Mongabay Video

Charting a new environmental course in China

/ Mark Szotek

Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) works in more than 30 countries and has projects in all 50 of the United States. The Conservancy has over one million members, and has protected more than 119 million acres of wild-lands and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide. TNC has taken an active interest in China, the world's most populated nation, and in many important ways, a critical center of global development. The following is an interview with multiple directors of The Nature Conservancy's China Program.

An interview with the Nature Conservancy’s China Program.

TNC staff and volunteers repairing signage at Meili Snow Mountain National Park in northwest Yunnan. Community benefits and ecotourism are at the heart of TNC's program to establish national parks in China. Photo by: Tang Ling.
TNC staff and volunteers repairing signage at Meili Snow Mountain National Park in northwest Yunnan. Community benefits and ecotourism are at the heart of TNC’s program to establish national parks in China. Photo by: Tang Ling.

Founded in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) works in more than 30 countries and
has projects in all 50 of the United States. The Conservancy has over one million
members, and has protected more than 119 million acres of wild-lands and 5,000 miles
of rivers worldwide. TNC has taken an active interest in China, the world’s most
populated nation, and in many important ways, a critical center of global development.
The following is an interview with multiple directors of The Nature Conservancy’s China
Program
.

Mongabay: Please tell our readers about the background and history of The Nature
Conservancy’s (TNC) work in China.


Zhang Shuang, the Director of the TNC China Program.

Zhang Shuang, the Director of the TNC China Program.

Zhang Shuang, Director of TNC China
Program:
Though TNC is a big international
organization, we started small in China,
in the critically important Northwest
corner of the province of Yunnan. We
were invited by the Yunnan provincial
government to help them complete a
regional conservation plan. That was in
1998. We still operate a number of
projects in Yunnan but now have also
expanded site work into Sichuan, Inner
Mongolia, and the Yangtze River Basin.

While the opportunities and need for addressing environmental challenges in China are
enormous, we still try to focus our work on select areas, where we can really have an
impact. This includes addressing climate change (through restoring forests and creating
adaptation strategies), introducing new models of protected areas while strengthening
existing conservation landscapes, and minimizing the
impact of hydropower and other development in the
Yangtze River Basin, China’s heartland.

I feel that many NGOs take on more than they can
realistically accomplish. Unfortunately, this often
makes their work ineffective. And this is why it is vital
that The Nature Conservancy China Program
step up in an inclusive (of local interests) and
measured pace.

Mongabay: Please tell our readers why China matters, especially in the arena of global
environmental efforts.


Ma Jian, Deputy Director of TNC China Program.

Yu Jie, Climate Change Policy Director of TNC China Program:
China’s significance is reflected by its impact on many global
economic development and resource consumption figures. Since
joining WTO in 2003, China has produced more of the world’s trading
commodities than any other nation. The changing lifestyle of the
Chinese people has enormous impact.

As a result, China now exceeds the US as the biggest energy
consumer in the world and is also now the largest GHGs or “green
house gases” emitter. China purchases raw materials globally,
mainly from other developing countries, then produces and sells
finished goods both domestically and to overseas markets.

Since China is the world’s largest consumer of coal, iron ore, copper, aluminum and
timber, where our country buys these materials, how it is processed in China, and how
Chinese manufacturing affects world resource markets, are the challenges that make
China matter.

Mongabay: It has been all too common for many in the conservation community to
simply label China as an “environmental bulldozer” in the battle to safeguard global
natural resources. What is TNC’s position on this line of thought?

Zhang Shuang, Director of TNC China
Program:
China has rapidly growing resource demands. There’s no denying that. We have a
huge population that is focused on development and improving our quality of life. But we
at TNC see China—in many ways—more as an opportunity to improve global practices
around the environment. This is at the root of our non-confrontational, solutions-oriented
approach. Everything happens faster here, especially regarding regulations and
attitudes towards the environment. China is already becoming a global leader in fields
like green technology and ecological restoration, and is taking many noteworthy actions
to address climate change.

Of 26GW (gigawatts) global solar PV production, China manufactured over
80%. Ten percent of the products are consumed domestically and the rest to
supply a growing global market.

According to Global Wind Energy Council, China has led the new wind
energy installation capacity globally. The country’s new installation was
18GW in 2011, which counts for 2/5 of global wind energy production.

In 2009 alone, China planted 5.88 million hectares of forest, two and a half
times more trees every year than the rest of the world combined. This effort
represents the largest tree-planting program the world has ever seen.

Mongabay: Please describe some of the conservation highlights that the Conservancy
has fostered while working in China.

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