Study shows that coastal wetlands are critically endangered, with reclamation set to cross government “red line”
Beijing, China—In partnership with China’s State Forestry Administration and the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Paulson Institute today released reports of the Coastal Wetland Conservation Blueprint project, highlighting continuing degradation of the endangered coastal wetlands and recommending policies to enhance conservation and restoration of these critical ecosystems. The project was completed with the support of the Lao Niu Foundation.
- Blueprint Report Findings and Recommendations (1.32 MB in PDF)
The policy recommendation report, which is the culmination of 18 months of research by Chinese experts, points out that coastal wetlands are the most threatened but least protected among all types of ecosystems in China. The report predicts that if China fulfills its current 2016 economic development plans in the coastal regions, destruction of coastal wetlands due to reclamation will cross the “red line” of 800 million mu (53.3 million ha) of wetlands defined by the government as the bottom line required to maintain China’s basic ecological security, such as providing fishery products, fresh water and flood control. After comprehensive mapping of the coastal region’s biodiversity and threats, the report identifies 180 priority conservation sites. Those sites include 11 of the most important habitats for migratory birds, which need to be protected immediately by taking decisive conservation measures.
The shrinking area of coastal wetlands hinders their role as important barriers against rising sea levels due to global warming. As such, conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands is a nature-based solution for climate change. As a country with an 18,000 km coastline, China is very vulnerable to negative impacts of global climate change. Therefore, the report notes, China should take serious efforts to protect and restore the “green great wall,” consisting of the natural coastal wetlands to protect the coastal communities from rising sea level and extreme weather events caused by global warming.
“As a lifelong conservationist, I believe that you can’t have sustainable economic growth without a healthy environment. For the long-term economic prosperity of the region and wellbeing of current and future generations, it is time to re-think the economic development model of the past and take decisive actions toward a more sustainable economic transition. I suggest that conservation and restoration of the coastal wetland become an integral part of the economic development activities in the coastal region,” said Paulson Institute Chairman Henry M. Paulson, Jr.
According to the report, shrinking natural wetlands have caused a serious loss of habitat for migratory birds, resulting in a severe drop in their population. It notes that because the conservation management system is not comprehensive, with insufficient human and financial resources, about half of the crucial wetland areas are still not protected at all. Uncoordinated and confusing management systems—wetlands are governed by many overlapping government ministries, often with conflicting missions and management principles—have exacerbated the decline of coastal wetlands. More importantly, conservation of the wetlands has not been well integrated into economic development plans and performance evaluation of local government officials. As a result, protection of important natural capital such as wetlands is often lost to short-term economic gains.
The report outlines six major policy recommendations, including the issuance of a wetlands law to the pursuit of life-long responsibility and punishment for officials whose behavior leads to the destruction of wetlands; the expansion of protected areas to fill conservation gaps; increased public awareness to improve appreciation for wetlands among local authorities and populations; demonstration of international best practices; better balance and integration of economic and environmental goals; and enhanced scientific research and international collaboration on coastal wetland conservation and restoration.
Coastal wetlands are the source of abundant biodiversity and valuable ecological services, which support human livelihoods and contribute to long-term prosperity—both economic and social. The coastal region of China is home to 40% of the country’s population, and the region produces roughly 60% of national GDP. China has already lost more than 60% of its natural coastal wetlands to economic development since the 1950s. To meet the targets of China’s “ecological civilization” efforts, and to support sustainable development, the Chinese government at all levels must place a high priority on protecting its natural capital. The report notes that an “ecological civilization” can be achieved through conservation initiatives including the restoration of coastal wetlands and their ecosystems.
About the Paulson Institute: The Paulson Institute is a “think and do” tank that promotes environmental protection and sustainable development in the United States and China, while advancing bilateral economic relations and cross-border investment. Established in 2011 by Henry M. Paulson, Jr., the Institute is committed to the principle that today’s most pressing economic and environmental challenges can be solved only if the United States and China work in complementary ways.
The non-partisan, independent Institute works at the nexus of economic and environmental issues in the United States and China. Its programs in China focus on improving climate and air quality, advancing ecological conservation and promoting sustainable cities. The Institute’s Think Tank publishes papers on the most important macroeconomic issues facing China today, energy strategies and issues in U.S.-China relations. The Institute promotes bilateral cross-border investment that will improve U.S.-China relations and help create jobs and works to reduce economic risk from climate change. The Institute is headquartered at the University of Chicago and has offices in Washington and Beijing.