The Great Green Wall, not the African, but the Chinese one (IPS)

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Great Green Wall Rises, But Questions Remain

By Mitch Moxley *

BEIJING, Sep 23, 2010 (IPS) – Dubbed “The Great Green Wall,” a human-made ecological barrier designed to stop rapidly encroaching deserts and combat climate change is coming up across China. By 2050, the artificial forest is to stretch 400 million hectares – covering more than 42 percent of China’s landmass.

China already has the largest human-made forest in the world, covering more than 500,000 square kilometres, and the Communist Party this year announced it had reached its stated goal of 20 percent forest cover by 2010. The government envisions a line of trees stretching 4,480 km from Xinjiang province in the far west to Heilongjiang province in the east.

The project began in 1978, and three years later the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislative body, passed a resolution to make it the duty of every citizen above age 11 to plant at least three Poplar, Eucalyptus, Larch or other saplings every year.

Ordinary citizens have planted some 56 billion trees across China in the last decade, according to government statistics. In 2009 alone, China planted 5.88 million hectares of forest. Former U. S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore has said China plants two and a half times more trees every year than the rest of the world combined. He called the endeavour “the largest tree-planting programme the world has ever seen.”

The reforestation programme is part of a multi-pronged effort by China to combat climate change.

In 2007, China surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest carbon emitter, and emissions are expected to grow as China’s economy does. China has invested heavily in clean technology and has pledged to close thousands of heavy- polluting factories, but it has also faced criticism from other countries for moving too slowly and failing to agree to international standards.

The benefits of reforestation, advocates say, are evident. Notably, the trees help stop China’s fast-moving deserts in the west and north. In a 2006 report to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, China declared that 2.63 million square km – or 27 percent of its landmass – was covered with desert, compared with 18 percent in 1994. China’s grasslands have shrunk by 15,000 square km annually since the early 1980s.

Moreover, China’s forestry scientists say the new forests are better at absorbing carbon than slow-growth forests (of which China has virtually none remaining). They argue that fast-growing poplar and white birch trees capture perhaps double the amount of carbon as Korean pine, larch and firs.

The government is increasingly using the Great Green Wall as a propaganda tool to trumpet its efforts combating climate change. Every spring, about three million Communist Party members, civil servants and model workers head to the countryside to plant trees in a massive propaganda event.

In April, President Hu Jintao planted trees in Beijing to mark the city’s 26th annual voluntary tree planting. Some two million people joined Hu in that planting exercise, according to the state’s ‘People’s Daily’ newspaper.

But doubts remain about the impact of this green campaign.



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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.