Afforestation Along the Gobi Desert's Margin, Northern China

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Summary:

The massive afforestation effort being conducted along the eastern margin of the Gobi Desert is known as the Green Wall of China. This is the largest afforestation program ever undertaken. The Chinese government is executing it in order to limit the effects of dryland degradation and thereby stop the expansion of the Gobi Desert into arable lands and urban areas (BBC News 2001; Gelkin 2009).

Critical Statistics:
  1. The "Green Wall of China" is the largest afforestation effort ever attempted in the world, and while started in 1978 will not be fully completed until the 2070's (BBC News 2001).

  2. Strips of forest will be planted along some 2,400 to 2,800 miles of the Gobi desert's eastern margin, in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region of China (BBC News 2001).

  3. Dryland degradation resulted in a per annum loss of some 2,100 sq. km. of grassland during the 1980's (Wang, Chen, and Dong 2006).

  4. The current phase of the project, started in 2002, is to be completed by 2010, with some 5 million hectares of trees planted (Ratliff 2003).

  5. Eventually, more than 9 million acres of new forest will be planted stretching from Beijing's outskirts through to Inner Mongolia (Malagonoux, Sene, and Atzmon 2007).

  6. The forest wall will have an outer belt that will be between 775 and 1,765 feet wide.Beyond the tree line itself, there will also be a perimeter fence comprised of sand (Ratliff 2003).

  7. By 2050, 42 percent of China's landmass is projected to have some form of tree cover (Mann 2008).

  8. The estimated cost of the current phase, to end in 2010, is $8 billion USD (Ratliff 2003).

Causes:
  1. The project was started to prevent the eastward expansion of the Gobi desert (Ling 2006).

  2. The program works to counter increased levels of dryland degradation as there are significant economic costs, as airports are forced to close, machinery being damaged by Gobi dust storms (Ratliff 2003).

  3. Another driver is the desire to restore degraded land back to the more productive and sustainable state (Ratliff 2003).

  4. Concern that the desert's expansion into grasslands, major sandstorms, once a rare occurrence, will become more frequent and intense (Mann 2008).

  5. The project has also been undertaken to limit the serious public respiratory health implications from dust storms (Ratliff 2003).

Impacts:
  1. Soil erosion will be significantly reduced, as the trees will act as a windbreak (Ratliff 2003).

  2. The forest ecosystems will allow for greater levels of biodiversity, mitigating biodiversity loss in areas around the Gobi desert (Wang 2006).

  3. Completion of the project will create a globally significant source of carbon storage (Watts 2009).

  4. The project helps China save face in the international sphere when accused of climate change irresponsibility.This is because it can point to it as a large-scale long-term environmental program which is widely viewed as environmentally proactive (Watts 2009).

What is Next:
  1. For success of the project, there is a need for continued support and funding by the central government in Beijing to see the project through to the end (Mann 2008).

  2. The government needs to continue to promote tree-planting initiatives, such as the annual National Tree-Planting Day (Mann 2008).

  3. Attention needs to be paid to the quality, and not just the quantity, of new forest, so as to limit vulnerability of young forests to violent storms (Watts 2009).

  4. There is a need to continue to utilize the $1.2 billion USD oversight system, to accurately survey and map, as well as maintain databases to effectively monitor the progress of the project (Ratliff 2003).

Citations:
  1. "China's Great Green Wall." 2001. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/monitoring/media_reports/1199218.stm (last accessed 20 October 2009) (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  2. Gelken, C. "Taming the Yellow Dragon." 2009. The Korean Herald. http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/NEWKHSITE/data/html_dir/2009/08/26/20090826... (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  3. Lin, Z. "Grassland ecology to curb sandstorms." 2006. Xinhua News. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-07/09/content_4809966.htm (last accessed 20 October 2009

  4. Mann, C. C. 2008. "Our good Earth: the future rests on the soil beneath our feet." National Geographic Magazine. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/09/soil/mann-text (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  5. Malagonoux M., Sene E.H., and Atzmon N. 2007. 'Forests, trees and water in arid lands: a delicate balance.' Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a1598e/a1598e06.htm (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  6. Ratliff, E. "The Green Wall of China." 2003. Wired Magazine, Issue 11.04. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.04/greenwall.html (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  7. Wang, Y. &quotChina's forest shelter dubbed 'Green Wall of China.'", 2006. Xinhua News. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-07/09/content_4810897.htm (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  8. Wang, X, F. Chen, and Z. Dong. 2006. The relative role of climactic factors in desertification in semiarid China. Global Environmental Change 16 (1): 48-57.

  9. Watts, J. "China's loggers down chainsaws in attempt to regrow forests.&quot 2009. The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/china-forests-deforest... (last accessed 20 October 2009)

  10. Parungo F., Li Z., Li X., Yang D., and Harris J. 1994. “Gobi dust storms and the Great Green Wall. “ Geophysical Research Letters, 21 (11): 999-102.