China passed its first wetland protection law more than a decade after the legislation was proposed, marking a major milestone in safeguarding the country’s altered ecosystem, sometimes referred to as “the kidneys of the Earth.”
Chinese lawmakers on Friday approved the Wetlands Protection Act, setting out provisions for the protection, use and restoration of wetlands, as well as the accountability of government departments and penalties for violations. The law will come into force on June 1, 2022.
Wetlands play a key role in purifying water, controlling floods and maintaining biodiversity as habitats for migratory plants, animals and birds, but they are among the most fragile ecosystems. and the most heavily degraded in the world. Some wetland restoration projects may even damage the local ecosystem due to inappropriate designs or incomplete risk assessments.
China has the fourth largest wetland in the world, but half of its coastal wetlands have been lost to reclamation over the past four decades, according to at the nonprofit World Wide Fund for Nature. Over the past 21 years, Chinese authorities have proposed wetland conservation policies – including an action plan in 2000 and short-term five-year plans – although a national law has lack to gain momentum, until now.
The new law classifies wetlands from “general” to “important” based on various factors, prohibits the occupation of wetlands of national importance – except in special circumstances such as conservation projects – and imposes fines of up to go up to 1 million yuan ($ 157,000) for illegal activities. He also calls for increasing ecological compensation program funds to protect critical wetlands, adding that local government initiatives will be used to assess their performance.
Ma Yong, deputy secretary general of the nonprofit China Foundation for Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development, told Sixth Tone that the absence of a specialized law has hampered efforts to protect wetlands and rendered difficult the accountability of individuals and entities for the destruction of areas. He added that the new legislation would help protect wetlands in a unified and systematic way, as previous provisions were either included in related laws or specific to certain regions and provinces.
“We have dealt with cases aimed at protecting wetlands, but we had to cite the environmental protection law as a legal basis,” said Ma. “The new law focuses on the protection of wetlands and their ecological value, rather than on the development and use, which improves China’s ecological legal system.
Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: visual of people)