line and lifeline for safeguarding national ecological security, the reduction of conservation areas equals to crossing the bottom line and jeopardizing the lifeline. In the meantime, with growing awareness of the central government on ecological conservation, greater inputs in ecological conservation, and improving regulatory capacity, in particular, ecological restoration and growth in restoration area, certain areas will inevitably be strictly protected by being inside the ecological conservation red lines, in order to further improve the integrity of the ecosystems. From the point of view of the natural and ecological conservation, we surely hope more clean waters and green mountains can be preserved for our generation to enjoy and leave behind many more beautiful mountains and rivers for future generations.
The Paper: MEP is the comprehensive management department of various categories of nature reserves, and also the competent department for such nature reserves as Jiangsu Yancheng Wetland National Nature Reserve (rare birds). How to tackle the problem with MEP being an athlete and a referee at the same time? Who will oversee the environmental protection departments? Thank you.
CHENG: Those are very good questions. Since the 1980s, the relevant departments of local governments at all levels, the environmental protection departments included, have set up a batch of nature reserves for rescue purposes to fill in the gap of protection, and developed and managed them in accordance with standards. Those nature reserves have helped fill in the gaps of protection and improve the protection system. The Art. 8 of the Regulations on Nature Reserves stipulates that a framework that integrates the comprehensive management with the sector-specific management shall be introduced for the management of nature reserves. Also, Para. 4 of this Article provides that the local people’s government at or above the county level shall be responsible for the setup of nature reserve management departments and the definition of their functions, which will be approved by provincial people’s governments based on local circumstances.
The Yancheng Wetland National Nature Reserve you mentioned just now is under the dual management of Jiangsu provincial environmental protection department and Yancheng municipal government. The municipal government takes the main responsibility for its daily management. Here I need to clarify one thing, that is, MEP per se is not a competent department of any nature reserve.
However, the Ministry has flagged and monitored some nature reserves whose competent departments are local environmental protection departments, for example, Xilin Gol Nature Reserve in Inner Mongolia and Mashandu Nature Reserve in Shandong. The central environmental protection inspection last year listed Yancheng Wetland National Nature Reserve as one of the key targets, and put forward requirements for the rectifications of revealed incompliances and irregularities.
From now on, we will continue to step up the regulation over the nature reserves, and severely investigate and punish any revealed incompliance and irregularity. I’d like to take this opportunity to invite the news presses and the public to strengthen the supervision over all kinds of nature reserves at all levels. Thank you.
CAIXIN: As you mentioned earlier, the ecological conservation red lines, once delineated, can be re-delineated only in a way that increases the conservation areas instead of reducing them. President Gao, would you please tell us exactly how are the ecological conservation red lines are delineated? How do we do this in a scientific approach? Are there any guiding principles? What is the relation between the delineation and local economic development? How do we conduct the eco-compensations? The answers may enlighten the local governments to delineate the red lines.
GAO: About how to delineate the red lines in a scientific approach, earlier MEP drafted the Technical Guidance for the Delineation of Ecological Conservation Red Lines. The local provinces used to draw the red lines in accordance with this guidance, which sets forth specific measures. There are three questions about the delineation of red lines, only by giving clear answers to the three questions can the red lines be delineated in a scientific approach. The three questions are as below, a. what do the ecological conservation red lines protect? b. where do we delineate them? c. how to delineate them?
First of all, the areas with important ecosystem functions are defined for the purpose of providing eco-products. Second, the areas with very important biodiversity are delineated to shelter the natural resources of species. Third, the areas with very sensitive and vulnerable ecological environment also need to be delineated to mitigate the natural disasters and secure the ecological safety.
Taking the Hunshandake Desert in Inner Mongolia as an example, its ecological conservation value is not particularly important, however, it can easily become the source of sandstorm once damaged, imposing great impact on North China. Therefore, in spite of mediocre ecological value, it has considerably vulnerable ecological environment that leads to environmental impact, so red lines should be delineated to protect it. As for the way to do it, there is a concrete evaluation model. We should assess and grade its ecological importance, and include its key areas inside the red lines. This process is highly professional. We can provide some paper materials if you need.
About the relation between delineating ecological conservation red lines and economic development, many think that the finalization of ecological conservation red lines may affect local economic development, which, in my opinion, is a misleading. For a very long period of time, people consider environmental protection contradicts economic development. However, I definitely don’t think environmental protection, ecological conservation, and the delineation of ecological conservation red lines are contradictory to economic development.
There are two issues involved. The first one is the relation between local interests and overall interests. Taking the Yangtze River headwaters as an example, the grazing in the headwaters may produce benefits for local areas, but it also causes certain hazards, which has no benefits. In this sense, the so-called impact we’ve observed after some areas drew their ecological conservation red lines is very local. And yet, what can we do about the undermined local interests? We need to conduct eco-compensation programs and address the relation between local and overall interests through eco-compensation. That’s why the ecological conservation red lines should be delineated based on the considerations about the overall interests.
The second one is the yardstick to measure the value. When people say the delineation affects the economic development, they mean only the potential value-added of a place from development activities, without considering the ecological value in the process, which, if considered, would be much higher once the place was inside the red lines. For example, we’ve made some calculations for certain places in Shennongjia National Nature Reserve, about the economic value for developing per mu land, and the ecological value as well. The latter can be very high. Therefore, when we used to talk about the relation between ecological environment and economic growth, we did not see the whole picture and the overall benefits.
We’re particularly concerned about the ecological compensations, for example, the compensation value. Jiangsu and Fujian established certain calculation standards in their practices, for example, calculating the specific value of the compensations for woodland, wetland, and grassland inside the red lines. Another issue is about the source of the compensations. Many local areas allocate a considerable amount of money for ecological compensation, for example, Jiangsu spends 2 bn. yuan each year. As for the compensation from the central government, the transfer payment to key ecosystem functional zones reaches up to over 40 bn. yuan every year. The transfer payment will go to the areas inside the ecological conservation red lines in the future as ecological compensations for restriction of development activities. Then how will the compensations be spent? a. as direct funds; b. as stem cells to nurture industries suited to local circumstances, which is more conductive to both the ecological conservation and the local economic development.
Taking Wuzhong County of Jiangsu Province as an example, the delineation of ecological conservation red lines has led to growth instead of reduction of local residents’ incomes. That’s because they have developed industries that are more suited to the local resource endowments and advanced local economic development, with the ecological compensations they receive.
Moderator: This concludes today’s press conference. Thank you.