In 2018 China has consolidated the governance of the protected areas estate through the formation of the new National Forest and Grassland Administration (NFGA). The NFGA will oversee a process of revision and standardisation or protected and conserved areas of all types across the country. IUCN’s WCPA and Global Protected Areas Programme were invited to participate in two major events in the latter stages of 2018. IUCN also provided a training and orientation on the IUCN Green List for leading experts in China.
The first event was the Changbai Mountain Ecological Forum, held in the Northeastern province of Jilin from 12th to 15th September, adjacent to Changbai Mountain National Park – home to the famous Tianchi crater lake and Paektu mountain peak, as well as vast tracts of pine and oak forests.
The forum convened national and international experts around several themes, including ‘Natural World Heritage in China’ and ‘Achieving Quality in Protected Areas through the IUCN Green List’. Both sub-fora were convened in collaboration with IUCN China. IUCN was well represented including Mike Wong from WCPA North America and James Hardcastle from IUCN Global Protected Areas Programme.
For IUCN WCPA expert Mr. Mariano Houngbedji, a primatologist and community-based conservation expert from Benin, the event was useful for sharing experiences and learning how China approaches scaling-up local successes across such a large country.
WCPA member and tourism and protected areas expert Prof. David Newsome of Murdoch University, Western Australia chaired the discussion on Natural World Heritage. It was abundantly clear that China has many more sites of possible outstanding universal value, such as the ‘Heart of Hainan’ and the desert area of the Taklamakan. Managing an efficient process of preparation and engagement for a tentative list of nominations is required.
China’s senior representative of the NFGA, Mr. Yang Chao, stated the intent to seek ‘Green List’ certification for a cohort of potential World Heritage areas, as well as existing sites, to ensure that all sites with significant values of global importance are managed to the highest international Standards.
The second event followed-up on the theme of International Standards. An ‘Expert Assessment Group’ (EAGL) for the Green List in China has been reformed, following the successful pilot phase in the country. Six protected areas in China are already on the Green List, and there are plans to adapt the new Standard to meet the demand from many more sites proposed by the new NFGA and by provincial government authorities. IUCN and Accreditation Services International provided a 2-day orientation on the Standard and the IUCN Green List process, in Beijing, to 26 Chinese EAGL members, chaired by Dr. Keping Ma of the Chinse Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Matt Durnin, the lead training provider, stated “The Chinese EAGL are an extremely dynamic group, with senior expertise from across the spectrum of disciplines and roles. We also have a blend of young professionals and an excellent gender balance. We are very encouraged by the EAGL’s dedication and understanding of evaluation methodologies”.
Following the IUCN Green List training in Beijing, the EAGL has begun to adapt the IUCN Green List Standard and its indicators into Chinese language and context. This participatory process, undertaken under the supervision of the IUCN Green List Standards Committee, requires open debate and expert contribution.
The third event, the 2nd World Forum on Ecological Governance (WFEG), provided an opportunity to discuss standards for Chinese protected areas. Thee WFEG was held in Hangzhou city, capital of Zhejiang Province, from 5th to 8th November. A special forum on the IUCN Green List allowed Chinese EAGL members and other experts to learn from other countries experiences and listen to IUCN WCPA expert advice and opinions on the application of the IUCN Green List.
IUCN experts included Prof. David Newsome, Dr. Carlos Saenz and Dr. Jan Woolhead. Additionally, Dr. Andrew Growcock from Parks New South Wales, Australia was able to share the Australian perspective of the IUCN Green List in a keynote presentation in the WFEG main sessions. He also discussed the main findings from the pilot phase in Australia and explained how New South Wales continues to engage in the process, during the special forum.
“China’s experts are very well set-up to implement the Green List. The recognition that the programme can provide to men and women working hard on the ground in parks and nature reserves is a real incentive and reward.”, he commented.
The alignment of international standards with the Chinese approach to ‘eco-civilization’ continues to make progress. As the nature conservation world begins to frame an approach that will move beyond the current global target timeframes (Aichi Targets 2011-2020), China’s position is of significant interest.
As China will host the 2020 UN Biodiversity Conference, where the new global framework and targets will be agreed, there is a significant opportunity to also validate China’s protected and conserved areas system and site-based success through standards such as the IUCN Green List. It is hoped that at least 50 Chinese candidates will be engaged by this time, with those successful sites recognized during the UN event.