Growth in China, of a sort

Are China’s forests, which appear to have been ruinously chopped down under socialism, starting to return? According to the first independent western report on the topic, in the AAAS’s Scientific Advances journal this week, the answer is “well, sort-of, a little bit…”.

Given the amount of regional corruption and statistics-fiddling in China, Michigan State University researchers turned to hi-res satellite imaging of the Chinese landscape. That showed an increase of 61,000 square miles (1.6%) in forest cover from 2000-2010, but also a loss of 14,400 square miles of forest. 46,000 square miles of new forest in 10 years is pretty good, and so it seems that China’s tree-planting initiatives are not just ‘Potemkin Village’ propaganda-plantings. Why isn’t there more than 1.6%, given China’s vast willpower and energy on such matters? It’s suggested that perhaps the 2010 photography may have been unable to pick up China’s tree-planting programme, since many of the newly-planted areas would then have still been in their very early stages.

So, somewhat good news on China, though it’s worrying that the Michigan State University researchers suggest that China may simply have displaced its voracious logging needs to the virgin forests of Madagascar, Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma, during the boom years of 2000-2010. Indeed, the researchers state import tonnages from those nations that suggest they may be correct on that point. Which is not good. One wonders if Africa’s forests may be next on the Chinese shopping list?