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There's a growing focus on ocean resilience in China – and the positive impacts could be global

Haixi, Qinghai, China. Photo: 泽新 李 on Unsplash

Over half of China’s population lives on the coast and the demographic is responsible for 60% of national GDP. Image: 泽新 李 on Unsplash

Guo Jingjing
Olympic diving champion; Ambassador, Key Connect; Ocean Program Director, Global Green Technology Center (GGTC), China, Member of Friends of Ocean Action
Su Jilan
Academician at Chinese Academy of Science, Director, Second Institute of Oceanography, State Oceanic Administration, Member of Friends of Ocean Action
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This article is part of: Virtual Ocean Dialogues
  • Pressure on the ocean from human activities and their impact on the marine environment are becoming more widely understood in China.
  • For restoration and sustainable utilisation of marine resources, China needs to adopt a coordinated management approach under rigorous scientific guidance.
  • China’s position and attitude on ocean governance will have a positive and significant impact globally.

Like many coastal nations, China has also been facing an acute decline in the health of the ocean along its coastline caused by both terrestrial and marine development. The rapid expansion of the ocean economy, as well as increasing discharge of land-based pollutants, have exerted a heavy toll on China’s coastal waters, such as the decline in sea water quality, the accumulation of debris along the coasts, depletion of fish resources, the frequent outbreak of harmful algal blooms, and so on.

Subsequent to the recent proclamation by China on attaining its carbon neutral target by 2060, there has been increasing discussion on the role of ocean resilience both in building marine ecological civilisation and in combating climate change. While we are pleased to see this development, we should also be aware that recognizing a problem is only the first step in solving it.

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The importance of ocean resilience is emerging

Over half of China’s population resides along the coast and the demographic is responsible for 60% of national GDP. The Chinese government places great expectations on the ocean’s contribution to its economy, as was emphasised in its Maritime Power Strategy and National Marine Economy Development Plan.

As the ocean and ecosystem services they provide come under ever greater threat, dedicated efforts are required not only for ecological protection and restoration, but also to ensure that further development of current and emerging industries take place in a sustainable manner. Ensuring the resilience of the oceans is, thus, essential for China to strike a balance between protection and development.

In fact, the importance of the marine ecological environment has always been reflected in China’s strategies and policies, ranging from the National Five-Year Plan (FYP) to specific industry regulations. In the 20 years from the 10th FYP to the 13th FYP, China has formulated around 50 fisheries policies, in which green, healthy and sustainable development were always the core principles. Some 271 marine reserves had been established by the end of 2018; practices proven detrimental to ocean health, such as land reclamation, were totally halted and banned; while regulation of the fishing closed season has been continuously improved. The forthcoming 14th FYP specifies that China will coordinate efforts to protect marine ecology, develop the marine economy and safeguard maritime rights and interests.

Key areas in the process of improving ocean resilience

The concept is quite clear and easy to understand – protect the most valuable areas while using and governing the ocean in a manner that will allow it to support society now and into the future. However, the story is a little bit different when it comes to specific issues and solutions. The challenges and opportunities are dynamic, which require learning from past experience and exchanging information with others, as well as developing innovative ways of protecting the ocean.

There have been good examples amongst China’s coastal restoration progress, such as restoring aquaculture farming to mudflats in Hainan, the re-establishment of a wetland reserve in Yancheng, and mangrove restoration in Guangxi. Different departments are also actively exploring ways to better cooperate to achieve coordinated land and maritime development, while viewing the natural world and industry as a synergetic system.

It has been found that with a favourable policy environment in place, coordinated management under rigorous scientific guidance determines the success of coastal ecological restoration and sustainable utilisation of marine resources. There are still issues to be solved: how to set up relevant scientific indicators for better effective restoration, how to match ecological indexes with fisheries indexes, how to link marine functional zone planning with other planning, and how to manage rivers and seas in a coordinated way.

Ocean resilience cannot be improved in a day. There’s a need to ensure that ocean investors are made aware of how their investments affect the marine environment and how a declining ocean environment, in turn, can affect the outcomes of their investments. It is also urgent to break down the barriers for private and public funds to invest into nature.

A broad community of stakeholders is growing in China that is aiming to strengthen ocean resilience – including governments, industries, multilateral development banks, the NGO community, scientists and local communities. Their joint efforts will be the underpinning of actions in the future.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about the ocean?

China’s role in leading efforts to build a resilient ocean

China’s leadership in the global response to climate change has demonstrated its sense of responsibility as a major developing country, and its determination in contributing to a community with a shared future for mankind. In fact, climate change, biodiversity loss and the wellbeing of the ocean should be and are already being discussed and addressed together.

China's position and attitude on ocean governance will have a positive and significant impact globally, helping to lead efforts to build a resilient ocean for the future.

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World Economic Forum

May 21, 2024

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