National desertification plan released

China has published its third national plan to combat desertification, reports China Environment News.

The plan includes measures to improve local economies in desertification-prone regions, such as by boosting tourism and encouraging renewable energy projects.

It aims to treat 6.7 million hectares of desertified land by 2025, and to increase this to 12.4 million hectares by 2030 – or 67% of desertified land that can be treated.

The third such plan approved by the State Council since 2002, it includes 30 province-level administrative divisions and 920 counties, covering all of China’s desertified land. Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Hebei, Gansu and Qinghai emerge as the top five divisions for anti-desertification tasks, accounting for 72.4% of such tasks taking place in the 14th Five Year Plan period (2021-2025).

China has more desert area than any other country and is worst affected by sandstorms. But it has taken measures to help restore grasslands and forests, and has successfully slowed and is now reversing overall desertification.

According to the sixth national monitoring survey on desertification, released at the end of 2022, China’s desertified area has decreased for four consecutive 5-year monitoring periods. Desertification has been effectively controlled in 53% of the land susceptible to it, and for the first time, all provinces surveyed reported desertification reversals, the survey found.

That said, 17.58% of China’s land remains desert and some problems need to be solved. For example, during the past 20 years, the policies of returning croplands to grasslands or forests, known as “grain-for-green”, and of prohibiting herders from grazing their animals, “grazing exclusion”, has impacted farmers and herders in desertification-prone regions.

A study published earlier this year, found that their declines in direct incomes caused by these policies exceeded the compensation they received from the government.

China needs to “create positive synergies to combat desertification and improve the economy in this region”, the study authors wrote.

Read China Dialogue’s recent report on China and Mongolia’s effots to fight sandstroms.