Desertification and politics in China


Photo credit: NY Times

How China’s Politics of Control Shape the Debate on Deserts

In the coming decades, millions of people around the world are expected to be displaced from their homes because of climate change. China has already been grappling with environmental resettlement for many years, particularly in the north, where drought, poor industrial and water policies, and other factors have resulted in rapid degradation of the land. This week, The New York Times published two stories from the deserts of northern China that look at the plight of what the government calls “ecological migrants.” The first of these is a visual narrative about people living on the eastern edge of the expanding Tengger Desert. The second is on the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

The Chinese government has made efforts to hold back the growth of deserts and to resettle people in those regions. But is it doing the right things? In an interview, Troy Sternberg, a researcher in geography at the University of Oxford, shared his views.

What are some ways in which the discussion over desertification in China is politicized? In particular, how does this affect herders?

Desertification is a contentious and manipulated issue. I wrote a paper last year, “Contraction of the Gobi Desert 2000-2012.” Academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences said it was due to strong government policy. Mongolians at the Mongolian Institute of Geography and researchers at the National University of Mongolia said it was more precipitation. The latter is valid. But facts seldom matter in the Chinese debate.

Read the full article: NY Times


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Willem Van Cotthem

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