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.
Image Credit: FutureForest.org