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Biodiversity summit offers China a chance to burnish its environmental credentials

China is set to take advantage of an international stage to show it’s serious about protecting the planet’s threatened species and ecosystem. At a United Nations biodiversity conference opening on Monday in Kunming, the capital of China’s Yunnan province, a high-level Chinese official may endorse an ambitious framework for biodiversity conservation, due to be finalized next spring, conservationists based in China say.

“China wants to be seen as a leader in this area,” says Alice Hughes, a conservation biologist at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden. The country is “likely to be in very strong favor of most elements of the framework,” she says. That gesture of concern for the planet would be consistent with China’s recent pledges to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and to end Chinese financing for overseas coal plants. But conservation advocates add that China should also shore up its own biodiversity efforts, which often take a back seat to economic development.

The venue is the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, originally slated for October 2020, and then repeatedly postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With international travel still uncertain, meeting planners decided in August to split the meeting in two, holding an opening ceremony online next week while putting off the hard negotiations until next spring when delegates hope to gather in person in Kunming.

On Wednesday, delegates are expected to adopt the Kunming Declaration, which, in typical U.N. parlance, calls for “an effective post-2020 global biodiversity framework.” The latest draft lists 31 targets and milestones to reach by 2030. Among them: setting aside 30% of the world’s land and sea areas for conservation, halving the introduction of new invasive species, eliminating plastic pollution, and increasing financial support for conservation efforts in developing countries by $200 billion.

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