Between the 11th and the 15th of October, Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, will host the Conference of the Parties of the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity.
This will the 15th occasion that the parties to the Convention - the nations that ratified it, meet, and for this reason the Kunming event is known as the Conference of the Parties 15 (COP15).
COP15 was supposed to be held in Kunming last year, but was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Because of the continuing disruption to international travel COP15 will now consist of two parts. The 11-15th October segment will proceed largely on-line with only those already present in China attending in person, while the second part – a face-to-face conference, is expected to take place between the 25th April and the 8th of May 2022.
The United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity was born in 1992 at the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, when world's nations agreed that a global plan is needed to save the world's biodiversity. The ultimate goal of the Convention is to achieve harmony with nature by the year 2050.
Why is biodiversity – the number of species, so important? Biodiversity is key to the stability of the ecosystems such as forests, rivers, grasslands and coral reefs, that we rely on for ecosystem services - food, arable land, clean air and water. Losing species is the same as taking bricks out of wall, one by one - eventually, the wall will collapse, the ecosystem will die. To humanity, the collapse of ecosystems means loss of fisheries, fertile land and drinkable water.
In Kunming, during the COP15, the countries will make decisions for future action, identify new problems and review the progress that has been made in protecting the world's biodiversity. Most importantly, the framework for the global cooperation for the next 20 years will be agreed on.
The host nation – the People' Republic of China, has as its goal becoming the world leader in environmental protection. The vision, and the blueprint, of China's future is called Ecological Civilization – the society and the economy co-existing in harmony with the environment.
Creating the Ecological Civilization is now enshrined in China's Constitution, and the official motto of Kunming's COP15 is "Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth."
In recent years China has made great progress in environmental protection, and one example is wildlife trade. The Chinese law enforcement, working in cooperation with their international colleagues, have effectively stopped elephant ivory trade in China.
Trade in exotic species is now tightly regulated in China and species included into the international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), can no longer be bought.
Traders and buyers who do not have CITES permits for keeping and breeding endangered species are now brought to bear criminal responsibility. These cases are publicized in the national media to warn and educate the public on the laws.
China is also making great strides in the protection of its own wild nature. China's national park system will be the largest in the world, covering all the key ecosystems in the country. In addition to setting aside areas as wilderness, China's national parks will also allow the citizens to enjoy and experience nature and learn about the importance of its protection.
One testament to the effectiveness of Chinese environmental law enforcement is that wild animals in China are now expanding their range. In the North East of China, practically all areas of forest habitat suitable for tigers are now protected, in order to allow Siberian tigers to come from Russia to recolonize their former home in China. Tigers were recently almost extinct in the country, but now the number of tigers in China is steadily increasing.
The mountains around the capital Beijing, home to 21 million people, will soon see the return of another big cat – North China leopard, that disappeared in the 1980s. Now the local forests are under strict protection and leopards have plenty of prey – deer and boar, that have also increased in numbers. The leopards are now photogrphed by camera traps close to the administrative border of the capital.
COP15 being held in Kunming is no coincidence – Yunnan is China's most biodiverse province. It is also home to the country's wild elephants. The elephant population in the south of Yunnan is now expanding its range, and this summer one elephant herd made international headlines after trekking hundreds of kilometers from their home close to the Lao border all the way to the capital Kunming.
The herd has now returned to their home, but the joke was that the elephants came to Kunming to attend COP15, but were slightly early.
Scientists think that the elephants were simply recolonizing the former habitat, that, hundreds of years ago stretched all across Yunnan. There is no elephant poaching in China any more, and elephants are now expanding back into areas they once lived.
Yunnan has a lot more than elephants. The province's biodiversity, the highest in China, is astonishing - and globally important.
Yunnan accounts for 4% of China's territory, but it is home to almost three-quarters of the country's protected species. The province has 802 species of birds – more than 60% of China's and 9% of the world's total. Yunnan is home to incredible 18,000 plants species, more than half of all species in China, and there are more species of mushrooms in Yunnan than anywhere else in the world.
There are hundreds of species of animals in Yunnan – Asian elephants, black and brown bears, leopards and clouded leopards, red pandas and pythons. Yunnan is also home to many species of monkeys including the highly endangered gibbons and one of the world's rarest and unusual-looking monkey species - Yunnan snub nosed monkey that lives in the cold mountain forests in Yunnan's north.
This biodiversity is possible because of the great variety of landscapes and ecosystems in Yunnan. The south of the province is covered by lowland tropical rainforests, while the north is the start of the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau, a spectacular landscape of rugged forested valleys, clear mountain rivers and snowcapped peaks.
This beauty and the diversity of pristine natural environments made Yunnan the most visited destination in China. Tourism is now the cornerstone of the economy, supported by modern infrastructure, services and accommodation available to visitors.
Yunnan is modernizing, but without losing its authenticity or wilderness - from Kunming's modern Changshui International Airport, visitors can take local flights to Jinghong in the south where you can go on a wild elephant safari, or to Shangri-la in the North to catch a glimpse of the snub-nosed monkeys and immerse into Tibetan culture.
The choice of Kunming, the Spring City, to host the world's most important biodiversity conference cannot be more fitting.