Attempting to shed its notorious carbon-emitting reputation, Chinese officials announced last week plans for a major reforestation project. It’s a move to make the most-populated nation an environmental leader.
China’s State Forestry Administration says two large forests covering the size of 6.66 million hectares (16.6 million acres), or roughly the size of Ireland, will increase its total forest coverage of 21.7 percent up to 23 percent by 2020, with a goal of 26 percent by 2035.
Zhang Jianlong, the head of China State Forestry Administration, says 33.8 million hectares (83.5 million acres) have already been planted over the last five years to the tune of $82.88 billion. That puts total forest coverage in China at 208 million hectares (514 million acres).
A new state forest of 483,000 hectares (1,193,519 acres) was also announced, and Beijing’s Hebei Province says it also plans to raise its coverage to 35 percent by the end of 2020.
China is cleaning up its environmental act after it announced a “war on pollution” in 2014.
In an attempt to shift away from heavy industry and upgrade the economy, the Chinese government declared it will focus on reducing hazardous particulate matter responsible for air pollution, and cut steel production to instead incentivize non-fossil fuel power.
According to Reuters, the Chinese government is also promoting an “ecological red line” program that will force a restriction of “irrational development” and curb construction near rivers, forests, and national parks. Half of the provinces had already drawn up plans to follow suit.
The changes come after concerns about China’s impact on global pollution and climate change. China is the largest emitter of pollutants with nearly double the amount of the United States and produces more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas.
With a population of 1.4 billion people, China is home to about 20 percent of the world population.
It’s not out of the ordinary for China’s air quality to reach unhealthy or hazardous levels. The World Health Organization says 92 percent of the world’s population live with unhealthy levels of air pollutants. One of every nine deaths per year – 6 million total – can be attributed to breathing in unhealthy concentrations of particles.
Smog is just one contributor to China’s pollution issues. Chinese farms cause more pollution than factories, inciting the government to take aim at converting marginal farmland to forest and grassland, fighting desertification and recovering wetlands.
One hectare of forestland can typically sustain anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 trees. Since just one tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen a year, it’s safe to say China’s move to greener pastures is a big move in the fight against climate change.