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Energy crucial issue for China: WWF

JAMES Leape is the director-general at World Wide Fund for Nature, the world's largest independent conservation organization. In 1989, Leape joined WWF-US and directed its international conservation program, serving as executive vice president.

In that role, he helped shape the WWF's global strategy and represented the organization at many international forums.

From 2001 to 2005, he directed the conservation and science initiatives of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic associations in the United States.

Leape has worked in nature conservation for more than 25 years. Born in Boston in 1955, he began his career as an environmental lawyer, working on environmental protection cases in the US, advising the United Nations Environment Program, and co-authoring a leading American text on environmental law.

He appeared in Shanghai to participate in World Environment Day celebrations earlier this month, which was also the WWF's Pavilion Day at the 2010 World Expo.

The next day he presided over the establishment of World Estuary Alliance, a partnership aiming to combine the efforts of great estuarine cities worldwide to protect the vital ecosystem of estuaries and advance the management of these cities.

Q: What are the major projects the WWF is involved in China and how are they progressing?

A: We've been working in China for about 30 years and we are the first conservational, non-governmental organization invited to work in China. When we started, we started, naturally, with the conservation of giant pandas and we've seen huge success in the field. We built a partnership with the government, helping protect nearly 57 percent of the giant panda habitat for over 70 percent of wild pandas. In these 30 years we have also taken on another priority in China, recognizing the need to preserve the country's outstanding ecosystems, such as the Yangtze River basin, which is home to 47 percent of China's economy, but also one of the most important rivers in the world. So we've been working with the national government, with provincial governments and communities, helping speed up better management of these resources. In recent years we have also been helping China address the challenges of climate change and how to build a low-carbon development path.

Q: The WWF has held the "Earth Hour" campaign in China for two years. However, some people think it's just for show and not as environmentally friendly as it sounds. They argue that people turning on and off the lights at the same time causes a huge burden on power plants and is a serious waste of electricity. What's your view?

A: We've done "Earth Hour" for four years. In the first year it was just in Sydney. But in the second year it spread to about 126 countries. There has been no problems with the lights being turned on and off. About the broader complaint that it is just for show, that really misses the point. "Earth Hour" is to provide an opportunity for people to show their commitment to reducing the emissions that caused climate change and to show the concern about that issue. Many companies, communities, cities, universities took part in "Earth Hour" because it gave them a chance to do things, to express their concerns about climate change as part of a world event, and also to focus on how they can make a difference in what they do. It's a unique campaign in fact. And if you talk to the people who took part in "Earth Hour," there are thousands of millions of them, you will find that they are actually quite excited to have a chance to express concern and have an opportunity to solve the problems by their efforts.

Q: Air pollution in China is still a serious problem. Air quality in Shanghai still lags behind many other cities overseas. How do we improve the situation?

A: The single most important thing is to become a low-carbon city because the greatest share of air pollution comes from combustion of fossil fuels, from the factories and cars where they burn oil and gasoline. So the quicker Shanghai can move to a low-carbon path, the quicker it can reduce air pollution.

Q: What are the top three environmental and ecological problems that China faces?

A: If I have to choose three things, the first crucial challenge is energy because we have very little time to get carbon emissions under control. The second is the challenge of water resources, recognizing that China is relatively a water-scarce country compared with that in other countries. Many water resources in China are stressed because they are used or polluted. Third, I will highlight the preservation of the tiger. Tigers worldwide are endangered. The numbers are dropping and there are just about 3,000 tigers left worldwide.

Q: Chinese people still have a lack of awareness about environmental protection. How can we improve things?

A: This is where "Earth Hour" plays an important role in engaging people. Going beyond that, I think we should cooperate with governments and business to help raise social awareness in different sectors. For example, retail stores have a role to play because they can help educate the people about the choices they are making when they buy the food they eat. In making decisions they can help their customers make more sustainable decisions in the market place. People can begin by changing the way they use energy, using less energy to cool their houses and finding greener ways to get to work. Saving energy is also about choice - buying goods that are produced by factories and companies that take good care of the environment. Making good choices in supermarkets or grocery stores is important not only to protect the environment, but to send signals to the market place that customers are concerned about the environment and producers should not harm it.


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