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By Hubert Cheung, Yutong Phoenix Feng, Amy Hinsley, Tien Ming Lee, Hugh P. Possingham, Stephen N. Smith, Laura Thomas-Walters, Yifu Wang, and Duan Biggs.

Read the full paper here.

Conservation aims to improve ecological outcomes. Success depends on ensuring that policies and actions are effective. This requires conservationists to consider the complex human dimensions involved. Political will is one of these human dimensions. Political will is an intangible concept that people often discuss in vague terms. But political will is an important ingredient for success in problem solving and policymaking. You have probably heard people talk about a lack of political will when policies fail. So what exactly is political will? And how can understanding it help conservationists make change?

Political will is the amount of support there is among key decision makers to push forward with a policy solution. It isn’t just lip service either. It is actual, motivated, committed support that translates into action to achieve a goal. However, it can be difficult to build enough political will for conservation. This is because environmental priorities compete with various economic, social and partisan interests in policymaking.

For conservationists, it can be helpful to start with an understanding of where political will is already abundant. If you know where political will already exists, you can figure out which solutions might be easier and more feasible to implement. Our study explores the core interests of the Chinese leadership to find out where political will already exists. We uncover opportunities to leverage Beijing’s political will for environmental gains.

By examining the Chinese government’s core political priorities, we found that there are examples of conservation objectives that align with Beijing’s agenda. These represent opportunities for conservationists to leverage the Chinese leadership’s political will for environmental gains. These examples fall into several major themes:

  • Sustainability and China’s Development Strategy
  • Safeguarding Food Security and Reducing Public Health Risks
  • Environmental Gains Alongside China’s Regional Foreign Policy
  • Sustainability in the Belt and Road Initiative and China’s Global Ambitions

Our work is valuable and timely because China’s rise has increased its impact and influence on global environmental issues.