Urbanizing China and its Effects on Biodiversity


“Chinese cities, both large and small, are expanding everywhere, and this growth is fundamentally changing the country,” says Andrew Perlstein, Assistant Director of Executive Programs for CLiGS, about a rapidly urbanizing China.

Andrew recently co-authored a paper, with researchers from Texas A&M and Yale University, titled “Balancing urban growth and ecological conservation: A challenge for planning and governance in China,” published in Ambio, a Journal of Human Environment, and connects the topics of cities and biodiversity. It is easy, he says, to see urbanization and biodiversity as two completely separate issues, but China’s fast growing centers will have major impacts on its biodiversity if smart growth doesn’t take place now.

Under ConstructionThe researchers predict that between 2000 and 2030, urban land in China will increase by 400 percent. “It is important to think of the aims of urban planning as not just creating livable, well-functioning cities but ensuring ecological health as well,” Andrew says. “While there’s an awareness that a grow-first, clean-up and conserve later approach is unacceptable, incentives for local leaders primarily encourage quick growth, not smart or efficient growth.”

In addition to an increase in development across the country, the article’s research revealed that most provinces in China will likely experience expanding urban centers either near protected areas, such as nature reserves which cover almost 15% of its territory, or in biodiversity hotspots. There is thus an urgent need for institutional and regulatory reforms to take place so as to integrate biodiversity conservation into development plans.

Nanchang urban dev“I think in the U.S. it’s hard to wrap our heads around the scale of China’s urbanization. In the U.S., we have about ten cities with populations greater than one million. In China, there are more than a hundred such cities,” he says.

Andrew began learning Mandarin in his first year of college and has traveled to China on many occasions. Learning a new language and culture was a fulfilling endeavor in and of itself, but China’s growing influence in the world motivated him to further his studies of the country. “For someone interested and concerned with environmental sustainability, it’s impossible to ignore China,” he concludes.

The full paper can be viewed at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13280-015-0625-0.