With biodiversity rising up the agenda due to the forthcoming UN negotiations due to take place in Kunming, China, in 2021, there is a lot happening here in Beijing and China.. on many fronts. Here’s a quick summary of an eventful last few weeks.
At the end of October, I was honoured to be invited by my good friend, Shen Chu (Becky), of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to Kunming in Yunnan to deliver a public lecture at an event to celebrate International Snow Leopard Day. With the exception of a couple of day trips into Hebei Province, this was my first trip out of Beijing this year. The event was hosted by the Elephant Bookstore in Kunming and, as well as a live public audience, the event was streamed online to more than a hundred thousand people. The organisers did a fantastic job, bringing together local artists, schools and musicians, and there was even a special Snow Leopard IPA produced by the local craft brewery which included a QR code with lots of facts about the Snow Leopard.
With the city scheduled to host the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity next year, it was wonderful to see such energy – and innovative ideas – among local people to engage the public about nature and wildlife.
Just a few days later, I set off to the Valley of the Cats with a subset of these brilliant young people from Kunming. Having promised Becky several years ago to help her to see a Snow Leopard in the wild, there was an air of expectation as we landed in Yushu and made our way to the Valley. It was my first visit of the year to this magical place and, as always, it did not disappoint. We enjoyed a spectacular few days and treasured encounters with four Asian Brown Bears (an adult male and a separate mother with two cubs), a single Snow Leopard on a fresh kill of yak and a wonderful hike through some of the most stunning scenery I have seen.
Just a few days after returning from Qinghai, I was delighted to hear that the Valley of the Cats community-based wildlife-watching tourism project had been named as a runner-up and received a “recognition of excellence” under the Nature Stewardship category of the Paulson Prize for Sustainability. Competing with more than a hundred projects across China, this was fantastic recognition for the local community. You can read about the winning projects – on battery recycling in Wuhan and wetland restoration in Haikou – here.
Having been part of the team to produce the report entitled “Financing Nature: Closing The Global Biodiversity Financing Gap”, the authors have been busy reaching out to as many influential governments, ministers, organisations and individuals as possible to try to influence the debate on how countries finance the USD 700 billion per year needed to protect our most important biodiversity and ecosystem services. That figure may sound like a lot of money – and it is – but to put it in context, it is less than the world spends each year on soft drinks. Governments have a fundamental role to create the right regulation that generates funding for nature. That means no longer allowing those that do harm to the environment to do so for free and rewarding those who protect and preserve. Perhaps not surprisingly, the figure of USD 700 billion could be reduced by around half by reforming harmful subsidies (specifically on agriculture, fisheries and forestry). It does seem out of step that, in the midst of a global biodiversity crisis, governments around the world are still paying people billions of dollars to employ practices that cause harm to our environment. This week I was invited to brief senior staff at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing. As an organisation that funds many large infrastructure projects in developing countries, it was encouraging to hear about their enthusiasm for ensuring biodiversity and climate change criteria feature prominently in their lending criteria.
A second meeting has now been planned to examine how AIIB can become a leader amongst multilateral development banks on this issue. There is a very long way to go to ensure that infrastructure projects are mandated to minimise harm to the environment and offset any unavoidable damage by investing in habitat protection and restoration elsewhere.. but that change is coming.. the only question is how fast?
Continuing the theme, last Saturday I participated in a discussion panel on biodiversity and climate change at the Caixin Global Summit in Beijing, an annual event that brings together an impressive line-up of people – from China and overseas – to discuss major global issues.
And the following day I participated in the launch of the Beijing government’s “Urban Forestry Network”, a group of c30 people who will develop proposals for improving the quality of the capital’s tree planting and biodiversity-related projects in Beijing. This network has the potential to make a big difference to how land is managed in Beijing, improving and restoring habitat for wildlife, and I look forward to playing an active role as the group develops its workplan.
You may be wondering if I have been able to do any birding recently and, sadly, the answer is no! However, I am looking forward to this Sunday when I will be accompanying the new UK Ambassador to China, Caroline Wilson, on a birding trip to Yeyahu, during which we will be discussing biodiversity, China and the importance of the UK and China working closely together, as hosts of the UN climate change and biodiversity negotiations respectively, to ensure these processes are reinforcing and lead to a successful outcome. It’s hugely encouraging to see the UK Ambassador taking a strong and early interest in these issues and I look forward to doing my bit to work for the strongest outcomes possible at both Kunming and Glasgow in 2021.
With Christmas in the UK out of the question this year due to the pandemic, I’m hoping for a few days of relaxation and birding around the capital. With waxwings arriving and the first snow today, the excitement of what might turn up is palpable. Will it be a Pallas’s Sandgrouse winter or could there be an influx of Asian Rosy Finches, or maybe even another of the special redstarts from the Tibetan Plateau. Can’t wait to get out there and explore!