On September 6, 2019, a ceremony in Qixian marked the end of the Changyuan wetlands restoration project, attended by representatives from France (AFD, the embassy and engineering offices) and China (central ministries, contracting authorities, managers of other wetland parks).
The Qixian district in Shanxi, a province covering part of the Loess Plateau in northern China, has historically been rich in wetlands. But they have deteriorated due to heavy human and industrial activity, endangering dozens of plant and animal species. While the plateau is one of the driest and most eroded regions on the planet, the wetlands provide valuable, though fragile freshwater resources.
Restoring a River - and Everything Around it
In 2014, an ambitious project financed by an AFD loan of €30 million, was launched to support the ecological restoration of the wetlands, to protect threatened species and develop eco-tourism.
The environment had been subject to chronic drought and heavy exploitation of natural resources. Changyuan River had all but dried up and the sandbanks had been significantly depleted.
The challenge was to shore up central natural resources so they in turn could provide a lifeline to the surrounding area, in keeping with the concept of Nature-Based Solutions. At the heart of the project were plans to restore the permanent riverbed, creating ecological corridors to wetlands and forest ecosystems.
It’s part of a process the French company Phytorestore calls “renaturalization”: the restoration of natural resources in a way that allows them to be self-sustaining. Phyotorestore specializes in pollution treatment and restoration using plants and vegetation. With a group of small and medium-sized French and Chinese companies, the team has installed a water-treatment system, rebuilt sandbanks and restored more than 10 kms of the Changyuan River, thus protecting a major water resource.
For both the Chinese authorities and AFD, this is a case study for the preservation of wetlands in arid or semi-arid regions around the world. It is also a concrete response to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Such processes make local ecosystems more robust and resilient.
The ceremony of September 6 was followed by a forum on wetlands and climate change, and an event marking the “Franco-Chinese Year of the Environment.” The high turnout illustrated a growing interest in green solutions that are effective and sustainable – and which do not depend on costly materials.
These kinds of natural restoration will be a key theme at the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15), to be hosted by China in 2020.
And in the approach to next week’s climate summit in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made nature-based solutions one of six “action portfolios” – measures that have a high potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions and boost environmental resilience.