China to step up tree planting campaign to help reach net zero

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China will plant 36,000 square kilometres of new forest a year – more than the total area of Belgium – from this year to 2025 as it bids to combat climate change and better protect natural habitats, a senior forestry official said on Friday.

Tree planting has been at the heart of China’s environmental efforts for decades and is a major part of plans to bring carbon emissions down to net zero by 2060.

Li Chunliang, vice-chairman of the State Forestry and Grasslands Commission, told a press briefing large-scale “land greening” programmes would complete 54 million mu (36,000 sq km) of afforestation every year through 2025.

“By 2035, the quality and stability of national forest, grassland, wetland and desert ecosystems will have been comprehensively upgraded,” Li added.

China aims to raise its overall forest coverage rate to 24.1% by the end of 2025 from 23.04% at the end of last year, according to its forest and grassland five-year plan published this week.

The plan warned that China’s forest and grass resources were inadequate, especially in drought-prone regions in the north and west. Li didn’t say what type of trees would be planted but the document said the strategy would rely in part on “natural reforestation”, implying different types of tree would be planted according to the local environment.

Following the destruction of major ecosystems by decades of breakneck economic growth, China has promised to create “ecological security barriers” and protect as much as a quarter of its total territory from human encroachment.

Over the next five years, China will also expand its national park system, will create corridors to alleviate habitat fragmentation, and will crack down further on illegal wildlife trade, said Chen Jiawen, an official in charge of drafting the new plan.

Separately market research group comparethemarket.com said on Friday that the city of Beijing alone would need to plant more than 15 million trees a year in order to offset annual emissions.

Singapore and Hong Kong would each have to plant more than 9 million trees a year, while London would need to plant just over 4 million, it said.