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Can China’s “Great Green Wall” Help Slow Climate Change?

Can China’s “Great Green Wall” Help Slow Climate Change?

The Chinese government is speeding ahead with its construction of a human-made ecological barrier in hopes of warding off encroaching deserts and increasing signs of climate change.

Dubbed the “Great Green Wall” this barrier isn’t made of some space-age plant-based material, or carbon-sucking vacuums. It’s made of something much greener: trees.

Millions of trees to be exact.

By 2050, the artificial forest is slated to stretch over 1.4 million square miles, and will cover more than 42 percent of China’s landmass (Guardian).

Unlike many other world powers, China has a long history of making reforestation a national priority. In 1981, the National People’s Congress, which is China’s top legislative body, passed a resolution requiring every citizen above age 11 to plant at least three saplings every year.

According to government statistics, citizens have planted some 56 billion trees across China in the last decade alone.

But will this massive reforestation effort really be able to help China reduce the negative effects of climate change?

Advocates of the reforestation point to evidence that new trees might be able to absorb and sequester more carbon emissions than old growth forests, but some experts have their doubts.

A new study argues that areas where natural forests are replaced by reforestation – called plantations – do not actually help control carbon emissions, and that converting farmland to forests decreases the amount of carbon absorbed by the soil.

But since almost none of China’s old growth forests remain in tact, any increase in the number of trees is a positive change.

In addition to removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, the new forest has helped to stop China’s fast-moving deserts from encroaching on delicate grasslands.

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 (Guardian).

As massive as this project is, experts worry that it might not be enough.

Since 2007, China has held the regretable role of the world’s biggest carbon emitter, and despite a pledge to use more renewable energy, these emissions are expected to grow as China’s economy does.

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Image Credit: FutureForest.org

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91 comments

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3:55AM PDT on Aug 1, 2011

Trees and other plants are very important. A world without them and without animals is it that what we want? Hopefully not. In my case, i love trees, plants and animals.
Other animals and plants have to go only because "we" humans do not want to share the world with other life forms, these life forms "we" would not eat (vegetarian food is not a bad idea, or eating with conscience as the so called primitive cultures did and still do, if they still exist. No meat/fish every day). "We" destroy everything around us and "we" forget, that everything is important to survive, too.

As little child i thought that rain is when God and the angels cry - because "we" humans have forgotten that we need this "intelligence", someone who could help... if "we" hadn't turned away for many centuries ago...

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." (Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

9:50AM PDT on Oct 15, 2010

China is making a huge push for a greener future. They seem to be moving ahead faster than the U.S. is on adoption of green technology.

2:46PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

There's a lot of laws I disagree with in China, but having every citizen plant trees each year is a fantastic idea. It would benefit us to borrow a similar way of belief.

3:12PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

It is good for China but will not protect China from Climate Change.The true solution for climate change is stop killing animals, change our life style to a animal product free, sustainable style.

1:36PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

And on another note...someone on here mentioned how them eating cats is animal abuse but I'd like to point out...is it any less abusive for me to eat a hamburger? I love cats dearly, but there are pets and there are livestock and to them....cats are livestock, sorry.

1:32PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

I think my respect just increased for China. Finally they do something right...and I really like it. We should all be doing stuff like this.

9:47AM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

This climate change is getting scary
NZ - Snow hits farmers big time 05 Oct 2010
Following a reasonably benign winter, the Southland region of New Zealand (NZ) has in the past week been hit by “the worst spring storm in living memory” according to the NZ Herald.


Six days of blizzards have caused deaths among new lambs numbering in the hundreds of thousands, and raised concern over the welfare of ewes yet to lamb. Besides the effect of the cold weather itself, the continued snowfall has not allowed snow on the ground to thaw, making it much harder for stock to feed.
Also I hear that Europe is expecting the coldest winter in 1000 years.

3:29PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

Keep up the good work!

3:09PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

Good for China.

12:18PM PDT on Oct 4, 2010

If only every country could adopt what is good about every other country, and cease and desist in what is destructive -- one world, one future -- we're all in this together, boys and girls ...

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Beth Buczynski Beth is a freelance writer and editor living in the Rocky Mountain West. So far, Beth has lived in... more
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