As China takes an increasingly active part in global climate governance, nature-based solutions (NbS) are becoming correspondingly important to the country’s approach. In light of this and of the eight criteria of the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions released in June, SEE Foundation, China’s largest non-governmental environmental organisation, has adopted the NbS strategy in several environmental projects, including desertification control, species and habitat protection, and renovation of the ocean and critical coastal zones.
Desertification Prevention and Control: 100 Million Suosuo Trees
Launched by SEE Foundation in 2014, the 100 Million Suosuo Trees project is planting these trees in the critical ecological region of Alxa, which will help restore over 133,000 hectares of desert vegetation within ten years (2014-2023).
The planting and managing of these psammophytes on a large scale have helped build up the ability of the local environment to respond to climate change to some extent and protected biodiversity. By the end of 2020, the project had planted about 65.6 million psammophytes. Experts indicate that as the afforestation time increases, the ground surface becomes rougher and better able to resist changes in weather conditions.
In addition, the plantation of suosuo on such a scale has significantly increased the region’s carbon sequestration ability, thus contributing to global climate change mitigation. According to third-party calculations, once the project is fully implemented, carbon reserves will reach 1,735,670 tons.
Plantation has also helped local herdsmen better adapt to climate change. Local people participating in the plantation project can gain subsidies, while the industrial crop cistanche can be grafted onto the root segment of suosuo, offering additional possibilities for income.
Public awareness is also an important strand of this and other NbS projects. The project has established a publicity and education centre in the area and encourages donors, entrepreneurs, representatives of government departments, and the public to participate in the plantation and communication events to increase public awareness of environmental protection. The project has also entered into partnership with Alipay’s Ant Forest to mobilise net users to be adopt low-carbon lifestyles.
Groundwater Conservation: Water-saving millet for the desert
Excessive underground water extraction for agriculture and industry can cause a decline in the level of underground water, leading to exhausted surface water sources, soil salination and desertification. In the meantime, water resource deficiency due to climate change can deal a heavy blow to agricultural output in arid areas, leading in extreme cases, to famine, so sustainable water-saving methods can develop the ability of a society and its environment to adapt to climate change
For this purpose, SEE Foundation initiated the Groundwater Conservation project in 2009 in conjunction with other partners in an ‘environmental organisations for public good + governments + communities’ model. Again, the project brings economic as well as environmental benefits. With peasants households as the main players, the project has planted and promoted water-saving millet in the Yaoba oasis to protect the local environment and boost sustainable economic development. Production is based on standardised plantation and management procedures; Beijing Weixi Agricultural Development Co Ltd, a social undertaking initiated by SEE Foundation, is responsible for the market development of the products.
By the end of 2020, the project had promoted the planting of 1,907 hectares of water-saving millet, with a total output of 8,378 tons. 688 peasant households had joined the project, saving more than 14.3 million cubic metres of water.
The project has also upgraded the supporting facilities and equipment of 20 electro-mechanical wells, established a cultivated land information management system, and taken peasant representatives on visits to modern agricultural bases in Yangling, all of which has enabled project members and peasant households to learn and understand new technologies, and provided new development concepts for the project. The project has also mobilised public participation, collaborating with Map.baidu.com in the Baidu Farm initiative which provides lunch to poor children, and a ‘Manor Owner’ event, which calls on influential individuals to plant millet.
Forest carbon sequestration: A win-win outcome
Forest carbon sequestration has an important role in climate change mitigation, but the forest is both ecological capital and an economic asset and it is therefore important for China to strike a balance between economic development and environmental protection.
In the Bring Pandas Home project in Sichuan Province, SEE Foundation has carried out both Panda habitat restoration and forestry carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration work to relevant international standards has improved the quality of panda habitat, increased community revenue, and reduced greenhouse gases. If predicted estimates are realised over the 30 years of the project period, the total emission reduction of the project will be about 1 million tons, while the total predicted yield of carbon trading will be about 40 million yuan. The project will explore ways of using carbon trading to further increase community revenue and to support the construction of a national park for pandas.
The project has also practised tree management and monitoring to gradually restore the favourite type and density of the panda habitat.
Coastal wetland restoration: Mangrove forest
In order to cope with a host of ecological and social development issues arising out of coastal wetland degradation, protecting and restoring mangrove forest and other ecosystems (mangrove forest, sea grass bed, coastal marsh, large seaweed and other ecosystems can effectively promote the capture and storage of carbon dioxide, conserve marine animals, and protect coastal communities) along the coastal zones has become a good NbS option. In its Green Paper on Coastal Wetland Protection in China, SEE Foundation noted the absence of coastal wetland protection in China and put forward an action plan in the shape of the Free Flying Birds, Reshaping Offshore Forest and other projects, SEE Foundation has worked with over 60 local public benefit partners to protect more than 100 coastal wetlands in China and their bird population.
In 2020, SEE Foundation partnered with Fujian Fugong Mangrove Forest Protection Station, the Third Institute of Oceanography of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Ke.com and other stakeholders across the different sectors in a project which has planted kandelia candel, the local mangrove species, at the estuary of the Jiulong River and restored nearly 45 hectares of destroyed mangrove forest, enabling it to evolve into a healthy ecosystem. This has helped local residents respond to water and oil loss, coastal zone erosion, and to resist typhoons, surges and other natural disasters.
In addition to mangrove forest restoration, SEE Foundation plans to restore sea grass bed, salt marsh and other ecological systems in different regions and, later in the project, to develop blue carbon sequestration, ecological tourism and other blue economy projects, making coastal wetland restoration projects an NbS sustainable development option.
In March 2021, the Guangdong Zhanjiang Mangrove Afforestation Project, a partnership between the Third Institute of Oceanography of the Ministry of Natural Resources, Guangdong Zhanjiang National Natural Reserve of Mangrove Forest and SEE Foundation, became China’s first mangrove forest carbon sequestration project to meet the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards (CCB). The project will develop 380 hectares of mangrove forest planted between 2015 and 2019 and is predicted to realise 160,000 tons of carbon emission reduction in the period from 2015 to 2055. SEE Foundation bought the first batch of 5,880 tons of carbon dioxide emission reduction signed and issued in the project to neutralise carbon emissions generated from its activities.
In all of the projects described here, encouraging natural responses to climate change and ecological damage can be shown to have paid dividends across a range of development options.
Zhang Li is Secretary-General at the SEE Foundation.