From: Audra Ang, Associated Press
Published July 17, 2007 12:00 AM

Problem with Desertification in China Decreasing as Area of Sanded Land Shrinks

BEIJING -- China said Tuesday it was winning the struggle against encroaching deserts, with the threat to vulnerable land steadily decreasing over the past half-decade.


Desert coverage has been falling by about 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) each year for the past five to six years, Zhu Lieke, deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, said at a news conference.


"This has been a trend that has been ongoing," he said. "This is a good thing that we have witnessed."


Zhu said his data was backed up by satellite imagery and scientists in the field.


China has planted thousands of hectares (acres) of vegetation to stop the spread of deserts in its north and west, which had been gradually expanding into populated areas and worsening sand storms that strike cities.


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Chinese officials said last year that deserts still cover 2.64 million square kilometers (1.05 million square miles), or about 27 percent of the country.


Since 1981, China has planted 49.2 billion trees -- the equivalent of 219,000 square kilometers (84,500 square miles), said Jia Zhibang, head of the forestry administration, who also spoke at the briefing.


The government is aiming to have 26 percent of the country covered with forests by 2050, Jia said. That would make the total increase of forests in China equal to over 80 million hectares (200 million acres), he said without elaborating.


As one of the world's fastest growing economies, China , which relies on coal to meet two-thirds of its energy needs, has been under increasing pressure to take more forceful measures to curb releases of greenhouse gases.


Along with helping fight climate change by absorbing carbon, the forests will also be used to produce material for bio-diesel and ethanol by 2020, Jia said.


He said the potential of the country's forest-based bio-energy is equivalent to 200 million tons of coal -- among the dirtiest of fuels -- and using bio-fuels would reduce fossil energy consumption by 10 percent.


"We foresee a bright future in forest-based bio-energy," Jia said.


Source: Associated Press


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