Jonathan Watts, who is now the Guardian’s Asia environment correspondent, reports for the paper on deforestation in China. He begins the report by describing the massive tree-planting effort known as the Green Wall of China:
If the plan is completed as scheduled in 2050, trees will cover over 400m hectares or 42% of China’s landmass, creating arguably the biggest man-made carbon sponge on the planet. China overtook the US as the largest carbon emitter in 2007, although its greenhouse gas emissions per capita are still much lower.
But the mind-boggling statistics mask a calamitous decline of China’s forest quality, diminishing biodiversity and extra pressure on woodland overseas to satisfy an appetite for timber that has – until the economic crisis – grown enormously in the past 10 years.
At Yichun, a north-eastern city in Heilongjiang province close to the frozen river border with Siberia, the forests were once so dense that the area was known as the Great Northern Wilderness. But more than fifty years of unsustainable logging have taken their toll. Yichun was classified last year as one of China’s 12 “resource-depleted cities.”