The Great Wall of China will soon have a counterpart as China has announced the start of the Three-North Shelterbelt Program or the Green Great Wall. The “Green Wall” s a series of human-planted windbreaking forest strips in China, designed to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert. It is planned to be completed around 2050, at which point it is planned to be 2,800 miles (4,500 km) long. The project’s name indicates that it is to be carried out in all three of the northern regions: the North, the Northeast and the Northwest.
According to Greenpeace, just 2% of China’s original forests are intact. Decades of rampant logging and overgrazing have speeded the degradation of its land and soil; over a quarter of its territory is now covered in sand. China has made efforts to counteract this deforestation and already has the largest human-made forest in the world, covering more than 500,000 square kilometres, and the Communist Party this year announced it had reached its stated goal of 20 percent forest cover by 2010. The government envisions a line of trees stretching 4,480 km from Xinjiang province in the far west to Heilongjiang province in the east.
While the government stresses the forests’ importance in combating decades of environmental damage, some critics say the type of forests planted, and their location, limit their effectiveness. They argue that the Great Green Wall has contributed to a significant decline in China’s forest quality. In many of the newly planted forests, few animals thrive, some experts explain.
Jiang Gaoming, professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Botany and vice secretary-general of the China Society of Biological Conservation, said the Great Green Wall has, in some places, accelerated ecological degeneration by putting pressure on precious water resources in arid and semi-arid regions.
Jiang also said that trees planted during the Great Green Wall project are non-native. “Native trees actually play a much bigger role in preventing desertification,” he told IPS.