Usually when we hear something about China saving the environment, it has to do with the heaps of government investment in solar and wind power – the whole “green tech” sputnik moment, to borrow a now annoying and hackneyed phrase. Unseen until now is a surprising alleged new force in the environmental movement: China’s billionaires, who may now be privatizing the business of nature reserves.
According to a recent Southern Weekend article, big names in China business like Alibaba’s Ma Yun and Fosun International’s Guo Guangchang are teaming up with The Nature Conservancy to privately fund an entire nature reserve in Sichuan Province.
Altogether, around 16 billionaires have signed up to donate money to the “Sichuan Nature Conservation Foundation (四川大自然保护基金会)” with hopes of buying up about 100,000 hectares of mountain forest area.
As part of the draft charter, each member of the foundation must put forward an initial pledge of at least 3 million RMB and must voluntarily contribute at least 5 million RMB after that. The money will be handled by The Nature Conservancy, an American NGO that Southern Weekend notes is no stranger to philanthropic business people.
If all goes well, they’ll raise about 50 million as start up capital for preserving areas in the Xuebaoding and Motian mountain ranges in Pingwu County, Sichuan. The areas are not only a biodiversity hotspot, but also the home to famous national species like the Golden Monkey and, of course, the Giant Panda.
It’s huge news, especially considering what else is happening on the nature front in Sichuan these days – most recently, the Ministry of Environmental Protection proposed redrawing the boundaries of a crucial fish conservation zone in the upper reaches of the Yangtze to shrink it by more than 1,400 hectares. So why aren’t more people reporting on it? Southern Weekend seems to be the only paper in China with something about this project and no Western media seems to have picked up on it so far.
Southern Weekend says the reason is that the rich involved have chosen to be as low-key as possible – in fact, there’s an agreement in the charter that they won’t accept any media interviews. All sources in the story were tied to The Nature Conservancy’s China chapter. Why? It’s hard to say. Maybe they’re afraid that bringing too much attention to what will essentially be a private reserve (no money is allowed to be made on the land bought) will doom it. Or perhaps they figured that TNC would just be a better spokesperson for them all anyhow. It’s a shame in a way – this project sounds like one of the most exciting and optimistic things to come out of the China business community ever, and yet there’s almost no information on it.
Obviously, the bulk of environmental protection duties will always lie in the hands of the government. But considering how well that’s worked out so far, is this the first signs of China’s elite getting their feet wet in trying to do it better?
Still, Southern Weekend did provide some interesting facts about China, entrepreneurs and conservation in general. Did you know that:
- In China, 40% of nature reserve funds come from private financing, 5% comes from community fundraising, and 55% comes from the market – which is why nature reserves tend to shrink when a development opportunity comes along.
- Yet despite all of this, nature reserves are still managed by the government. 70% of official nature reserves are managed by the forestry sector. The remaining areas are divied up between the environmental management and protection bureaus of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Land Department, the Ministry of Construction, the Bureau of Oceanography and others.