Collective conservation is improving the health of the Yangtze River

Posted on September, 11 2023

Living Yangtze 2022 report shows clear improvements in health indicators along the river
A healthy Yangtze River is critical to China’s future, says Kirsten Schuijt, Director General of WWF International in her Foreword to the Living Yangtze 2022 report.

The river basin is home to hundreds of millions of people and it is essential for the security of food and water, human health, rural and urban development, and economic growth. It is also home to extraordinary biodiversity – from the world’s only freshwater porpoise to giant pandas, snow leopards, over 400 species of freshwater fish and millions of migratory birds.
WWF is proud to have partnered with many leading Chinese academic institutions on the development of this Living Yangtze Report. The first report in 2020 provided an unprecedented overview of the status of the basin, which supported more effective conservation and management of the basin.
The Living Yangtze Report 2022 gives us cause for optimism as it shows clear improvements (see details below) over the past two years in the health of the Yangtze – thanks to concerted efforts by governments, corporations and the public.
This welcome news demonstrates that collective conservation action – including major new laws on river and wetland protection – can help to address the enormous challenges facing the world’s third longest river. But there is, of course, much more work to do.
This year’s report optimises the Living Yangtze Index to deliver an even more authoritative analysis of the basin. This will help decision-makers decide the best steps to take to boost biodiversity conservation and ecosystem restoration, and ensure the sustainability of the river’s priceless natural resources.
The report highlights the increasing threat posed by climate change to the vitality and resilience of the Yangtze. The drought and record low river levels in the summer of 2022 underlined the scale of this threat and the need for even greater conservation action and collaboration.
Resilient rivers are critical to tackling the climate and nature crises around the globe, and they are key for sustainable development. Across the globe, awareness is growing of the importance of healthy rivers, and so too the calls to conserve and sustainably manage them.
In November 2022, all countries agreed for the first time at the UNFCCC COP27 that healthy river basins are critical to climate action, particularly adaptation. In December, under the Presidency of China, the world adopted an ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework at the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15. The agreement includes specific text related to the protection and restoration of inland waters, focusing attention on the need for urgent action to tackle the damage we have done to our rivers. It is critical that we take action to reverse the average 83 per cent collapse in freshwater species populations since 1970.
And while this report highlights positive changes in most stretches of the river, it also recommends additional measures to drive further progress – from strengthening climate change monitoring, to improving flood and drought mitigation, and tackling plastic pollution.
Restoring the Yangtze is a long-term and difficult task. But it is possible.
Thanks to the Living Yangtze Report 2022, we now have a much more accurate picture of the health of Asia’s longest river and how best to enhance it, for the  benefit of all the millions of people living there and the rich biodiversity it supports. The report and the Living Yangtze Index – the only basin-level index in the world – will hopefully be replicated across the world, especially now that the second report has showcased the impact and importance of regularly updating river basin health data.
WWF has been working along the Yangtze for decades and it is hugely encouraging to see the evidence of real progress. I am confident that this report will – like its predecessor – contribute significantly to collective efforts to conserve, restore and sustainably manage the Yangtze River for the benefit of people and nature.
Living Yangtze 2022 Results: The comprehensive evaluation of the Living Yangtze reveals variations in the Living Yangtze Index (LYI) across different sections of the Yangtze River and its four large lakes. The Living Index of the Yangtze River mainstem is 0.69, with a grade of B minus - this represents a slight improvement from the LYI score of 0.66 reported in 2020.

The Source of Yangtze River LYI has a value of 0.97, which is a decrease of 0.03 from 2020, receiving a grade of A.

The Upper Yangtze River LYI received a value of 0.67, which is an increase of 0.02 from 2020, with a grade of B minus.

The middle Yangtze River LIY has a value of 0.55, which is an increase of 0.04 from 2020, with a grade of C.

The Lower Yangtze River LIY has a value of 0.66, which is an increase of 0.05 from 2020 and with a grade of B minus.

The evaluation grade for Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake is C, Taihu Lake is C minus. The grade for Chaohu Lake is D minus. Unfortunately, Taihu Lake and Chaohu Lake continue to face significant threats, as reflected by Chaohu Lake’s declining Living Index score of 0.25, compared to its core in 2020.


Beginning in 1998, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has regularly released an updated Living Planet Report to track the status of global biodiversity. Over this same period, WWF has devoted much effort to research and implementation of conservation strategies for Yangtze River freshwater ecosystems, protecting wetlands, promoting "environment flow", safeguarding the habitats of finless porpoises, fish, and millions of water birds, and continually seeking to enhance the value of the river basin ecosystem services.

Reflecting on 20 years of experience working in the Yangtze basin, WWF developed the conceptual framework of the “Living Yangtze Index” and launched the Living Yangtze Report project in 2018. The report aspires to track the health of freshwater ecosystems in the Yangtze River Basin and contribute to an “all-out effort to protect the Yangtze River” during the construction of the Yangtze River Economic Belt, while advocating for the high-quality development of the Yangtze River Basin.

WWF collaborated with several organizations, released the first Living Yangtze Report in 2020 when the progress of environmental sustainability initiatives was reviewed worldwide. The report garnered wide attention both domestically and internationally.

In 2022, building upon the Living Yangtze Report 2018, WWF again collaborated with other organizations to create the Living Yangtze Report 2022. This updated version re-evaluates the Living Yangtze Index, optimizing and enhancing its performance. The report features new content examining the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on the Yangtze River Basin.

This report was developed and compiled with the support of Coca-Cola.
Bend on the Yangtze River, China
© Weiyang Dou
Cover of WWF Living Yangtze 2022 report
© WWF-China
Boat sailing on the Yangtze River. The Yangtze is used a lot for people who go from one city to another. Chongqing Municipality, China.
© WWF / Michel Gunther
A finless porpoise on the Oxbow Reserve, connected to the Yangtze River
© Justin Jin / WWF-US