[Commentary] Ecological civilisation and the new global biodiversity framework

Forests in the mountains provide ecosystem services and climate resilience to those living in the plains. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier / Mongabay.

  • With the COVID-19 pandemic postponing the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-CoP), there is time to better understand and integrate the concept of ecological civilisation into the global biodiversity framework from 2021-2030.
  • The CBD-CoP 15 was to be held at Kunming in China in October 2020, and has been postponed to 2021.
  • China, which will take over as the Presidency of COP, has announced the overall theme for the COP would be ‘ecological civilisation’.
  • This commentary sets the tone for the start of discussions to blend the concept of ecological civilisation into the Zero Draft of the new global biodiversity framework.

The government of People’s Republic of China announced that the over-arching theme for the forthcoming fifteenth Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-CoP 15) would be “Ecological civilisation: Building a shared future for all life on earth”. The CBD-CoP 15 was scheduled to be held in October 2020 in Kunming, China, and has been postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CBD-CoP 15 will adopt a ten-year global biodiversity framework (2021-2030), with an aim to set out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to bring about a transformation in society’s relationship with biodiversity and to ensure that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature is fulfilled. With these processes and intent, it is pertinent to understand the concept of ecological civilisation in the context of global biodiversity goal setting.

Ecological civilisation

Though the origin and genesis of the term ‘ecological civilisation’ are attributed to Ye Quianji, an economist from China (1987), the origin of the concept seem to emanate from before, including from the thinking and writings of Karl Marx, Thomas Malthus, W.R. Catton and Mahatma Gandhi besides a number of other philosophers, economists and environmentalists.

The term ‘ecological civilisation’ became more popular and subject of concerted research when President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China mentioned it in his 2007 work report to the 17th Communist Party Congress. Then, President Xi Jinping upheld ecological civilisation as the key concept used to “green” the institutions of the Party-state. It was also ratified in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China in 2018 and a large Ministry of Ecology and Environment was created in March 2018.


The graph shows the number of academic and newspaper publications that focused on the issue of ecological civilisation between 2000-2017 in China Graph from Coraline Goran 2018 Ecological Civilisation and the Political Limits of a Chinese Concept of Sustainability, China Perspectives [Online], 2018-4, 39-52.

It may be safe to conclude that the Chinese conception of ecological civilisation, evolving from the Soviet thinking and literature, is a natural transition from industrial civilisation. Ecological civilisation has fast grown from its obscure origins into an international movement now and the expression is gaining popularity with each passing day. Its significance as a catchcry for environmental and ecological management and as a guiding thought for reorganizing society along ecological lines certainly warrants our close attention.

One could understand the core message of ecological civilisation as (i) respect nature (avoid interference), (ii) adapt to nature (use nature sustainably) and (iii) protect nature (prevent and mitigate environmental risks). With this, the new draft global diversity framework would be measured to ensure biodiversity and ecosystems will be protected in the decades to come.

The new global biodiversity framework in the context of ecological civilisation

How does the new global biodiversity framework respond to the theory and practice of ecological civilisation in the decade to come? This section focuses on the elements of the ‘Zero’ Draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework that was published by the CBD in January 2020 and how it potentially links with the concept of ecological civilisation – both as understood by China and globally.

If one considers a futuristic vision for better environmental management and development three elements seem to be necessary. First is the understanding of the theory of ecological/environmental crisis, the second is the need to ensure sustainability as a nature-imposed necessity for future needs and third, a vision for overcoming of crisis that establishes sustainability as core part of future society.

The 20 action targets in the Zero Draft

The 20 action targets to the year 2030 in the Zero Draft of the new global biodiversity framework are:

Reducing threats to biodiversity

  1. Retain and restore freshwater, marine and terrestrial ecosystems, increasing by at least [50%] the land and sea area under comprehensive spatial planning addressing land/sea use change, achieving by 2030 a net increase in area, connectivity and integrity and retaining existing intact areas and wilderness.
  2. Protect sites of particular importance for biodiversity through protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, by 2030 covering at least [60%] of such sites and at least [30%] of land and sea areas with at least [10%] under strict protection.
  3. Control all pathways for the introduction of invasive alien species, achieving by 2030 a [50%] reduction in the rate of new introductions, and eradicate or control invasive alien species to eliminate or reduce their impacts by 2030 in at least [50%] of priority sites.
  4. Reduce by 2030 pollution from excess nutrients, biocides, plastic waste and other sources by at least [50%].
  5. Ensure by 2030 that the harvesting, trade and use of wild species, is legal and at sustainable levels.
  6. Contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation and disaster risk reduction through nature-based solutions providing by 2030 [about 30%] [at least XXX MT CO2=] of the mitigation effort needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, complementing stringent emission reductions, and avoiding negative impacts on biodiversity and food security.

Meeting people’s needs through sustainable use and benefit-sharing

  1. Enhance the sustainable use of wild species providing, by 2030, benefits, including enhanced nutrition, food security and livelihoods for at least [X million] people, especially for the most vulnerable, and reduce human-wildlife conflict by [X%].
  2. Conserve and enhance the sustainable use of biodiversity in agricultural and other managed ecosystems to support the productivity, sustainability and resilience of such systems, reducing by 2030 related productivity gaps by at least [50%].
  3. Enhance nature-based solutions contributing, by 2030, to clean water provision for at least [XXX million] people.
  4. Enhance the benefits of green spaces for health and well-being, especially for urban dwellers, increasing by 2030 the proportion of people with access to such spaces by at least [100%].
  5. Ensure that benefits from the utilization of genetic resources, and related traditional knowledge, are shared fairly and equitably, resulting by 2030 in an [X] increase in benefits.

Tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming

  1. Reform incentives, eliminating the subsidies that are most harmful for biodiversity, ensuring by 2030 that incentives, including public and private economic and regulatory incentives, are either positive or neutral for biodiversity.
  2. Integrate biodiversity values into national and local planning, development processes, poverty reduction strategies and accounts, ensuring by 2030 that biodiversity values are mainstreamed across all sectors and that biodiversity-inclusive strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments are comprehensively applied.
  3. Reform economic sectors towards sustainable practices, including along their national and transnational supply chains, achieving by 2030 a reduction of at least [50%] in negative impacts on biodiversity.
  4. Resources, including capacity-building, for implementing the framework have increased from all sources so that by 2030 resources have increased by [X%] and are commensurate with the ambition of the targets of the framework.
  5. Establish and implement measures in all countries by 2030 to prevent potential adverse impacts of biotechnology on biodiversity.
  6. People everywhere take measurable steps towards sustainable consumption and lifestyles, taking into account individual and national cultural and socioeconomic conditions, achieving by 2030 just and sustainable consumption levels.
  7. Promote education and the generation, sharing and use of knowledge relating to biodiversity, in the case of the traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities with their free, prior and informed consent, ensuring by 2030 that all decision makers have access to reliable and up-to-date information for the effective management of biodiversity.
  8. Promote the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples and local communities, and of women and girls as well as youth, in decision-making related to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, ensuring by 2030 equitable participation and rights over relevant resources.
  9. Foster diverse visions of good quality of life and unleash values of responsibility, to effect by 2030 new social norms for sustainability.
Conserving and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity is one of the targets in the Zero Draft. Photo by Bijit Dutta / Annapurna Seed Library.

Mapping the key elements and targets

The draft global biodiversity framework’s theory of change assumes that transformative actions are taken to (a) put in place tools and solutions for implementation and mainstreaming, (b) reduce the threats to biodiversity and (c) ensure that biodiversity is used sustainably in order to meet people’s needs and that these actions are supported by (i) enabling conditions, and (ii) adequate means of implementation, including financial resources, capacity and technology. This aligns well with the key message of ecological civilisation though there is a need to strengthen the social and behavioural aspects of conservation action and dealing with prevention and mitigation against risks.

The Vision suggested in the draft global biodiversity framework for 2050, “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”  is cognizant of the core messages of ecological civilisation and therefore is considerate of the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

The Mission statement for the new draft global biodiversity framework, “To take urgent action across society to put biodiversity on a path to recovery for the benefit of planet and people”, however, needs some re-think since it does not explicitly indicate the need for respecting Nature, deal with sustainable use and protection.

Within the overall context of key messages/principles of ecological civilisation, the Mission could include “the need to take urgent action to ensure people respect, protect and adapt to ways of nature protection that is future-proof”.

Linking the three aspects enshrined within the concept of ecological civilisation, one could use the three components of ecological civilisation to map the current draft global biodiversity targets as follows:

If biodiversity is conserved inside and outside protected areas, people will live in harmony with nature. Photo of a theyyam performance at Neeliyarkottam sacred grove in Kannur district of Kerala. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

Related: [Commentary] Five unconventional issues to be addressed while developing the new CBD strategic plan

New elements for the new framework

Considering the concept of ecological civilisation is something new for the negotiators of CBD, both as a concept and as a principle to guide the future of biodiversity conservation and achieving the objectives of the CBD, it is important for the future discussions and negotiations under CBD to consider elements highlighted, including the use of the mapping provided. Further discussions will be needed to better understand how to effectively use the principles of ecological civilisation could guide the negotiations for developing the post 2020 global biodiversity framework.

The starting point for such discussions should have the overarching theme on ecological civilisation so that it does not become a mere slogan to substantiate the interests of China in promoting such a concept through the Convention it will preside over until 2023. The aim should be to bring about significant change in the way the new global biodiversity framework would be constructed and put into test of realisation.

[Balakrishna Pisupati is chairperson, FLEDGE, former chairperson of the National Biodiversity Authority, Government of India, and has spent many years working on biodiversity policy at UNEP and IUCN].


Banner image: The economic and the ecosystem services that forests provide have a deep impact on the lives and livelihoods in the non-forested areas. Photo by S. Gopikrishna Warrier/Mongabay.

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