In the News: Paulson Institute’s National Parks Project

By LI Xiaohua,

Rose Niu Photo
Rose Niu is Chief Conservation Officer at the Paulson Institute.

How national parks will be set up in China has attracted wide public attention since the idea was first proposed. During the recent two parliamentary sessions, CPPCC member Xie Zhenhua said in a news conference that creating national parks is a necessary policy measure in China.

The Paulson Institute, a U.S. think tank, signed a cooperative partnership agreement with the National Development and Reform Commission of China (NDRC) in June 2015 on developing China’s emerging national park system. The Paulson Institute’s Chief Conservation Officer Rose Niu told us that it’s uncertain when and where the first national park will be unveiled.

The Chinese government’s plan to pilot the country’s national park system started in 2015 and will last three years. Fujian, Yunnan, Hunan, Hubei, Zhejiang, Qinghai, Beijing, Jilin and Heilongjiang were among the first group of provinces and municipalities in the pilot program. We learned that at the end of 2017, based on the research results of the pilot program, the NDRC will work with other relevant central government authorities to develop a master plan for national parks and report to the State Council and the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms.

In its first year working with the NDRC, the Paulson Institute chose the Wuyi Mountain area as the focus of its research, because this area is representative of the key challenges and opportunities facing China’s nature reserves. In the three-year pilot program, the Paulson Institute will work on various projects and events with the Chinese government and research institutions. The projects in the first year include writing case studies of international best practices, building capacity for government officials and park managers, developing technical guidelines for the pilot provinces, and conducting research on systems and institutions, policies as well as planning in the Wuyi Mountain area.

The Paulson Institute’s Conservation Program led by Rose Niu is dedicated to protecting globally significant biodiversity and ecosystems and promoting the conservation and sustainability of China’s natural resources. She told us that the concept of national parks originated in the United States and has a history of 144 years since the U.S. Congress approved the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872. Pursuant to the National Park Service Organic Act passed by the United States Congress, the U.S. government created the National Park Service (NPS) in 1906 as an agency of the Department of the Interior. Establishing any national park in the United States must be approved by the Congress.

National parks are the most beloved and rigorously protected areas in the United States. They not only preserve the most important and quintessential natural, historical and cultural heritage of the United States, but also serve as best venues for civic education and recreation for the Americans. Given their importance to the nation and the people, the federal government provides the majority of the funding for the maintenance and management of national parks. The United States Congress approves the NPS’s annual budget, which in 2014 amounted to USD 2.5 billion, for the management and operation of the national park system. Some national parks are free of charge, while others with easy access and large numbers of tourists charge a small fee. The annual pass for all national parks in the United States costs USD $80 only. Tickets sales represent a small percentage of the NPS’s annual budget and are mainly used to build and maintain visitor facilities.

In the last century, countries across the globe eagerly embraced the concept of national parks. Different national park systems were born given each country has its own political, economic and cultural context. Rose Niu pointed out that China can leverage the experiences and lessons of other countries to design its own national park system that meets international standards and fits China’s reality.

A project team consisting of domestic and international experts led by the Paulson Institute is currently working on case studies of international best practices in developing national park systems and their implications for China. The case studies focused on six representative countries including the United States, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany and Russia to learn in a systematic way the history, legal framework, organizational structure, funding, mechanism for public participation, spatial planning and conservation management of these countries’ national park systems, present a full picture of the trajectory of how the concept of their national park systems is turned into reality, and summarize the decision-making and practical theories and technical methods applicable to China that are targeted at the key difficulties and challenges for China in developing its national park system.

When asked about the relationship between international think tanks and China’s development, Rose Niu answered that most of the golden ages were the most liberal and tolerant periods in China’s history. Globalization is the current trend of world history. China’s economy, trade, and finance are deeply integrated into the world system. China has become one of the most important countries on the world stage. As a result, international think tanks should and can play an important role in China’s development. “As observers, international think tanks can offer unique perspectives and recommendations and share international views and experience with China”, said Rose Niu.

The Paulson Institute was established by Henry M. Paulson, its current Chairman and the former Secretary of the Treasury of the United States as well as the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs. Its mission is to strengthen U.S.-China relations by advancing sustainable economic growth and environmental protection in both countries.

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