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  • The risks of monoculture forests in China

    2017 - 06.28

    In the past decade alone, China has spent more than $100 billion on trees.

    The percentage of the country now covered in forest has gone from 19 per cent in 2000, to nearly 22 per cent, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with some regions being completely transformed.

    This recent forest expansion is mostly to do with Beijing's Grain-for-Green program which has funded the reforestation of 31.8 million hectares – the biggest reforestation programme in history. In March, Premier Li Keqiang promised to expand this by turning another 800,000 hectares of marginal farmland into forest and grassland, an area larger than Delaware.

    Although the project is generally seen as a driver of positive change, recently, conservations have discovered that large swaths of newly planted forests provide few habitats for China’s many threatened species of animals and smaller plants – putting the country’s biodiversity at risk.

    Critics say the push to go green shouldn't just be about quantity, but also quality.

    The program was launched in 1999 to guard against the fear of recurring floods, and works by paying farmers to restore forests and grasslands where they had previously planted crops, helping to better protect against flooding and landslides. And in these areas, the project has succeeded – both soil retention and flood mitigation have increased by nearly 13 per cent between 2000 and 2010, according to a government survey launched in 2012.

    On the other hand, biodiverse habitats have decreased by 3.1 per cent since the spread of monoculture forests.

    The Chinese government puts the planting of monoculture forests down to a lack of experience in the program's early years, and they pledge to work on planting more mixed forests.

    President Xi Jinping is an advocate of the country's potential as a global climate leader, especially in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. He has hopes that China will transform into “the ecological civilisation of the 21st century.” But first, the Grain-for-Green campaign needs to improve for the sake of biodiversity.

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