China has an air pollution problem. Very serious. The Chinese people are suffocating under pollution and serious illnesses can be counted in the millions. A veritable hecatomb against which the government wants to use all the means at its disposal. Among them, the use of the army to plant trees to improve air quality.
Ahina currently has about 208 million hectares of forests. Between 2012 and 2017, 68 billion euros have been spent on planting trees. 68 billion was spent on tree planting between 2012 and 2017, a figure that is still insufficient, as the country has decided to step up the pace and plant 6.6 million hectares of additional forest in 2018 alone, an effort that should increase China's forest cover from 21 to 23 %.
To succeed in this pharaonic plan, China mobilizes its army. 60,000 men from regiments of the People's Liberation Army and, to a lesser extent, battalions of the country's armed police. According to Asia TimesThese soldiers were removed from their posts on the northern border for the project. The Independent reports that Zhang Jianlong, head of China's Forestry Administration, said the country's total forest cover could reach 26 percent in less than two decades.
Most of the troops are sent to the heavily polluted Hebei province near Beijing - one of the main culprits behind the country's smog problem. The province, for its part, has pledged to increase its forest cover to 35 % by 2020.
It is reassuring to see China taking its air pollution problems so seriously. But it is unlikely that these massive tree plantations alone can solve the problem. China's forest cover is 21 per cent, which is not paltry, but it is insufficient in the face of the large amount of smog polluting the atmosphere. As a reminder, the average forest cover of a country like France is 31 %.
Although a few percent more forest is bound to improve air quality, it will not be enough to solve the problem. Not on its own anyway. And this is where other initiatives led by China are gaining value. In 2017, for example, China has decided to close 40 per cent of its factories and has announced its intention to ban diesel-powered cars. Since COP 21, the country has become a major player in the development of renewable energy. The health of the Chinese people, which is seriously compromised by air pollution, is at stake.