International Collaboration Produces Recommendations for China’s National Park System

The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Paulson Institute and Heren Foundation unveiled a book series yesterday that makes recommendations for China’s new national park system. As the first and most comprehensive publication of its kind, the national parks book series marks an important milestone towards creating a unified and effective national park system.

Establishing a national park system has been one of China’s key national strategies since 2013 and presents an opportunity to streamline and consolidate the various types of protected areas, which currently account for 20% of China’s land. To work toward this goal, NDRC and Paulson Institute signed a framework agreement for cooperation in 2015 to advance the establishment of China’s national park system through research and exchanges programs.

The 14-volume book set is the culmination of this three-year collaboration, tapping into the most important aspects of national park system design for China, including governance structure, spatial planning, legal foundation, resource conservation, concession management and financing mechanism. The international case studies draw on experience and lessons from countries with well-established national park systems, including Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States.

“This project completed solid research to a high academic standard that offers practical guidance to support reaching consensus about how to establish the system of national parks, develop a national parks master plan, and promote the reform of the protected area system,” said Peng Fuwei, Deputy Director General, Department of Social Development, NDRC.

Highlighting the value of drawing on international case studies in preparing the recommendations, Rose Niu, Chief Conservation Officer, Paulson Institute, added, “One of the most important roles Paulson Institute can play is to identify and promote international best practice. In partnership with NDRC and Heren Foundation, we have drawn on good practices from countries across the world to develop recommendations to assist China in establishing a world-class national park system.”

Tsinghua University Professor Yang Rui, one of the authors of the book series added, “Scientific research lays the foundation for the appropriate development of China’s national parks. The more that systematic research and solid groundwork is conducted, the more effective the system of national parks and conversation can be. The publication of the result of this project aims to do just that. The book series represents a systematic and in-depth study of national parks involving perspectives from nearly one hundred researchers.”

The recommendations cover:

  • Governance and spatial planning: China’s protected areas should be consolidated into six new categories, and a systematic management system for all protected areas should be established, with well-defined accountabilities and effective supervision.
  • Candidate national park sites: The research proposes 84 national park candidate sites, both terrestrial and marine, based on analysis of factors including national significance and representativeness of the biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as the spatial distribution of existing protected areas, etc.
  • Legal framework: The development, building and management of protected areas call for strong legal protection. It is imperative to pass a dedicated national law for the unified administration of the recommended protected area system with national parks at its core, along with other necessary regulatory documents that would define the nature and status of national parks.
  • Finance: The central government should assume major responsibility for financing national parks and other national protected areas. In addition, to prevent economic development taking precedence over ecological conservation, the national park management authority should establish a solid financial management mechanism that separates revenues and expenditures.
  • Planning: Planning practices at all levels should follow unified standards to ensure the quality of the plans. National park planning should be well coordinated with other land use plans in national, reginal and local levels.
  • Concessions: Only necessary and appropriate visitor facilities and services should be allowed inside the parks, with nearby gateway communities providing most of the services and facilities. National Parks Administration should define clearly the scope and types of commercial concessions allowed in parks. Strong oversight and management measures should be taken to ensure the visitor uses will not damage natural and cultural resources in the parks.