China Is Planting 16.3 Million Acres of Forest This Year

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The pollution-beleaguered country plans to increase forest coverage to 23 percent of its total landmass by the end of the decade.

I've always wondered how China could sit by as its air, water and other natural splendors were being turned into the stuff of dystopian nightmares. Outdoor air pollution contributes to the deaths of an estimated 1.6 million people in China annually (that's 4,400 people a day). Meanwhile, less than 20 percent of the water from underground wells used by farms, factories and homes is fit for drinking or bathing thanks to industrial and agricultural contamination.

But with the recent news that the country will no longer be the world's dumping ground for plastic waste, and other ambitious green initiatives – nixing new coal-fired power plants, investing in renewable energy, et cetera – China is showing the world that it is changing its ways.

The latest chapter is a massive reforestation plan, as reported by David Stanway at Reuters, in which the country plans to plant 6.6 million hectares of forest by the end of the year. One hectare is equal to 2.47 acres, meaning that the country will be getting 16.3 million acres of trees. Stanway writes:

Planting trees has become a key part of China’s efforts to improve its environment and tackle climate change, and the government has pledged to raise total coverage from 21.7 percent to 23 percent over the 2016-2020 period, said the China Daily, citing the country’s top forestry official.

Over the last five years, a whopping 33.8 million hectares (83.5 million acres!) of forest have been planted across the country, costing more than 538 billion yuan ($82.88 billion) – costly, yes, but it's the kind of investment that makes sense.

In addition to the abundance of trees, the government has enacted an “ecological red line” program, reports Stanway, a plan that will require provinces and regions to restrict “irrational development” and limit building near rivers, forests and national parks. Fifteen provinces have already created plans, with the other 16 provinces to follow suit this year.

Late last year, speaking at the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "Taking a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change, China has become an important participant, contributor, and torch-bearer in the global endeavor for ecological civilization." If massive swaths of new forest are any indication, China is indeed showing us how it's done.