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[BEIJING] China has promised to spend 50 billion yuan (US$6 billion) between 2001 and 2005 to protect its biological diversity. It will also invest another 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) to improve facilities, such as databases, needed to assist the country's conservation efforts.

The announcement, made last week by Bai Chengshou, vice director of the office for convention implementation in the State Environmental Protection Administration, represents a significant increase in spending. Between 1996 and 2000, although the government spent 450 billion yuan (US$54.3 billion) on 'environmental protection', no funds were allocated specifically for biodiversity conservation.

Speaking on the 10th anniversary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which went into effect on 28 December 1992, Bai said that some of the money would be used to develop a nationwide environment protection network, and to purchase and build facilities for environment protection organisations. Funds will also be available to increase biodiversity research capacity, and to create a national information system allowing different levels of government to access up-to-date information on endangered plants and animals.

Bai also said that China will revise its national plan on the protection of biological diversity to co-ordinate its efforts to protect biodiversity with other environmental goals, such as the prevention of desertification.

China has already passed a series of biodiversity laws and regulations, but these still need improvement, Bai said. For example, China still lacks adequate measures to counter the spread of alien species, and existing laws to protect biodiversity are implemented by different government departments, leading to a lack of coherence.

China is one of the world's most biodiverse countries, but much of its biodiversity is under threat. Researchers estimate that about 4,000 to 5,000 plant species in China are endangered.

China originally made its biodiversity plan in 1993, when it joined the convention. Since then, it has increased its number of nature reserves from 638 in 1991 to 1,551 in 2001.

Bai said that China is to give priority to conserving 17 regions that are of crucial importance for global biodiversity protection, including 11 land areas, three wetlands and three ocean areas. Protection measures in such regions will include the creation of natural reserves and bans on polluting construction projects, he said.