Rose Niu, Chief Conservation Officer at the Paulson Institute, is helping China to develop a blueprint for coastal wetlands preservation and to establish the country’s first system of national parks.
You have been hosting Chinese wetlands experts for an exchange with US colleagues during Climate Week. What’s the connection to climate change?
China’s coastland region is home for 40% of the population and produces 60% of GDP. It’s a very, very important area economically. At the same time, the coast is very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. With sea levels rising, protecting wetlands will help communities to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, including extreme weather events like floods and storms.
Why are your projects to protect habitats of migratory birds important? Aren’t birds low on the priority list for China, as it tries to reform the economy?
This is not just about birds. The birds are an indication of the quality of the natural environment. If they are gone, it means the habitats are also no longer suitable for humans. When birds disappear, that’s an indicator of the degradation of the ecosystem functions, such as clean water, fishery products, on which human survival depends. Our well being—derived from tourism and outdoor activities, for example—also depends on a healthy environment.
What do national parks have to do with Xi Jinping’s big goals, such as the drive for the “Chinese dream?”
China’s dream and the development of what President Xi Jinping calls a “eco-civilization” are the same thing. Lots of natural environments in China are degraded. The Chinese government needs to prove it can deliver clean air, clean water, and safe food to its citizens. It can no longer follow the model of economic growth at any cost. The national parks system is part of the development of an eco-civilization that respects nature. National parks will protect China’s remaining natural wonders and cultural heritage. For Chinese citizens, national parks will be a source of national pride, and also a way to fulfill their spiritual needs.