Opinion

The Great Debate

Amid environmental destruction, China is battling to protect wildlife

Recently my family and I went through photos we had taken in Scotland. These images brought back memories of my fascination with the pristine Scottish natural environment. There are the breathtaking highlands, the sparkling lochs, the magnificent glens and the abundant wildlife. All these reminded me of Liaoning, my home province.

I spent my childhood in Liaoning in northeast China. It resembles Scotland in many ways. It is a vast landscape with spectacular mountains and rivers. Equally well-known is its abundant wildlife. Roe deer and hares are a common sight. Unfortunately, in recent years some wild animals have become a rarity, in some areas, due to overdevelopment and depletion of natural resources.

However, when I was on home leave back in Liaoning earlier this month I was delighted, and greatly encouraged, by the vigorous efforts of local government and people to create a sustainable environment.

Hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland have been returned to forests, and over 10,000 kilometers of barren mountains have become restricted areas to encourage reforestation. All these actions are raising hope for improvement in the ecosystem. In the neighboring Jilin province, thanks to a decade-long hunting ban, populations of hare, roe deer, boar and other wildlife have all risen significantly. In other parts of China there are reports about the revival of glossy ibis, loris and sika deer as well as other endangered species. These are welcome indications of a positive turnaround of wildlife in China.

Underlying such good news are the strenuous efforts made by the Chinese government in creating a sustainable environment or “green” China. In recent years, China has placed greater emphasis on wildlife protection and enforced stricter measures. We have put in place a full range of rules and regulations with the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Protection of Wildlife and related forestry laws as the centerpieces. China has set up special agencies for wildlife rescue, breeding and release. These include breeding bases, zoos and wildlife reserves of which the panda center near Chengdu has become world-famous.

Murders in the forest

Since Apr. 26, a crusading forestry activist, a muckraking journalist and a 14-year-old girl have been killed in Cambodia because they tried to safeguard the country’s dwindling land reserves. They are all victims of a decade-long battle over Cambodia’s ecological future, a fight that in the past two years has turned more bloody and corrupt. Their deaths offer the world a stark vision of how crony capitalism has replaced totalitarianism as the threat to human rights in Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, the price of a human life pales in comparison with a blank check.

I worked at the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh for one year (2011-2012), covering the oil business, land evictions, the environment and forestry. That’s why I was with Chut Wutty, the nation’s foremost forest conservationist, on Apr. 26 when he was killed. On the third day of an investigation into illegal logging in Cambodia’s Cardamom mountains, we stopped at what Wutty said was a military-controlled illegal logging outpost. There, he was shot dead during a confrontation with soldiers who were protecting the site and preventing us from leaving. A soldier was also shot dead under mysterious circumstances in the firefight, although Wutty did not fire any shots. When the murderers began concocting a cover-up, a colleague and I were threatened with death. “Just kill them both,” they icily said within earshot of us. After six hours of paralyzing fear and pacing at the scene of the murder, we were transferred from police custody into the care of our editor in chief as night fell.

We were lucky. Less than three weeks later, government security forces fatally shot 14-year-old Heng Chantha during an armed siege against villagers resisting a land eviction by a well-connected agricultural company.

Bottom-up biodiversity

ENVIRONMENT-BIODIVERSITY/

By Karol Boudreaux
The opinions expressed are her own.

At the recent UN biodiversity conference in Japan, participants were tasked with finding a new approach to preserve threatened ecosystems.

In the end, government and UN officials, NGO representatives and others reached an agreement that some are calling historic. The executive director of the UN’s Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said: “This is a day to celebrate in terms of a new and innovative response to the alarming loss of biodiversity and ecosystems.” But how different is it?

The new “Aichi Target” (named after the prefecture in Japan where the meetings took place) creates a 10-year strategic plan to meet 20 goals for stemming species loss. It is set to take effect in 2020 but will need to be ratified by nearly 200 signatory nations, then implemented at the national and local levels by government officials, and then funded in order to work. This is yet another highly complex and inefficient process to address a very important problem. A more effective model would be to keep things simple.

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