By Tia Schwab
Stanford biology professor Gretchen Daily ’86 M.S. ’87 Ph.D. ’92 prompted Chinese leaders to propose a new national park system with her nationwide assessment of China’s ecological resources.
The study identified five critical ecosystem services for China, including flood control, sandstorm control, water provision, stabilization of soil and biodiversity. The team identified priority areas for these services along the Yangtze River, Min-Zhe-Gan and the Wuyi mountains, as well as Nanling and parts of Yunnan.
Many of these areas were not protected before Daily conducted research. The new national park system is expected to be formally proposed to national Chinese leadership this summer and will aim to promote biodiversity as part of China’s 21st-century ecological initiative.
“It’s a historic moment in the evolution of Chinese civilization,” Daily said. “It’s marked by a recognition that the singular focus on mainstream economic growth over the last century has come at a tremendous cost.”
The study used eco-mapping software developed by the Natural Capital Project, which identifies areas of ecological importance around the world to motivate “greater and more targeted natural capital investments.”
In her statement to Stanford News, Daily emphasized that the goal of the Natural Capital Project is not to “put a price tag on nature.” Instead, the project aims to identify priority conservation areas so that national governments can integrate the value of nature into all major decisions, such as policy regarding land use, planning and development.
“Today, nature is too often ignored,” Daily said. “It’s sometimes held up as infinitely valuable, and more typically we say it’s not valuable at all, and give it a score of zero in cost-benefit analysis.”
The Natural Capital Project is a collaboration among Stanford, the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, with funding from the Ministry of Finance of China, the Paulson Institute, the Heren Foundation, the Natural Capital Project and the National Science Foundation. Daily co-founded the Natural Capital Project with Steve Polasky, professor of ecological and environmental economics at the University of Minnesota. Polasky is also a co-author of the China study.
Daily says China is also making changes at the local level to promote environmentally healthy decisions. She hopes other countries will follow China’s lead.
“What we’ve developed could be readily adapted and mainstreamed across all countries,” Daily said. “That’s the ultimate dream here.”
Contact Tia Schwab at kbschwab ‘at’ stanford.edu.