China’s reforestation: unsustainable wood imports mean the problem may just be shifting elsewhere

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Copyright: Adam Dean / Panos


China’s bitter-sweet success at halting forest loss

by Edd Gent

Speed read

  • Satellite images show tree cover in China is on the rise
  • Low resolution could hide even greater success of afforestation policy
  • But unsustainable wood imports mean the problem may just be shifting elsewhere

China’s attempts to reverse decades of deforestation are looking hopeful, scientists say, but the problem may simply be moving abroad.

Analysis of satellite imagery, published in Science Advances last week, shows that between 2000 and 2010 tree cover increased by 20 per cent or more in roughly 1.6 per cent of China’s territories, while less than 0.5 per cent have seen tree loss.

The authors from Michigan State University (MSU) measured these changes against economic, geographical and social policies. They suggest much of the credit is owed to the Chinese government’s Natural Forest Conservation Program implemented in 1998.

The policy introduced logging bans, and reforestation laws and incentivised alternative employment for forest workers. But despite the domestic success of the policy, the paper’s co-author Jianguo Liu, director of MSU’s Center for Systems Integration, says the country might simply befarming out the problem.

“While China has largely stopped cutting down trees within its borders, it is still importing a lot of forest products from other countries, which could be causing deforestation there,” he says.

Read the full article: SciDevNet


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

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