By Ari Phillips
In early June, Chinese officials announced plans to set up trial national parks throughout the country for the next three years. Inspired by the U.S. system that came into being more than 140 years ago with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the effort is the latest push in what amounts to a race against time to protect the country’s remaining pristine regions.
The timing aligns with other developmental priorities of the Communist Party and the increasingly engaged public, according to Carla Freeman, a research professor in the China program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. China has been dealing with an air pollution epidemic, especially in urban centers where power plants and diesel exhaust can combine to create a near-impenetrable smog.
“The decision by China to develop a true national park system should be seen in the context of the growing understanding in China not only by the government and scientific communities but also on the part of an increasingly educated public — and one that is increasingly seeing the effects of the pollution that has gone hand in hand with China’s rapid economic growth in their health — that China’s environment is in crisis,” Freeman told ThinkProgress.
The new parks program is set up as a unique partnership between China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Chicago-based Paulson Institute. Its intention is to elevate some of China’s protected areas — including nature reserves, world heritage sites, forest parks, and geological parks — to the next level of oversight, in an attempt to vastly improve management and oversight practices.
Protected areas currently cover about 18 percent of China’s total landmass, a higher percentage than most countries. However, according to the Paulson Institute, “these protected areas are not sufficiently safeguarding China’s rich and unique biodiversity and ecologically critical ecosystems and effectively preserving diverse natural and cultural resources…”