China is frequently criticised for not doing enough on global environmental issues, but the picture is more complicated than this. Over the past 25 years, China has managed to increase its forest cover by 500,000 square kilometres (5% of its national territory) -- by far the most extensive reforestation achieved anywhere ever. They have done this by diverting billions of RMB in agricultural subsidies to pay farmers to plant trees on their land. As Europe presses ahead with approving yet another 10 years of environmentally destructive agricultural subsidies under its Common Agricultural Policy, we certainly have lessons to learn. But China’s experience is not perfect, and time will tell how long any of these billions of trees – often planted in completely unsuitable climates -- will actually survive. And, although government action on environmental issues within China – particularly on forests and pollution—has ramped up impressively in recent years, China’s sense of responsibility for damage it causes outside its borders is almost non-existent.
Julia Christian shares her on-the-ground experiences of Chinese approaches to forest protection and reforestation, gained through working alongside the China Green Carbon Foundation, a government-affiliated organisation that has been planting trees on large areas of land in China, including via an innovative phone app linked to the online marketplace, Alibaba. She discusses how forest policy is connected to environmental policy more generally in China, and how Chinese approaches diverge from modes of thinking in Europe and in Africa (where her work normally focuses), asking what all of this means for our chances of tackling our shared environmental crisis.
Julia Christian is a lawyer trained in the UK and US who has been working on EU policy advocacy with the Brussels-based NGO Fern since 2014. In 2019, she participated in the EU-China NGO Twinning Programme, partnering with the China Green Carbon Foundation. She specialises in climate and development issues, and has worked on forest policy in West and Central Africa, Central America and Europe. She is currently campaigning for new EU regulation to tackle deforestation in imported supply chains.