As China grows rapidly, the Eastern superpower is looking to found a national park system to preserve its natural spaces.
The U.S. National Park system is renowned worldwide for conserving wild areas and attracting millions of tourists each year. China now seeks to emulate that success, reports the New York Times.
On June 8, Chinese officials, working in conjunction with think tank the Paulson Institute, announced they would open trial national park projects in nine provinces within the next three years.
The national park plan comes as China copes with industrial boom, which, in turn, creates pollution and overpopulation. Officials are also increasingly concerned with the degradation in areas like Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou, where tourism often disregards conservation and popular parks are threatened by construction. China currently protects 18 percent of its land mass, more than most countries, but according to the Paulson Institute, it isn’t enough.
According to state news, the plan was kicked off when China’s president, Xi Jinping, instructed senior officials in December 2013 to start work on a national park system. China has been officially protecting areas since 1956, but they are underfunded and often accused of being poorly managed.
The park system is expected to encounter opposition from locals and officials who believe it will hinder China’s rapid progress or disrupt farming and grazing lands. These are all problems that dogged the founding of the American national park system, allowing Chinese officials insight into how to overcome their own obstacles.
The Paulson Institute has pledged its support to China’s national park endeavors, including organizing meetings between Chinese officials and American national park experts, developing guidelines for managing China’s new parks, and developing case studies of national parks around the world. The Paulson Institute’s chief conservation officer, Rose Niu, will coordinate most of the interaction between the two countries.
Whether the project succeeds hinges largely on how much support the government is willing to throw behind it, both politically and financially. Experts are apprehensive but hopeful, as more Chinese officials begin to recognize the country’s ongoing environmental issues and the need to protect nature while generating revenue.
National parks seem to offer both an environmental and economic benefit.
“The Chinese want beautiful places and beautiful landscapes. They want to enjoy the natural resources,” said Niu. “These kinds of resources are less and less in China. China not only needs to fight pollution of air, water and soil, but it also needs to invest in its natural capital.”