China has established more than 11,800 protected areas covering 18 percent of its land area and 4.6 percent of its sea area, aiming to build the world's most expansive mechanism for the management of protected areas by 2025, authorities revealed on Wednesday.
Under the plan for the new mechanism, the country's protected areas are divided into three categories - national parks, nature parks and nature protected areas, according to Li Chunliang, deputy head of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration.
Ten pilot programs at national parks, representing China's most typical natural systems, will conclude by the end of 2020. The pilot parks include Giant Panda National Park, Three-River-Source National Park, and Northeast Tiger and Leopard National Park.
The nature protected areas will be those regions that harbor endangered wildlife or have special significance to the protection of natural relics.
Currently, China's nature protected areas - including 35 million hectares of natural forests and 20 million hectares of wetlands - are safeguarding 85 percent of the country's total wildlife and 65 percent of its vascular plants.
Nature parks, where the mechanism is being officially unveiled for the first time, will play a role in providing more interaction between nature and humans, including tourism, scientific studies and public education.
In June, the State Council unveiled a guideline to establish the mechanism of nature protected areas with national parks as a major component, in an effort to push forward sustainable development.
"China has special conditions, and there's no model that we could just copy from overseas," Li said at the opening ceremony of the first World Forum on Nature Conservation that kicked off in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Wednesday. "We need to find our own way to build a mechanism based on our own conditions.
"As one of the countries containing the greatest biodiversity of resources in the world, China has made constant efforts to protect them," he said.
According to Li, China will draft a law focused on protected areas to guarantee the implementation of the mechanism and build a database and surveillance platform, encouraging more cross-border cooperation on protected areas and participation from the public.
Since the establishment in 1956 of its first nature protected area - the Dinghu Mountain state nature protected area - China now owns 10 pilot national parks, 474 state nature protected areas and 244 state scenic sites, he said.
Moreover, China also has the greatest number of world natural heritage sites (14), world natural and cultural heritage sites (4) and the Global Geoparks (39).
"These protected natural areas play a significant role in safeguarding the nation's ecological security, protecting its biological diversity, preserving its natural heritage and improving its ecological environment," Li said.
But he also admitted that China still lacks a systematic plan to build a mechanism of protected areas that offers better biodiversity protection.
According to Xu Weihua, a researcher from Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China is facing threats from land degradation as well as the decline of natural forests. He said current protected areas are having problems, such as the overlapping of some regions, the lack of a long-term strategic construction plan and conflicts between protection and utilization.
Xu said a research team from the center has conducted years of investigations, and they will hand in suggestions to authorities for a specific plan for the mechanism.