China Makes Serious Efforts To Re-Green Its Deserts

China Makes Serious Efforts To Re-Green Its Deserts

With forests and grasslands burning across the planet, the importance of forests as carbon sinks has come back into the world’s focus. China has become the recognized leader in the successful greening of degraded grasslands and deserts, as proven by a number of recent awards. In December 2019, the United Nations recognized China’s Ant Forest Program as Champions of the Earth. But Chinese “greening” projects have been recognized as Champions as early as 2017: the Sanhaiba Forest Community project as well as Elion Resource Group’s Kubuqi Ecological Restoration Project in Inner Mongolia.

Ant Forest relies on technology to encourage green consumption behavior in users of China’s popular Alipay platform. Through an APP customers can collect “green credit” for each action that saves carbon emission or energy. As soon as enough credit is accumulated, the company will plant a real tree. 500 mio. users have so far triggered 122 mio. trees. Kubuqi Ecological Restoration Project is a greening project for degraded former grasslands. When Chairman Wang Wenbiao took over a saltworks plant in the middle of the desert in 1988, he had to tame the desert sands to build infrastructure-to-markets. He engaged local communities to plant trees, shrubs, and crops and worked on projects for local community improvement. Today, Elion supplies ecological services and financing, and 6,000 km2 of Kubuqi are covered by special plants that have been grown to grip the shifting sands and to prevent the dunes encroaching on farms and villages.

China’s government recognized the need to halt desertification caused by centuries of overgrazing and deforestation as early as the 1970s. In 1998 it introduced the first systematic nationwide program “Grain-for-Green” incentivizing local herders and farmers to convert cultivated or barren land on steep slopes into grassland and forests. The government has since inscribed increasing and restoring of forest coverage and grasslands as carbon sinks into China’s Nationally Defined Contributions to the Paris Agreement. The overall aim is to increase forest stock volume by around 4.5. billion cubic meters based on 2005 levels. Other policies include the 13th Five-Year Plans for Forestry Development and for National Grassland Protection, Construction and Utilization respectively, the Forestry Action Plans to Adapt to Climate Change (2016-2020) and the Plan for Recuperation of Cultivated Land, Grassland, Rivers and Lakes (2016-2030) among many others.

China’s efforts have made the country the largest contributor to the global greening area. As of 2018, forests were planted in an area of 72,67 mio km2 and cultivated in 86,67 mio km2. The national forest coverage rate reached 22.96% and the forest stock reached 17.56 billion cubic meters. As for greening of degraded grassland the comprehensive vegetation coverage of grassland reached 55.7%, 0.4% higher than the previous year.

China’s example clearly illustrates the impact that an alliance of government, enterprise, financing, local communities and NGOs can have if all pull together to work on a common goal. The cases have been studied for possible emulation by other countries with large deserts expanding, such as Pakistan, Sudan or Niger.

Activity Rating: ****Right Direction

With the world in shock from the burning forests in the Cerrado, the Amazon and Australia, China’s tenacious efforts to battle the man-made spread of its deserts by replanting forests is providing a beacon of hope that humans can alter the course. Especially when relevant stakeholders like government, business, finance, local communities and NGOs come together to find a joint solution that enables protection of the planet, empowerment of local society and provides profits for business. The crux, however, will be to couple these efforts with more efforts to reduce carbon and other GHG emissions through changed consumption, energy and industry reforms. Entrenched interests of individual stakeholder groups must be overcome and interests must be aligned to also enable similar successes in energy and emissions reduction.

Take Action

Write or fax to:

Wenbiao Wang, Chairman, Elion Resources Group

Eric Jing, CEO, Ant Financial

Ant Financial Headquarters,  Z Space, No. 556 Xixi Road, Hangzhou, China,

Fax: (+86) 571-8643-2811

“Kudos to Ant Forest / the Elion Resources Group for their relentless efforts supporting afforestation in China and congratulation on the success achieved so far. Your efforts as entrepreneurs to support the government’s agenda to achieve larger forestry coverage of China and thus creating more carbon sinks are an inspiring example for entrepreneurs all over the world to become involved in the work against climate change.”


Send a message to:

Minister Ganjie Li, Minister, and Secretary of the Leading Party Members’ Group, of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China

“An important measure in the battle against climate change is protecting and increasing forest coverage as carbon sinks. Over the past decade China has become a leader in greening and afforestation of deserts or degraded grasslands. These efforts are highly commendable and illustrate that China has the ability to set and fulfill ambitious targets. Increasing carbon sinks, however, will need to be complemented with new and more ambitious targets aimed at reducing overall emissions of carbon dioxide. We express our hope that China will aspires to become carbon neutral by 2050 and set more ambitious targets for emissions in the 14th Five-Year-Plan, commit to an absolute carbon cap, transform the energy sector, foster cleaner industries and step up their efforts to implement a carbon emissions trading system and monitoring.”


“China’s Policies and Actions for Addressing Climate Change (2019)” in:,

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