Ecological Civilization

21 Nov, 2019

"Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth"

Compiled by Dr Konrad Uebelhör, Programme Director, IGBP

The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the UN CBD in Kunming, China will define the new post 2020 agenda for biodiversity and set the course for the next decade. The theme of the landmark 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference is “Ecological Civilization: Building a Shared Future for All Life on Earth"

Perhaps you were as puzzled as I was when I heard the term ‘Ecological Civilization’ for the first time. But the moment you start looking it up online, you find considerable material ranging from discussions in scientific journals to symposia, roundtables, and the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2007.

The last source, already 12 years ago, is quite intriguing. Since 2007, when Hu Jintao, former President of the People`s Republic (2003-2013) promoted the concept of “Shengtai wenming ” or ecological culture or civilisation, it has been widely spread in Chinese politics and scientific fields as one of the main targets of this nation. Considering the 12th five year plan (adopted in 2011), it seems very clear that Chinese politicians have decided to enrol China in a new stage of development based on the principles of an eco-civilization . It would be the first time that a high-level government policy goal becomes the theme of a CBD COP.

In simple terms, ecological civilization is a dynamic equilibrium state where humans and nature interact and function harmoniously. One could define it as the final goal of social and environmental reform within a given society. It implies that the changes required in response to global climate disruption and social injustices are so extensive that it requires another form of human civilization. One which is based on ecological principles. Broadly construed, ecological civilization involves a synthesis of economic, educational, political, agricultural, and other societal reforms toward sustainability .

Despite its beginning in the 1980s, the concept saw wider use from the mid-2000s and has now been taken up in different parts of the world. In the US the concept is being promoted by the Institute for Ecological Civilization with its mission to work internationally to support systemic approaches to long-term sustainability by developing collaborations among government, business, and religious leaders and among scholars, activists, and policy makers.

Only last year a High Level Roundtable on Global Governance and Ecological Civilization was organised in Brussels by the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) and the European Union. The purpose of the Roundtable was to examine how acting on synergies among selected global environmental agreements could lead to improved outcomes globally and nationally. Within the context of preparing for CBD COP 15 in China, the CCICED will have an important role to play. And this is not just because of illustrious members like, Han Zheng - Vice Premier of the State Council, CCICED Chairperson, Catherine McKenna - Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Canada; CCICED Executive Vice Chair, Achim Steiner - UNDP Administrator, CCICED Vice Chair and supporting donors like, World Bank, ADB, UN-Organisations, TNC, WWF, GIZ/BMU.

The CCICED has already initiated a Task Force on Global Governance and Ecological Civilization that will work during 2018 and 2019 on three Special Policy Study topics: China’s Contributions to Global Climate Governance; Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Conservation; and Global Ocean Governance.

In June 2019 CCICED published a Special Policy Study (SPS) and recommendation report on Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Conservation “Building Momentum for a Successful CBD COP 15”. The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Conservation SPS began its work in 2018, focusing on three main topics:

  • Analysis and proposals for the Post 2020 Framework;
  • Political mobilisation for global leadership and green diplomacy as the host to ensure agreement of ambitious, practical post-2020 framework in Kunming; and
  • Showcasing - via case studies- China’s own progress and needs. This includes Ecological Civilization, institutional reform, performance management/implementation, ecological redlining, the new National Park System as the basis for its expanded conservation system, and perhaps other examples such as eco-compensation.

The report gives interesting insights on how biodiversity conservation is framed in China. Some recommendations made to the Chinese Government:

  • China should pull out all stops to ensure full commitment of the world community, including world leaders, to a high-quality COP 15 outcome;
  • Accelerate the pace of efforts for a ‘Green BRI’ (Belt and Road Initiative) both within and outside China, including strong financial support and a 2019 action plan for the International Green BRI Coalition announced at the 2019 BRI Forum;
  • Integrate biodiversity conservation more effectively into China’s efforts towards high quality development, especially into the 14th Five-Year Plan.

What does it mean for CBD COP 15?

With the theme of “Ecological Civilization” China has put forward a goal that forms part of the policy framework that guides sustainable development in China. This expression of the highest political will is critical to making a new deal with nature. It clearly shows the commitment of the future CBD presidency. Although literature on the concept of Ecological Civilization is increasing, it will be a challenging task for China to make herself understood beyond the barriers of culture, ideology and language, so that the world will be able to fully understand China’s thoughts and practices in the way Chinese understand them.

© GIZ/Neeraj Khera


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