WWF warns that China's forests are not out of the woods

Incentives to restore tree cover are harming environment, report says.

Tokyo

Government incentives to restore tree cover in China have damaged the environment and levied a high cost on forests worldwide, according to a WWF report issued this March. The critique suggests that China is shifting the ecological burden of its industrialization on to other countries.

China has been keen to impose logging bans and promote replanting schemes since floods in 1998 killed thousands of people and inundated millions of hectares of farmland. The conservation group WWF has largely approved of these policies, particularly as they expand the habitat of the endangered giant panda.

But, although official statistics show that the total amount of forest in China has increased by 1.2% a year over the past decade, much of the restored forest consists of single-species plantations on previously non-forested land, says the WWF report. As logging of some natural forest continues, this means that China's forest diversity is probably declining, it says.

As its housing and energy needs grow, China continues to be one of the world's largest importers of illegally logged wood. To fill the gap between supply and demand it is estimated that China will need to import 125 million cubic metres of wood in the year 2010. More than half of this will probably come from Russia, Indonesia and Malaysia, where logging is poorly regulated.

Illegal logging in such countries has long been seen as an important international issue. At an 18 March prelude to the G8 summit due to be held in Scotland this July, environmental and development ministers from the world's eight leading industrialized nations committed to voluntary measures to address the problem. But environmental groups criticized the pledge, saying that legislative actions are needed. They added that countries outside the G8 — particularly China — also need to make responsible decisions about the resources they need.

David Kaimowitz, director of the Center for International Forestry Research, based in Indonesia, says it is China's ultimate aim to get most of its forestry products from its own plantations. “But no one knows when this will happen, if ever,” he says. “For the sake of the world's forests, let us hope it does.”

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Williams, R. WWF warns that China's forests are not out of the woods. Nature 434, 549 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/434549b

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