SDG15: Life on Land

Applying three global conditions framework to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in China(2020)

Target: 15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements.


Criteria and processes for the classification of the three conditions for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in China are proposed.

The pressure-state-response indicators of biodiversity vary across the three conditions. Condition 1 (Cities and Farms) is under great pressure; Condition 2 (Shared Landscapes) is highly biodiverse; and Condition 3 (Large Wild Areas) is under intensified conservation. Based on the results of this study, a proposal is made to optimize the spatial allocation of biodiversity conservation efforts in China.


SDG 15 emphasizes the importance of protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems to the conservation of natural habitats and biodiversity (United Nations, 2015). Conservation actions are constrained by the socioeconomic status of different areas. Therefore, the development of tailored conservation policies is vital to more efficient biodiversity conservation efforts.

In the interest of conserving and sustainably using biodiversity, Locke et al. (2019) proposed that land be divided into three conditions for biodiversity conservation and management. In their proposal, Three Global Conditions (3Cs) are identified for the world's land - Cities and Farms, Shared Landscapes, and Large Wild Areas - and different conservation and management strategies for each condition are proposed, thus creating a new framework for the differentiated conservation policies tailored to the realities of different regions. Based on the 3Cs framework, this study is to elaborate the criteria and processes of 3Cs classification in China and analyze the characteristics of 3Cs by using the "pressure-state-response" biodiversity model. Policy recommendations for the spatial optimization of China's biodiversity conservation and management are to emanate from the findings of the study.

Data used

This study uses a range of data on demographics, land cover, net primary productivity, soil organic carbon, distribution of higher plants and terrestrial vertebrates, boundaries of protected areas and key biodiversity areas (Table 1).

Table 1 Data used in the case


China's land area is divided into 1 km × 1 km grid cells (excluding such water bodies as major inland lakes), each of which is assigned to one of the 3Cs against the following criteria. The distribution of indicators that reflect "pressure-state-response" of biodiversity in each condition is calculated separately. Population numbers are summed and other indicators averaged.

    Condition 1 (C1): Cities and Farms

     Population density≥1 000/km2 OR percentage of agricultural and urban land > 50%

    Condition 2 (C2): Shared Landscapes

    Not C1 AND {percentage of agricultural and urban land > 0.5% OR Human Modification Index (Kennedy et al., 2019) > 0.1}

   Condition 3 (C3): Large Wild Areas

   Identified as a wilderness patch larger than 10 km2 according to Cao et al. (2019) AND percentage of agricultural and urban land ≤0.5% AND Human Modification Index≤0.1

Results and analysis

C1, C2 and C3 account for 25.0%, 48.1% and 26.9% of China's land area respectively. C1 and C3 are clearly separated by the Hu Line (Fig. 1).

The distribution of pressure-state-response indicators varies across the three conditions. Among the 3Cs, C1 is under the highest pressure, home to 73.5% of China's population, which saw the highest growth rate between 1990 and 2015. During the 1993-2015 period, 4.5% of natural habitats in C1 showed degradation, while some degree of restoration was observed in C2 and C3. Indicators of the state of biodiversity point to C2 as having the highest concentration of biodiversity, whereas more conservation efforts have been channeled into C3 than C1 and C2.


Figure 1. Distribution and proportions of 3Cs in China


The findings of this study indicate that, of the three conditions, C2 (Shared Landscapes) has the highest concentration of biodiversity in China; the pressure on biodiversity is concentrated in C1 (Cities and Farms); and conservation efforts are concentrated in C3 (Large Wild Areas). The following considerations are recommended for China's future strategies to conserve and manage terrestrial biodiversity:

  (1) Mitigating threats to biodiversity in C1, with a focus on reducing the emissions of pollutants, encouraging recycling and sustainable use of resources, promoting environmentally friendly agriculture, building green cities, and combating such illegal activities as overfishing and overhunting.

  (2) Ramping up protection efforts in C2 to achieve conservation and sustainable use of natural resources and biodiversity through the establishment of new protected areas and other area-based conservation measures (such as community-based conservation actions), establishing corridors for connectivity between protected areas and reducing anthropogenic damage to natural habitats.

 (3) Ensuring long-term conservation of biodiversity in C3  by tightening control on the exploitation and utilization of natural resources in C3, establishing large protected areas, and strengthening monitoring, scientific research and other conservation actions.


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