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Great Green Wall (China)

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The Great Green Wall, officially known as the Three-North Shelter Forest Program (simplified Chinese: 三北防护林; traditional Chinese: 三北防護林; pinyin: Sānběi Fánghùlín), also known as the Three-North Shelterbelt Program, is a series of human-planted windbreaking forest strips (shelterbelts) in China, designed to hold back the expansion of the Gobi Desert,[1] and provide timber to the local population.[2] The program started in 1978, and is planned to be completed around 2050,[3] at which point it will be 4,500 kilometres (2,800 mi) 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.[4] This project has historical precedents dating back to before the Common Era. However, in premodern periods, government sponsored afforestation projects along the historical frontier regions were mostly for military fortification.[5]

Effects of the Gobi Desert[edit]

Map of China and the Gobi desert

China has seen 3,600 km2 (1,400 sq mi) of grassland overtaken every year by the Gobi Desert.[6] Each year, dust storms blow off as much as 2,000 km2 (800 sq mi) of topsoil, and the storms are increasing in severity each year. These storms also have serious agricultural effects for other nearby countries, such as Japan, North Korea, and South Korea.[7] The Green Wall project was begun in 1978, with the proposed result of raising northern China's forest cover from 5 to 15 percent,[8] thereby reducing desertification.

Global movement of dust from an Asian dust storm

Individual efforts[edit]

As the Chinese State has made efforts to fight the dust storms that have taken over parts of the Grasslands with the rapid use of afforestation. There are various examples of individuals taking it upon themselves to combat the harsh unforgiving environment that the sand brings. Yin Yuzhen and Li Yungsheng are both predominant figures who have combated the environments that they resided in. Their efforts have taken decades to achieve and have transformed ecosystems into vibrant and lush oases in what otherwise would be a barren wasteland.

Yin Yuzhen took it upon herself to singlehandedly plant trees to rehabilitate the desolate environment in the Uxin Banner of China's Semi-Arid Western landscape. Yin's afforestation efforts have been recognized by individuals such as Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping, who, during the 2020 National People's Congress, described the actions of those such as Yin as a remarkable achievement and an overall improvement of the ecology in China.[9]

Results and successes[edit]

As of 2009, China's planted forest covered more than 500,000 square kilometers (increasing tree cover from 12% to 18%) – the largest artificial forest in the world.[10] In 2008, winter storms destroyed 10% of the new forest stock, causing the World Bank to advise China to focus more on quality rather than quantity in its stock species.[10]

According to Foreign Affairs, Three-North Shelter Forest Program successfully transitioned the economic model in the Gobi desert region from harmful farming agriculture to ecological-friendly tourism, fruit business, and forestry.[11]

In 2018, United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found the increase in forest coverage observed by satellites is consistent with the Chinese government data.[12] According to Shixiong Cao, an ecologist at Beijing Forestry University, the Chinese government recognized the water shortages problem in arid regions and changed the approach to plant vegetation with lower water requirements.[12] Zhang Jianlong, head of the forestry department, told the media that the goal was to sustain the health of vegetation and choose suitable plant species and irrigation techniques.[12]

According to BBC News report in 2020, tree plantation programs resulted in significant carbon dioxide absorption and helped mitigated climate change. And the benefit of tree planting was underestimated by previous research.[13]

Three-North Shelter Forest Program also reversed the desertification of the Gobi desert, which grew 10,000 square kilometers per year in the 1980s, but was shrinking by more than 2,000 square kilometers per year in 2022.[14]


Hong Jiang, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin, worried trees could soak up large amounts of groundwater, which would be extremely problematic for arid regions like northern China.[15] Dee Williams, a US Department of Interior anthropologist, pointed to China's past failures in anti-desertification efforts and suggested that planting trees is a temporary fix that could not change behavior.[15]

In December 2003, American futurist Alex Steffen on his website Worldchanging strongly criticized the Green Wall project. He claimed China wasn't using collaborative effort and information platforms to support the local effort. China's increasing levels of pollution have also weakened the soil, causing it to be unusable in many areas.[6]

Research of reforested areas of the Loess Plateau has found that the planted vegetation used decreased the moisture from deeper soil levels to some degree compared to farmland.[16]

Furthermore, planting blocks of fast-growing trees reduces the biodiversity of forested areas, creating areas unsuitable for plants and animals normally found in forests. "China plants more trees than the rest of the world combined", says John McKinnon, the head of the EU-China Biodiversity Programme. "But the trouble is they tend to be monoculture plantations. They are not places where birds want to live." The lack of diversity also makes the trees more susceptible to disease, as in 2000, when one billion poplar trees in Ningxia were lost to a single disease, setting back 20 years of planting efforts.[17] China's forest scientists argued that monoculture tree plantations are more effective at absorbing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than slow-growth forests,[10] so while diversity may be lower, the trees purportedly help to offset China's carbon emissions.

Liu Tuo, head of the desertification control office in the state forestry administration, believed that there are huge gaps in the country's efforts to reclaim the land that has become desert.[18] In 2011, there was around 1.73 million km2 of land that had become desert in China, of which 530,000 km2 was treatable. But at the present rate of treating 1,717 km2 per year, it would take 300 years to reclaim the land that has become desert.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Media Reports: China's Great Green Wall". BBC News. 3 March 2001. Archived from the original on 14 April 2009. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
  2. ^ "Three-North Shelterbelt Poplar Tree Death Caused by the Director of the State Forestry Bureau" (in Chinese). Phoenix TV. Archived from the original on 2019-07-23. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
  3. ^ "State Forestry Administration" (in Chinese). English.forestry.gov.cn. Archived from the original on 2014-03-15. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
  4. ^ 李谷城 (Li Kwok-sing) (2006). 中國大陸改革開放新詞語 中國大陸改革開放新詞語 [A Glossary of New Political Terms of the PRC in the Post-Reform Era] (in Chinese). HK: Chinese University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-962-996-258-6.
  5. ^ Chen, Yuan Julian (2018). "Frontier, Fortification, and Forestation: Defensive Woodland on the Song–Liao Border in the Long Eleventh Century". Journal of Chinese History. 2 (2): 313–334. doi:10.1017/jch.2018.7. ISSN 2059-1632.
  6. ^ a b "The Fall of the Green Wall of China". WorldChanging. 29 December 2003. Archived from the original on 19 July 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2007.
  7. ^ "China's Dust Storms Raise Fears of Impending Catastrophe". National Geographic. 1 June 2001. Archived from the original on 29 March 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2009.
  8. ^ How China Turned the Desert into Green Forests
  9. ^ "Green Dream Comes True". www.chinatoday.com.cn. Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  10. ^ a b c Watts, Jonathan (11 March 2009). "China's loggers down chainsaws in attempt to regrow forests". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 6 September 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2009.
  11. ^ Chen, Yimeng (9 July 2022). "It Is Urgent to Protect Global Biodiversity". The Diplomatic Affairs.
  12. ^ a b c Zastrow, Mark (23 September 2019). "China's tree-planting drive could falter in a warming world". Nature.
  13. ^ Amos, Jonathan (28 October 2020). "Climate change: China's forest carbon uptake 'underestimated'". BBC News.
  14. ^ Schauenberg, Tim (16 February 2022). "How to stop deserts swallowing up life on Earth". DW News.
  15. ^ a b "The Green Wall Of China". Wired. April 2003. Archived from the original on 1 May 2010. Retrieved 19 October 2009.
  16. ^ Jia, Xiaoxu; Shao, Ming'an; Zhu, Yuanjun; Luo, Yi (2017-03-01). "Soil moisture decline due to afforestation across the Loess Plateau, China". Journal of Hydrology. 546: 113–122. Bibcode:2017JHyd..546..113J. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2017.01.011. ISSN 0022-1694.
  17. ^ Rechtschaffen, Daniel (September 18, 2017). "How China's Growing Deserts Are Choking The Country". Forbes. Retrieved April 30, 2021.
  18. ^ Jonathan Watts (4 January 2011). "China makes gain in battle against desertification but has long fight ahead | Environment". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 2012-05-19.
  19. ^ Patience, Martin (2011-01-04). "BBC News - China official warns of 300-year desertification fight". Bbc.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2011-09-20. Retrieved 2012-05-19.

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