According to data from Greenpeace, only 2% of China’s original forests remain intact while only 0.1% of forestland is officially protected. Deforestation in the country has resulted in massive biodiversity loss and is being blamed for everything from mudslides to heavy pollution in Beijing. The situation is similar in different parts of Asia, including developing giants like India and Indonesia. Environmentalists say recent flooding and landslides in Java, which killed at least 19 people, were exacerbated by deforestation.

Both China and India have programs to reforest and “re-green” areas that have been damaged by the clearing away of primeval forests, though China’s is by far the largest. China’s “Great Green Wall” aims to stop the encroaching deserts by planting an astonishing amount of trees. Through creating the largest man-made forest in the world the Communist Party says that it has already succeeded in covering 20% of the country in forestland. Its goal is to have China 42% forests by 2050. It would seem that China’s biggest — and most internationally unsung — weapon against climate change is planting trees.

Forest surrounding Tianchi Lake, Urumqi, Xinjiang, China. Pic: Jlau (Flickr CC)

From the Guardian:

Ordinary citizens have planted some 56 billion trees across China in the last decade, according to government statistics. In 2009 alone, China planted 5.88 million hectares of forest. Former U. S. Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore has said China plants two and a half times more trees every year than the rest of the world combined. He called the endeavour “the largest tree-planting programme the world has ever seen.”

Despite its successes, the Great Green Wall has environmental disadvantages too, such as poor biodiversity and heavy water use. Some studies even show that creating new forests is not an effective way to absorb carbon or mitigate climate change.

While large national projects like the Great Green Wall double as propaganda tools for the Chinese government, results differ on the local level, as a piece on reforestation in southwest China for China Dialogue explains.

An effort to halt the growth of the Kubuqi desert in the province of Inner Mongolia is actually run by a former South Korean ambassador to China-turned environmental activist, Byong Hyon Kwon.

From The Star (Malaysia):

Kwon founded Future Forest, a non-profit organization, to combat desertification in 2001. As ambassador to China from 1998 to 2001, he had experienced firsthand the sandstorms known as the Yellow Dragon, which thicken the skies over Beijing with dust and send people with asthmatic lungs and weak hearts to the hospital. He became convinced that if action wasn’t taken, the march of sand would threaten the viability of the Asian continent.

Kwon and Future Forest plan on growing a 15km (9-mile) 800 meter-wide band of dense greenery to stop the desert’s eastward march. With its meagre $1 million US budget, Future Forest has already managed to plant 6.2 million trees over the past 8 years.

Kubuqi Desert, Inner Mongolia. Pic: omefrans (Flickr CC)