In the Liangshan region of Sichuan Province, clumps of tree stumps dot rocky hills, sticking out like patchy stubble on an otherwise denuded landscape. Deforestation has taken a toll here, leaving local people and an abundance of wildlife increasingly pressed for the resources they need to survive.
Thankfully, that’s changing. The Carbon for Parks project — a new partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Novartis, the Chinese government and Liangshan communities — aims to restore nearly 3,900 hectares of the lush forests that used to define this region.
It’s a bold project, and one that will have significant and measurable benefits for the climate, for species like the giant panda and for the Yi people who have long called this region home.
"The potential for smart reforestation in China is absolutely enormous," Ma Jian, a climate scientist with the China program, says. "We are working to exponentially increase the scale and quality of reforestation."
Deforestation in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture — a region home to the largest population of ethnic Yi people in China — was sparked by the rush to industrialize in the 1950s and 60s. Because of its central location, Sichuan became a prime wood source for the furnaces that sparked China’s meteoric development. Through the 1980s and 90s, state-run forestry agencies were designed not to preserve trees but rather profit from their harvesting.
While the Sichuan Forestry Department is now dedicated to conservation (as is all of China, which is planning on reforesting 40 million hectares of land before 2020), not all of Liangshan’s communities are as concerned with preserving the environment. Many local residents have more urgent needs and no options other than exploiting local forests.
Unfortunately, those urgent needs have damaged the environment. Livestock create most of the income flowing into local communities, but they have also created overgrazing, which threatens pastureland. Other unsustainable practices — such as the overharvesting of medicinal herbs and firewood — have led to erosion, compounding the massive deforestation already endangering the area’s once-rich ecosystems. The region is crisscrossed by a network of nature reserves, but those reserves need increased management if they are to yield the intended conservation effects.
New Trees, New Jobs
The Carbon for Parks project is helping to offer Liangshan’s people a sustainable alternative that can balance their needs with those of the forests around them. The people carrying out reforestation efforts on the ground will be recruited from local villages. These positions will create employment opportunities and income for people, and long-term forest patrol and management positions will create 40 long-term jobs in the region.
As with our project in Inner Mongolia, all of this work will conform to Climate, Community and Biodiversity (CCB) standards — guidelines promulgated by The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance that validate carbon mitigation efforts as people-friendly. The Conservancy is surveying Yi communities and working to ensure that Carbon for Parks will improve people’s health and livelihoods. New forests will help maintain clean water sources, and we're also helping to create sustainable agriculture projects that will provide steady income for local people.
People aren’t the only beneficiaries of this work, which will also protect highly threatened species like the white-lipped deer, Sichuan partridge and giant panda. For example, pandas — which are found primarily in Sichuan — are only partially protected by preexisting nature reserves. The Conservancy’s work in Sichuan will bolster the management and scope of these protected areas, reconnecting panda populations that have been separated by habitat fragmentation.
The Carbon for Parks project is slated to have a 30-year lifespan. Over that period, reforestation efforts will remove 40,000 tons of carbon emissions from the atmosphere each year. As a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project, Carbon for Parks will create carbon credits and demonstrate that stopping climate change can be profitable for communities and corporations alike.
Novartis has been a crucial investor in this CDM project, which will drive the creation of carbon credits and provide local people with an incentive to protect forests. Many other partners — including the Sichuan Forestry Department, the Shanshui Conservation Center and local government agencies — have also been instrumental in moving this project forward. Through these projects and others in Sichuan Province we are working to restore 14,000 hectares (34,600 acres) of some of the world’s great remaining temperate forests.
Augmenting these efforts will be a series of new Land Trust Reserves, a new (to China, at least) form of land conservation that will expand protected areas in Pingwu county. Learn more about this work, which promises to usher in a new era of sustainable thinking in Sichuan Province.