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China's forest carbon reserve hits 9.2 billion tonnes

By Kou Jiangze (People's Daily)    09:45, January 21, 2021
China's forest carbon reserve hits 9.2 billion tonnes
Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2020 shows a national forest park in Chenzhou, central China's Hunan province. (People's Daily Online/Huang Chuntao)

China recently announced to increase the forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from the 2005 level by 2030 to contribute more to tackling the global climate challenge.

This message excited Zhang Guobin, a researcher of the ecological conservation and restoration department under China's National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA). "Forest carbon sinks will play a more and more important role in achieving the goal of carbon neutrality," he said.

There are two major ways to slow down climate change. The first one is to improve efficiency and lower energy consumption in industries and the energy sector, which reduces the emission of carbon dioxide. The second one is to restore forests, grasslands and wetlands, which increases the planet's capability to absorb carbon dioxide.

"Just like a bank that receives cash deposits, forests can store carbon dioxide by the photosynthesis, which is also called carbon sinks," said Zhu Jianhua, an associate researcher with the Research Institute of Forest Ecology, Environment and Protection under Chinese Academy of Forestry.

Forests, as a major part of the terrestrial ecosystem, is the largest carbon sink in the system. Carbon sinks are also one of the most economical and effective ways to cope with climate change. It's a natural process that doesn't cost too much, and also protects biodiversity, enhances water conservation and prevents desertification.

China attaches high attention on the role of carbon sinks in coping with climate change. As early as 2009, the country had proposed to increase its forest stock volume by 1.3 billion cubic meters by 2020 compared to the 2005 levels. In 2015, it once again vowed to increase the forest stock volume by around 4.5 billion cubic meters on the 2005 level by 2030.

In recent years, the country launched massive campaigns to green its territory, protect natural forests, and advance "grain for green" projects. So far, forests have covered 23.04 percent of its territory, and the forest stock volume has surpassed 17.5 billion cubic meters, 4.5 billion cubic meters higher than the 2005 level.

"We have over-fulfilled our 2020 targets, and the 2030 goal of increasing 4.5 billion cubic meters of forest stock volume was also completed in advance," Zhang said.

When global forest resources experienced contraction, China's forest coverage rose from 12.7 percent in early 1970s to the current 23.04 percent. Both forest areas and forest stock volume kept expanding for more than three decades.

"Massive tree planting and revegetation are conducive to improving the carbon sink intensity of China's terrestrial ecosystem, and have a prominent role in reducing the emission of greenhouse gases," Zhu said.

The NFGA and Ministry of Ecology and Environment jointly estimated China's carbon sinks. According to Liu Dongsheng, deputy director of the NFGA, China's forest carbon reserve has totaled 9.2 billion tonnes, representing an increase of over 200 million tonnes on average each year, which is equivalent to a carbon sink of 700 million to 800 million tonnes.

"Upon calculation, every 100 million cubic meters of forest stock volume can fix 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide," said Xu Huaqing, head of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation. China still needs to make a lot of efforts to reach its new goals, he added.

"The country shall protect existing forests, and to reduce deforestation is to reduce carbon dioxide emission," Zhu remarked. He noted that the reduction forest dieback caused by floods and insect pests is also an important method to improve carbon sinks.

"To cope with climate change is a major commitment China has made to the international community, and we will organically integrate afforestation and climate change responses," Liu remarked. In addition, the country will also enhance grassland and wetland carbon sinks, and steadfastly develop biomass energy, so as to play a bigger role in achieving carbon neutrality. 


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