Chelsea Flower Show Kicks Off Tuesday amid Climate Change Challenges

Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP
Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP
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Chelsea Flower Show Kicks Off Tuesday amid Climate Change Challenges

Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP
Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP

Early springs, droughts and floods are influencing this year's Chelsea Flower Show, which is keener than ever to reflect the changing climate and cut its own carbon footprint.

The annual exhibition of horticultural excellence and innovation opens to the public in west London on Tuesday, with more than 150,000 visitors expected.

King Charles III, a lifelong environmentalist who once admitted talking to his plants, got a sneak peek on Monday, in a behind-closed-doors visit with wife Queen Camilla.

The 75-year-old monarch, who is being treated for cancer, visited a garden created by and for children -- a first in the show's 111-year history.

The Chelsea Flower Show, organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, has in recent years become increasingly focused on sustainable development and biodiversity, AFP reported.

This year, the biggest gardens have had to submit their plans in advance, so they could be scrutinised for issues such as water usage, waste and materials.

Adaptations made as a result have led to a 20-percent reduction in their carbon footprint, according to the RHS.

Since last year, all exhibited gardens must be able to be transferred in whole or in part to decorate schools, hospitals or other public spaces throughout the country.

Among the 35 gardens competing in four categories this year is one focusing on water harvesting to combat drought.

An elegantly curved sloping roof pavilion harvests water and redirects it to be stored, while the plants were selected for their resilience to either drought or flooding.

The Water Aid Garden "is like a giant sponge", its designer Tom Massey told AFP.

"All the water is drawn up, it's utilised, all the hard landscaping is open and permeable as well to allow water to pass through and soak into the garden."

Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins.

"A garden more climate- and flood-resilient does not have to be a compromise on either its form or function," said its designer Naomi Slade.

Co-designer Ed Barsley said that increases in extreme weather events such as heavy rain, flooding, drought and wildfire left many people anxious.

"As individuals they can feel powerless to make a difference. But gardens are hugely powerful tools," he added.

One of the gardens on display this year uses only recycled materials from previous editions of the Chelsea Flower Show.

A mild winter and an early spring, followed by a cold snap, has forced some gardens to review their plans.

Designer Anne-Marie Powell said she had given up on local hawthorns as they were already wilted, and certain types of irises.

"Climate change is proving a huge challenge for us," she told AFP. But she added: "There is a massive opportunity to rethink and experiment."

The result is plants that are not normally a feature at the Chelsea Flower Show.

"People really need to adapt, they need to experiment," she added.



What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
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What is China's Panda Diplomacy and How Does it Work?

Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)
Wang Wang the panda is seen during China's Premier Li Qiang's visit to the Adelaide Zoo in Adelaide on June 16, 2024. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake / POOL / AFP)

During a visit to Australia this week, Chinese Premier Li Qiang made a classic goodwill gesture that boded well for relations between the two countries: he offered to send pandas.
The offer comes as ties between Australia and its largest trading partner improve after a diplomatic dispute that led to China imposing a raft of restrictions on Australian agricultural and mineral exports in 2020.
Native to China, pandas have through the years become "envoys of friendship", earning China's outreach to countries it gifts the animals to the name of panda diplomacy, Reuters said.
They have also been used to show Chinese anger.
So what is panda diplomacy and how does it work?
WHEN DID PANDA DIPLOMACY START?
Since its founding in 1949, the People's Republic of China has used panda diplomacy to boost its international image, either by gifting or lending panda to foreign zoos as goodwill animal ambassadors.
Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1957 gifted a panda, Ping Ping, to the former Soviet Union to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the October Revolution that ushered in the Soviet regime.
To further cement ties with its socialist allies, China dispatched another panda to the Soviet Union in 1959 and five more to North Korea between 1965 and 1980.
In 1972, Beijing gifted two pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, to the United States after then President Richard Nixon's historic visit, in a sign of normalized China-US relations and marking a pivotal moment for China's foreign policy.
Since then, other countries including Japan, France, Britain and Spain have also been given panda.
WHAT'S THE PANDA DIPLOMACY POLICY?
Since 1984, China stopped gifting pandas due to their dwindling numbers and began loaning them to overseas zoos instead, often in pairs for 10 years, with an annual fee of up to about $1 million.
While keeping pandas can be costly for zoos, they are seen as drawcards for visitors and help generate income.
The pandas typically return home to southwest China after the loan agreement ends. Panda cubs born overseas are no exception, and would be sent home between the age of two and four to join a Chinese breeding program.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
China has a history of using pandas to reward its trading partners. A 2013 Oxford University study said the timing of China's lease of pandas to Canada, France and Australia "coincided with" uranium deals and contracts with these countries.
The panda agreements with other countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, also coincided with the signing of free-trade agreements.
Sometimes, pandas are also used to express China's displeasure with a nation.
In 2010, China recalled two US-born pandas, Tai Shan and Mei Lan, after Beijing warned Washington against a scheduled meeting between then-President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, which Beijing views as a dangerous separatist.
In a recent downturn in bilateral ties, Ya Ya, on loan to the US for 20 years, was returned in April 2023.
Concerns over her health had also fanned nationalist sentiment on China's social media, with animal advocates accusing the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee of providing inadequate care to the animal.
In November last year, three other pandas left, leaving only four giant pandas on US soil.
That month, Chinese President Xi Jinping then hinted that he was open to sending more pandas to the US after meeting with President Joe Biden in California, a gesture seen as Chinese willingness to improve ties.
ARE PANDAS STILL ENDANGERED?
China's domestic conservation programs have seen the status of pandas improve from endangered to vulnerable.
The population of giant pandas in the wild has grown from around 1,100 in the 1980s to 1,900 in 2023.
There are currently 728 pandas in zoos and breeding centers around the world.