China will plant new forests covering an area roughly the size of Ireland this year as it aims to increase forest coverage to 23% of its total landmass by the end of the decade, in an effort to improve its environment and tackle climate change, China Daily reported.
Zhang Jianlong, head of the State Forestry Administration, said that China would aim to grow at least 6.66 million hectares of new forest this year. 33.8 million hectares of forest have been planted nationwide over the last five years, with a total investment of more than 538 billion yuan ($82.88 billion), bringing the country’s total forest area to 208 million hectares.
The move is China’s latest bid to shed its polluting image and become world leader in environment protection, since President Donald Trump chose to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement last year.
Three new state forests with a total area of 483,000 hectares would also be built in the new Xiongan development zone in Hebei province, he said. The heavily polluted Hebei, which surrounds the capital Beijing, has indeed pledged to raise total forest coverage to 35% by the end of 2020.
China, which has to feed a quarter of the global population using just 7% of the world’s arable land, has long struggled to strike a balance between industrial growth, maximizing food production and protecting its environment.
The government is currently promoting an “ecological red line”program which will force provinces and regions to restrict “irrational development”and curb construction near rivers, forests and national parks.
The Environment Ministry said last month that 15 provinces had already drawn up plans, with the remaining 16 aiming to do so this year, but it is not yet clear what impact the policy will have on the country’s farmland.