Plant Hope for Humankind in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert

By Korea Herald :

Ecological economist Lester R. Brown in his book “Plan B 3.0” suggested six grand strategies for overcoming the global climate and ecological crises, one of which is to restore lost forests around the world.

Forests originally covered around 60 to 70 percent of land (13 billion hectares). However, the proportion of forests has been reduced to around 31 percent (4 billion hectares) due to the desertification, deforestation, conversion of forest, and expansion of agricultural and pasture land due to population growth. Forests have been facing the risk of being cut down and degraded.

Forests currently absorb around 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Therefore, we can additionally absorb more than 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and produce more than 20 billion tons of oxygen per year by increasing the size of forests by 50 percent. The humid climate created in forested territory leads to increasing land productivity and expanding habitable land, and enables us to preserve the tremendous variety of living species.

However, wouldn’t it be surprising if the Republic of Korea can make this grand plan a reality? Dr. Brown already highlighted the Korea’s history of success in forestation over the past 30 to 40 years as an actual case of implementing the strategy. And our country’s success story has already set an example for countries suffering tropical forest losses, desertification and arid progress.

There are efforts at the international level. The United Nations Environmental Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization have recently established and implemented a 10-year plan from 2021 to 2030 for restoring the global ecosystem. And the UN has set a goal to plant 1 trillion trees, urging all countries to join. The necessity and urgency of restoring the world’s forests to overcome the climate and ecological crises are increasing, And therefore, the role of Korea, which holds the key, is more in demand than ever.

Korea has engaged in the world’s forest restoration from early stages, taking a further step from its own success in reforestation. The Korea Forest Service achieved more than 8,000 hectares of afforestation in the Kubuqi Desert, China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, after painstaking efforts in preventing desertification. The project notably kicked off on the occasion of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing in the mid-1990s and was implemented with the funding from Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). The success of Kubuqi Desert afforestation opened the door for a large-scale afforestation project in China, the country most affected by yellow dust. However, China has now become the country achieving the world’s largest-scale afforestation in desert regions.

Mongolia‘s anti-desertification and afforestation project began in the mid-2000s. In 2005, the Korean and Mongolian government planned to establish a 200,000-hectare greenbelt with a total length of about 3,700 km. The first phase of the project was implemented for 10 years from 2007 to 2016. As a result, a total of 3,046 hectares of afforestation was completed in desert and arid regions, including 833 hectares in Lun soum, 673 hectares in Dalanzadgad, and 1,540 hectares in Bayanzag.

The second phase of the project was carried out for five years from 2017 to this year, and consequently, the construction of an urban forest covering around 40 hectares in Sukhbaatar District of the capital Ulaanbaatar was completed.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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