Professor Lu Zhi

Professor of Conservation Biology, Beijing University. Head of Conservation International’s China Program, China

lu_zhi.png Photo: IUCN

IUCN: What do you think conservation will look like in 20 o50 years time?

 Lu: The future of conservation – to draw an ideal picture here – is when walls are broken down, when we go beyond the traditional conservation domain, abandon our comfort zone, our ideology and start compromising.

In the near future, let’s say in 10 years, I hope that the environment will be mainstreamed in everyone’s lives and that the economy – every single company – automatically measures its ecological footprint, and pays for it.
We are now at a turning point to make conservation relevant to everyone. We are beginning to merge conservation with different sectors, to work together with the economy, the social sector, and others.

IUCN: What are the main challenges we are facing as conservationists? What are the main constraints and their impact on sustainable development?

One major factor is certainly China. China will play a unique role in the future of sustainable development. With China at the current state of development, the planet is at a turning point. China can set an example. It almost has the power to save the planet – or to threaten it to death.

The political will in China is there. The government has recently announced that it wants to build a harmonious society. However, in order to set the country on a sustainable path, it needs help – we cannot do that alone. The international community needs to assist. China needs to be brought into an international state, be involved in international processes and receive assistance on its way towards a sustainable society.

Let me give you an example of the impact of China on the world: ten percent of China’s export goes to Wal-Mart. If we convinced the company to only buy products grown or produced in a sustainable way that would have an enormous impact on China’s economy and the world! WWF China is currently working with Wal-Mart, trying to influence the company’s policy in that direction.

IUCN: The environmental community appears to be faced with a dilemma. Although we are faced with more environmental challenges, our community appears more marginalized. Why is that? And what can we do about it?

If we look back at the conservation movement over the past twenty to thirty years and compare it to where we are at today, there is indeed a huge frustration. In my eyes, the environmental movement has declined over the past decades. The word biodiversity is less obvious today. The question therefore is: why are we not achieving? How can we lift up the environmental concept, to be more important than ever?
I think we have to run the environment in a competitive way. The beneficial value to society as a whole has to be shown. We definitely haven’t done enough of that – that is the reason why the environment has gone down the agenda.

To show the benefit of the environment to the society at large, we need to measure our progress better. Communication is another issue. In the public understanding, we need to build bridges between, for example, the value of biodiversity protection and our daily lives. We need to mainstream ourselves and the environmental movement better. And we need a clearer terminology to capture public attention.

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