Nature and Biodiversity

How nature positive start-ups are helping China build a carbon neutral economy

As one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, China has set itself ambitious nature and climate targets. Image: REUTERS/David Stanway u000d

Yangjie (JoJo) Zheng
Founder, Good to Nature
John Dutton
Head, Uplink; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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  • As the world's second largest economy, China can play a key leadership role in the move towards a carbon neutral and nature-positive future.
  • Everyone from industry and major organizations, to start-ups and individuals must be involved for China to meet its climate and biodiversity goals.
  • In a bid to support such efforts, the first China-based ‘Top Innovators’ to join the UpLink community through its Biodiversity Challenge were unveiled at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions.

As the world’s second largest economy and one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, China is set to play a vital role in leading the global transition to a carbon neutral and nature-positive future through its ecological transformation.

In addition to the country’s robust economic and technological progress over the past 40 years, including raising 800 million out of poverty, there have also been significant strides in tackling biodiversity loss and environmental degradation.


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Accordingly, coupling China’s technological prowess with its environmental leadership can help expedite the transition to a nature-positive economy and realise President Xi Jinping’s national priority of creating an ‘ecological civilization’, which aims for balanced and sustainable development featuring harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.

But there remains much work to be done and everyone from industry and major organizations, to start-ups and individuals will need to be involved for China to meet its ambitious climate and biodiversity goals.

China’s nature and climate goals

Global warming exceeded 1.5C across the 12-month period between February 2023 and January 2024, in the world’s first year-long breach of the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting warming to 1.5C and highlighting the urgent need for action to tackle climate change.

Meanwhile, climate change and pollution are the third biggest driver of biodiversity loss, currently accounting for 14%, and within decades is expected to move to the top of the list.

China’s overall goal is to build a ‘beautiful China’ where humans and nature live in harmony by 2050, and this will require coordinated progress in addressing climate change and protecting biodiversity.

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To tackle climate change, China aims to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. By 2030, it plans to reduce carbon emissions per unit of GDP by more than 65% compared to 2005 levels.

In terms of ecosystem restoration and biodiversity protection, China has set ambitious goals for 2030 as outlined under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework: effectively restoring at least 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland water, and coastal and marine ecosystems; and effectively protecting and managing at least 30% of terrestrial, inland water, and of coastal and marine areas.

Unique challenges require bespoke solutions

Compared to developed countries, China faces a tighter timeline and heavier tasks to meet its carbon neutrality and biodiversity targets – so concerted efforts will need to be made across all sectors of society.

China also faces additional complexities due to its vast territory and differences in regional economic development levels and industrial structures necessitating tailored approaches.

In addition, there are technological challenges, including bottlenecks in the development of systems like renewable energy and carbon capture and storage, alongside societal ones such as a lack of public awareness and participation in environmental protection – despite efforts to tackle these being made by the Chinese government.

This action on climate and biodiversity will also require financing. By 2050, China needs roughly $26 trillion green investment, and the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan is expected to put $6 trillion investment in climate change related and digital economy support.

Opportunities for innovation in China’s green economy

China has become world-renowned for innovation in high-tech fields such as smart manufacturing, semiconductors, artificial intelligence and ecommerce. So how can this innovation be leveraged for the green economy?

As it moves toward being carbon neutral, ecopreneurs and their start-ups can play an important role in driving China’s nature-related targets. Firstly, through innovations and solutions to promote green technologies and accelerate the transformation across industries.

Secondly, by working with government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and communities, these early-stage start-ups can both promote a collaborative model and raise ecological awareness among businesses and the public alike.

However, despite their innovative solutions, purpose-driven start-ups worldwide often face challenges in financing development and scaling up, particularly amid ongoing global social instability and worldwide economic uncertainty.

In a bid to source, promote and accelerate these innovations at a time when they are needed most, UpLink, the World Economic Forum’s open innovation platform, alongside, a Forum initiative to connect, empower and mobilize reforestation worldwide, have partnered to source – for the first time in China – innovators that can accelerate progress on meeting the country’s climate goals, including 24% forest coverage by 2025.

UpLink’s recent Biodiversity Challenge called for innovative entrepreneurial solutions that promote the conservation, protection and restoration of biodiversity, while also enabling the maintenance of services that are crucial for the health of terrestrial ecosystems.

This innovation challenge, run in collaboration with Mercuria, was also supported in China by Good to Nature, which works to restore forests that represent the country’s biodiversity hotspots, employing a volunteer and non-profit model to encourage greater participation of both Chinese industry leaders and the public in ecosystem restoration.

Together, UpLink, and Good to Nature aim to support early-stage start-ups working on breakthrough technologies tackling China’s biodiversity loss to gain visibility and support from investors and partners to scale up their ventures.

The first group of China-based ‘Top Innovators’ to join the UpLink community were unveiled at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian where the theme is ‘Next Frontier of Growth’. These nature positive start-ups are:

  • RoboticsCats has created an AI-based service that provides automated wildlife monitoring and early wildfire detection technologies for nature-based solutions focused on biodiversity protection. Additionally, by sharing real-time images and videos, it aims to encourage greater awareness of, and participation in, ecosystem protection.
  • Huangshan Green Anhui Conservation Centre uses DNA monitoring technology to track and safely manage the population and distribution of wild animals in protected areas. Its patrol system can be widely replicated in nature reserves around the world in parallel with activities that support communities.
  • SEED Nature is committed to protecting and utilizing endangered plants in China’s Gaoligong mountains. SEED Nature collaborates with local communities to develop ecotourism and nature education, providing environmentally-friendly business opportunities and increasing community income.
  • ReWild Yunnan aims to protect and restore Yunnan’s forest ecosystems by offering large scale and cost effective multispecies restoration projects in China’s most diverse province. Through its projects, ReWild Yunnan plants a wide range of carefully selected local tree species to achieve maximum restoration impact.

These solutions showcase China’s innovation and leadership in ecosystem restoration and biodiversity protection, and highlight how through cross-discipline collaboration, technological innovation and social participation, it is possible to achieve sustainability goals and meet the country’s carbon neutral and biodiversity targets.

Working together, we look forward to bringing more Chinese solutions to the global stage, attracting global support to help Chinese eco-enterprises grow and contributing to building a beautiful China where humans and nature live in harmony.

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