China's "Master Plan for conserving biodiversity"
After endorsement by the State Council of the People's Republic of China, on 7 December 2007 the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) released the Master Plan for the Conservation and Exploitation of Biological Resources.

Although initiated by SEPA, the Plan has been formulated through collaboration with 17 other Chinese Government departments.The Plan puts forward a guiding ideology as well as a series of principles for the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources.

Importantly, it also specifies goals to be met in three different phases: short-term goals up until 2010; mediumterm goals to 2015; and long-term targets for 2020. By 2010, for example, the Plan calls on China to have collected baseline data about important species for conservation, to have set up a database and information management system, as well as to have improved controls on the import and export of biological resources.

Under the Plan, ten "priority" actions and 55 "priority" projects are to be implemented in the coming years. These include: compiling an inventory of species and genetic resources; and establishing a legal system for governing the exploitation and equitable benefit sharing of genetic resources.

The Master Plan is couched in China's overall goals of promoting balance between nature and human development and utilising scientific advances. The next important step for the realisation of this ambitious plan will be ensuring it receives the necessary resources and political will to contribute to achieving the 2010 biodiversity targets.

With thanks to Dr. Xue Dayuan for supplying this information.

Bali Plan promises action on climate change and deforestation
World leaders agreed to the Bali Action Plan (BAP) at global negotiations in Bali, Indonesia in December. The deadlock in global climate negotiations since the signing of the Kyoto Protocol ten years ago was finally broken when the USA, China and India signed up to the BAP.¹ The BAP addresses three key concerns: stabilising greenhouse gases to avoid dangerous interference in the climate system; allowing continued rapid economic development and poverty reduction; and helping countries adapt to the inevitable intensifying climate change. An Ad Hoc Working Group will reach a detailed global agreement by 2009 setting "measurable, reportable, and verifiable" commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.² The BAP also calls for knowledge transfer on environmentally sound technologies to poor countries.¹

The Plan includes consideration of policies and incentives for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) in developing countries.² While implementing REDD has challenges - how to ensure forest carbon savings are permanent; how to avoid carbon conservation in one area driving deforestation in another; how to measure historic deforestation as a baseline for calculating reduction; how to ensure local communities have a fair chance of benefits relative to powerful corporations³ - most conservationists welcome the effort, supported by the Forests Now Declaration signed by many organisations, governments and individuals.4

1>Jeffrey Sachs, 26 December 2007.

It's now or never
The 2007-2008 Human Development Report¹ gives a compelling case for urgent action to avoid the reversals in human development that will accompany projected climate change. It calls on governments to recognise that the economic model driving growth, and the profligate consumption in rich nations that accompanies it, is ecologically unsustainable. It argues more realistic goals and a multilateral framework are needed, to establish a maximum threshold for dangerous climate change at 2ºC above preindustrial levels.

Under present development scenarios this threshold will be breached between 2032 and 2042. Staying under the threshold requires a stabilisation target for atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) of 450 parts per million, and a cut in greenhouse gas emissions (from 1990 levels) of 20-30% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. The report calls for policies for mitigation through sustainable carbon budgeting, and strengthening the international cooperation framework. These must address market failures that, for example, allow deforestation in Indonesia at a minimum cost of US$50-100 (the carbon value if tradeable on the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme) for a benefit of US$1 (in palm oil revenue). The report also notes the world is committed to sustained global warming for the first half of the 21st Century, and that adaptation must be at the centre of the post-2012 Kyoto framework and international partnerships for poverty reduction.

Sources: ¹United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2007. Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World. Human Development Report 2007/2008. UNDP.

Zebra Blue
Leptotes plinius
Caution urged over biofuels
Reports on biofuels by the UK Royal Society and OECD call for balancing various factors in a coherent policy.1,2 Each biofuel should be assessed on its own merits, based on full environmental and economic life-cycle analysis.¹ Among present technologies only sugarcane-to-ethanol in Brazil, ethanol as a by-product of cellulose production, and biodiesel from animal fats and used cooking oil, can reduce greenhouse gases by over 40% compared with gasoline and mineral diesel, and their potential to meet the demands of the transport sector is very limited.²

Environmental, social and economic impacts of land use should be assessed, locally and globally; changes in land use risk releasing enough greenhouse gases to negate intended climate benefits, as well as impacting biodiverse ecosystems and food security. Only 48% of global grain is now fed directly to humans, with 35% going to livestock feed and 17% to biofuels; strong demand has pushed cereal prices to new highs.³

1 The Royal Society,
2 Doornbosch R & R Steenblik, 2007. Biofuels: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?
  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
3 Worldwatch Institute,

New guidelines on sustainable collection of wild plants
A new International Standard for Sustainable Wild Collection of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (ISSC-MAP) has been produced, by the IUCN-SSC Medicinal Plant Specialist Group, TRAFFIC, WWF Germany and the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, with support from IUCN Canada. A response to requests from industry, governments, organic certifiers, resource managers and collectors, the ISSC-MAP provides: a framework of principles and criteria for managing MAP species and their ecosystems; guidance for management planning; a basis for monitoring and reporting; and recommended requirements for certification. The six principles are: to maintain wild MAP resources; to prevent negative environmental impacts; to comply with laws, regulations and agreements; to respect local communities' customary user rights; to apply responsible management practices; and to apply responsible business practices. The Standard is timely: of some 50,000 to 70,000 medicinal and aromatic plants used, one-quarter could be threatened by unsustainable collection. A previous draft has been tested in various projects, including those in Wanglang NNR and Baima State Forest in China.


China Barbet
Megalaima faber
Temperature rise will eliminate many more bird species
A model combining elevational ranges, Millennium Assessment habitat-loss scenarios, and an intermediate estimate of 2.8ºC surface warming, projected 400-550 land-bird extinctions, and an additional 2,150 threatened species by 2100. Only 21% of species predicted to become extinct were previously considered threatened. The authors note there is an urgent need for high-resolution measurements of shifts in the elevational ranges of species.

Source: Sekercioglu C et al., 2007. Conservation Biology (OnlineEarly Articles) doi 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00852.x

Turtle plight gets worse
The Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle Rafetus swinhoei is now feared to number just two individuals, one male and one female, in captivity. The 80-year-old female in Changsha Zoo, Hunan, and the 100-year-old male in Suzhou Zoo, Jiangsu, are the last hope, following the death of a third individual in a Suzhou Buddhist temple in August, the failure of experts to confirm the existence of another animal there, and a dispute over the identity of an animal in Hanoi, Vietnam. Artificial insemination of the surviving animals will be attempted in spring 2008.

Source: New York Times 5 December 2007.

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