Michigan State University confirms China’s rainforest conservation success

China’s comprehensive forest restoration programme is bearing fruit, according to a study by Michigan State University. The forests, much of which had been levelled by decades of logging, are recovering, wonderful news and an inspiration to conservationists all over the planet.

No nation operates in a vacuum

In China, like everywhere else, forested areas are essential for soil and water conservation as well as regulating the climate. And because no nation acts in a vacuum, the good news has global consequences.

China kicked off its massive forest conservation initiative at the turn of the century. Their Natural Forest Conservation Program bans logging and, vitally, compensates residents for the loss of illegal timber harvesting in some areas.

The University team combined the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer’s annual Vegetation Continuous Fields tree cover product with high resolution images from Google Earth to establish the status of the forests, revealing the good news.

The numbers are looking good

Apparently around 1.6% of China’s forests, a whopping 61,000 square miles, have gained ‘significant’ tree cover, while just 14,400 square miles of forest saw a significant loss in tree cover. The programme is working effectively and contributing to carbon sequestration, which in turn is helping mitigate climate change.

A game of ‘whack-a-mole’?

On the downside, countries like Madagascar, Vietnam and Indonesia are razing their forests to the ground and exporting vast amounts of timber to China, so there’s a Catch 22. The need for timber isn’t a Chinese issue, it’s a world issue, and one that needs to be resolved. As one University commentator said  “We are all part of the problem one way or another. We all buy products from China, and China has not changed their imports and exports of wood at all. What has changed is where timber is coming from”

Read more about ways to protect rainforests at The Rainforest Foundation.


China’s Rainforests brought into the Global Conservation Equation

China is busy preserving and increasing its forests, which is great news. And Michigan State University’s Distinguished Professor Jack Liu believes it’s vital that the country’s conservation efforts are integrated with other nations if we want to make the most of conservation opportunities on a global scale.

Chinese rainforest conservation in a joined-up world

China is vast, giving it a worldwide role in conservation. Liu’s study reveals how the country’s efforts to sustain their forests influence other countries, and how they can rebound. In his words, “For a long time, many scientists have focused specifically on one place to understand environmental impact, but that no longer is enough. Economic development and environmental conservation in one place are increasingly having substantial influence elsewhere, and spill over into places we don’t consider.”

Here’s an example. When deforestation eases in China, it pops up elsewhere as the countries that export wood and food to China deforest their own landscapes to meet demand. Liu uses the telecoupling framework, a new multidisciplinary research tool involving the minutia of ‘give and take’ phenomena like this by analysing socioeconomic and environmental interactions over long distances. Pattern-spotting way beyond basic connections, it factors in actions and reactions between nations, across seas, all over the planet. But there’s more to the equation than trade.

The global communications revolution

Liu’s research also reveals how increasing foreign investment in China means more homes, factories and infrastructure, all of which encroach on forests. And global communications mean that while environmental messages reach a wider audience than ever before, sharing information about new technologies has the opposite effect, resulting in more countries being aware of and investing in powerful, destructive machinery designed to harvest forests more efficiently. Telecoupling science also considers countries that indirectly contribute to the overall picture. They may not trade direct with China but they might make the machinery used to harvest and transport wood, or are used by smugglers to transport resources illegally.

As Liu says, “The days of simply looking at sustainability at one place are over. We need to understand how the world really works and acknowledge that the world isn’t as big and disconnected as we sometimes treat it. “

Article by Kate Goldstone on behalf of the Rainforest Foundation.