Ecological redlines finalised

China’s ecological conservation redlines have been fully laid out, the Ministry of Natural Resources announced on 22 April, Earth Day.

The redlines demarcate areas with important ecological functions, including coastal waters, wetlands, glaciers and forests. The aim is to protect these habitats and their species, while making gains for flood and sandstorm prevention, clean water provision and other ecosystem services.

The State Council first proposed “delineating ecological redlines” in 2011. Twelve years later, the redlines encompass at least 3.15 million square kilometres. That includes 3 million of land – 30% of China’s total land area – and 150,000 of sea, according to the ministry’s announcement.

Given their different geographies, some provinces’ redlines cover more than 50% of their total area, while for others it’s less than 10%.

The redlines will help establish the National Territory Spatial Planning System, being used as a basis for evaluating project planning applications.

Four days later, on 26 April, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) announced that a platform for supervising the redlines had recently been put into operation. It draws on more than thirty satellites to automatically identify surface changes, and provide warnings of ecological damage risk.

In the works since 2018, the platform monitors human activities in real time, screening for suspected damage, and extracting relevant satellite images for human operators to inspect. 

Since 2020, five provinces (Tianjin, Hebei, Jiangsu, Sichuan, and Ningxia) have been piloting regional versions of the platform.

Gao Jixi, director of the Satellite Environmental Application Centre of the MEE, said that in 2020–2021 the regional platforms had identified 313 areas as suspect, and 298 of those were indeed caused by “real human activity changes”.

Read China Dialogue’s article on how to strengthen China’s ecological redlines.