Charting a new environmental course in China
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, 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.
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.
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Yangtze River image via Shutterstock