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Ecosystem Management Pivotal in Securing a Green Economy
18/ 11/ 2011

Ecosystem Management Pivotal in Securing a Green EconomyBeijing, 18 November 2011 - The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) today co-organized a High-level International Forum on Ecosystem Management and Green Economy. The forum aimed to contribute to the success of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, popularly known as Eio+20, by highlighting the pivotal role of ecosystem management in the development of a Green Economy in China and other developing countries. For this, the Forum has come out with a communiqué which recognizes this role and recommends actions to be taken at Rio+20.

The forum was attended by over 200 participants, including heads of UN and other international organizations, leaders and ministers from the Chinese Government, renowned scientists, business leaders and representatives of the civil society.

Addressing the forum, Mr. Zukang Sha, UN Under Secretary General in charge of the UNDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary General of Rio+20, pointed out that the Forum's outputs would form a key input to Rio+20, in the context of the urgent need to protect and restore the world's ecosystems.

Mr. Sha recognized that ecosystems are the foundations of human life and livelihoods, but for too long, humanity has ignored this fundamental truth at its own peril, and the Earth ecosystems have been altered more rapidly and extensively than ever before. He stressed that the sustainable management of ecosystems will play a critical role in advancing green economies worldwide.

This week the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched its flagship report in Beijing entitled, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. The Report demonstrates that governments and businesses alike are taking steps to accelerate a global shift towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient and socially inclusive green future.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, pointed out that the Green Economy is an opportunity for developing countries, including China, to create economic and job opportunities.

Mr. Steiner highlighted the critical role that ecosystem management plays in the development of a Green Economy, quoting examples from, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a broad partnership hosted by UNEP, which has supported the analysis of UNEP's Green Economy Report and which is a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity as well as to highlight the multi-trillion dollar costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.

Mr. Steiner stressed the timeliness of this Forum, in the context of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Durban and Rio+20 in Brazil in June, and hoped that the Forum would offer an opportunity to produce value-added recommendations, including the need for renewed political commitment at Rio+20 which would give ecosystem management the political weight and significance it deserves.

Vice President Ding from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) pointed out that in Chinese culture harmony between humans and nature was of utmost importance and that this has been reflected in the Chinese Government's policies in recent years where the focus has been the development and advancement of the ecological civilization.

Mr. Ding lauded UNEP's efforts in developing concepts such as Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA), Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and the Green Economy, all of which play critical roles in the development of an eco-civilization.

China's Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, Mr. Ganjie Li, told participants that China is keen on contributing to the development of a global eco-civilization. He pointed out China's policies, including those of eco-zoning and eco-compensations, demonstrate this commitment.

In his address, Professor Honglie Sun, Academician of CAS and Director of the Advisory Committee of Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN), outlined the history of ecological study in China. He emphasized on the need for ecological networks, such as CERN, which support policy making and suggested CERN as an important infrastructure in assisting other developing countries in establishing similar networks.

The day-long forum brought together a wide range of experts from across the world, including Sir Crispin Tickell from the United Kingdom, Julia Marton-Lefevre, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Professor Richard Odingo from Kenya, Dr. Arthur Hanson, International Chief Advisor of the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), Björn Roland Stigson, President of World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Lars-Erik Liljelund, Executive Director of The Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research and Franz Tattenbach, President of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Through intensive discussions, participants of the Forum reached the following conclusions:

The Earth's ecosystems are the natural foundation of human civilization. A robust, healthy and sustainable ecosystem is a prerequisite to secure the development of a Green Economy.
Ecosystems have been profoundly degraded over the last 50 years and pressure on them continues unabated. Some of the key ecological processes have exceeded their thresholds, which may lead to the collapse of some vulnerable ecosystems. This poses threats to lives, livelihoods and economic development and demands urgent action.
Concrete evidences show that ecosystem management can halt and reverse this increasing degradation of ecosystems. It can also provide economic and job opportunities, particularly for developing countries.
There is clear evidence that many key issues of the Green Economy development are critical for addressing ecosystem management.
There are already ecological networks, mechanisms, methods and tools in place to promote the role of ecosystem management for development of the Green Economy.

Based on the key findings reflected through an issues paper, the Forum has proposed the following recommendations to be acted on at the Rio+20 summit:

1. Political commitment at the highest level is urgently needed if ecosystem management is to have the adequate weight it deserves in the Rio+20 arrangement;
2. Political support and appropriate governance structures are needed for improved synergies between ecosystem management and the Green Economy in developing Rio+20 policy frameworks;
3. Adequate financial, technological and knowledge resources must be allocated, including in national policy-setting, awareness-raising, capacity-building and planning and practices, particularly in developing countries;
4. Building capacity and ecological infrastructure in developing countries, such as Africa, is a prerequisite for enhancing ecosystem management and promoting the Green Economy.

For More Information, Please Contact:
Dhanush Dinesh, International Ecosystem Management Partnership-UNEP,
Tel/Fax: +86 10 64857067, Email:

Guoqin Wang, International Ecosystem Management Partnership-UNEP,
Tel/Fax: +86 10 64889031, Email:

Jiang Nanqing, UNEP China Office, Tel. +86-10-85320922, Fax: +86-10-85320907

Notes to the Editors:

Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication can be found on the UNEP website:

1. What is Ecosystem Management?

Ecosystem Management is "an integrated process to conserve and improve ecosystem health that sustains ecosystem services for human well-being". It places particular emphasis on integrating human needs with conservation practices, and recognizes the inter-connectivity between ecological, socio-cultural, economic and institutional structures in developing solutions. It fosters community ownership of problem resolution efforts to maintain ecosystem services. It uses many different tools and media (such as governance structures and stakeholder engagement, policies and protocols, strategies and practices), guided by principles that help define the management framework that are targeted to achieve multiple benefits of ecosystem restoration, livelihood improvement and job creation. It is based on cross-cutting and apolitical principles that can be applied across a wide range of scales. The approach is increasingly being used by many developing countries and has been written into international agreements.

2. Success of Ecosystem Management in China

China has a long history ecosystem management which can be traced back to 2070-1600 B.C. during the Xia Dynasty. This spirit of nature conservation as such has been part of Chinese culture, however, in modern times there have been phases of unwise management of ecosystems, and restoration and advancement thought lessons are learnt over time. As the world's second largest economy and the most populous country, there are great pressures on ecosystems in China and ecosystem management plays a crucial role in sustaining the well-being of the Chinese people.

China has excellent lessons in ecosystem management which maybe shared with other developing countries with twin issues of conservation and development. There is the case of Grain for Green Programme in the Loess Plateau of China which illustrates this. The Loess Plateau is located in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, encompassing 287 counties in seven provinces. It is the largest area of loess in the world, covering more than 600,000 km2, accounting for 6.6% of China's land area, with 8.5% of the Chinese population. The fragility of the loess ecosystem is characterized by its arid climate, with only 64.1mm of average annual precipitation, which is compounded by high population density of 168 person/km2 and intensive cultivation on the slope land. This intensive cultivation has led to severe soil erosion, with an average erosion rate 5,000-10,000 t/km2/year. As a result, the Yellow River receives a high content of sand entrained in the water leading to siltation of the river channels and reservoirs, which, moreover, raises river beds and increases the risk of flooding. For this reason, controlling soil erosion of the Loess Plateau has been a national priority since the turn of last century.

Starting from 1999, the Chinese Government launched a national "Grain for Green Program" for restoring cropland to forest (or grassland). The Loess Plateau was a priority area for the programme, which includes transforming sloping farmlands into terraces, vegetation rehabilitation, enclosing hills and banning grazing, building dams to trap silt, enhancing basic and high quality farmlands, planting commercial forests and fruit trees, as well as growing fodder and fostering related industries. The programme has achieved remarkable ecological and economic benefits: regional evapo-transpiration has decreased by 6.2% and surface water runoff by 13.6% ; over 153 million tons per year of soil has been retained; and there has been a positive impact on carbon sequestration, with 69.21 TgC in soil, and 23.76 TgC in rehabilitated vegetation (Table 1). Food production rose 18% between 2000 and 2008, achieved through the increase of per-unit food production against a decline of total cropland area. Meanwhile, the Loess Plateau's economic situation has greatly improved. Per capita income in rural areas increased from RMB1000/year in 1998 to more than RMB 3000/year in 2007. As the programme advances, the rural economy has improved with the growing secondary and tertiary industries, which has not only created new jobs for rural labour force, but also diversified sources of household income.

3. Green Economy

UNEP defines a Green Economy as one that results in 'improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities'. It is a new development path that is based on sustainability and ecological economics. Compared with previous development paths, the uniqueness of a Green Economy is that it can directly turn the natural capital into economic value whilst preserving it, and conduct total cost accounting. This way, the natural capital can be included into the social system, requiring the users of ecosystem services to pay for the benefits gained and damage caused. Ecosystem Management, "an integrated process to conserve and improve ecosystem health that sustains ecosystem services for human well-being," is recommended as the critical approach to restore the natural foundation to sustain a Green Economy.

4. The Pivotal Role of Ecosystem Management for a Green Economy:

Ecological networks, mechanisms, methods and tools are to be in place for the development of the Green Economy
Monitoring the state of the Earth's ecosystems, understanding the ecological processes and predicting ecosystem functions are essential approaches for decisions and actions of ecosystem management. This requires integrated ecological networks such as the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN). Considering the global importance of ecosystem management, there is also the need for establishing an intergovernmental body to improve science-policy interface such as the Inter-Governmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Developing countries share common challenges of ecosystem management as a result of a shortage of capacity, knowledge and information. Therefore there is a need for them to learn from each other.

Valuation of Ecosystem Services improves decision-making

Once the underlying biophysical characteristics of an ecosystem are understood, translating this scientific understanding into values can improve the decision-making of governments, businesses and consumers. One of the failures of our prevailing political and economic systems is that the value of biodiversity and ecosystems is often either entirely ignored or poorly understood.

The TEEB studies recommend a pragmatic, tiered approach to valuation in analyzing problems and developing policy responses. In some cases, it may be sufficient to simply recognize the value of ecosystems and biodiversity to ensure their sustainability. In other cases, it may be necessary to demonstrate the value of ecosystems and biodiversity in economic terms to ensure balanced and informed decision-making. This is particularly true when policymakers and businesses make decisions impacting ecosystems based on a cost and benefit calculation.

Capturing the value through policy and markets

Traditional indicators such as GDP and the HDI have basic limitations as measures of social progress. Neither GDP/capita nor HDI reflect the state of the natural environment and both focus on the short term, with no indication of whether current well-being can be sustained. These are reflected in annual reports of UNDP, IMF and the World Bank. The green economy initiative provides a unique opportunity to guide a new development paradigm that addresses not only economic efficiency but also social equity.

In a Green Economy, the revised and adjusted net national product (NNP) will make economic decision-makers, particularly in developing countries aware of environmental costs. For example, the conventional measure provides the contribution of fisheries and forestry sectors for Brazil, Indonesia and India as 6.1, 14.1 and 16.5 percentage, respectively, but if the ecosystem services are accounted it becomes 17.4, 14.5 and 19.6, respectively.

There also exists market-based approaches to capture the values of ecosystem services into decision making, prominent among these are Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) models, which uses compensatory means to resolve conflicts between natural resources and resource-users.

5. Rio+20 - an opportunity to promote ecosystem management in green economy development

The Earth Summit on sustainable development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 adopted the Climate Convention, the Convention on Biodiversity, and the Agenda 21. As 2012 nears, all eyes are set towards the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), popularly known as "Rio+20" whose main objectives are to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development; assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and address new and emerging challenges. UN General Assembly has selected the Green Economy as one of the two themes of Rio+20, which will provide an alternative development path towards global sustainability by addressing social, economic and environmental issues in a more integrated and pragmatic way.

Further Resources
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20)
Press Release: UNEP & China Launch Landmark Ecosystem Management Programme for Developing Countries
UNEP Green Economy Report
Communiqué: UNEP High Level International Forum on Ecosystem Management and Green Economy