Guangdong aims high for nature reserves

Guangdong’s image as the world’s factory has been getting a makeover for the past decade as the province has moved steadily up the manufacturing value chain and its digital economy has risen from nothing to become a world leader. Marching in lockstep with this economic transformation has been an environmental upgrade, which has received less attention. As we reported yesterday, four of the province’s cities are now in the top 10 for air quality nationwide. Shenzhen, once the capital of smog, today ranks behind only Lhasa and Hainan for clean air.

As the saying goes, we ain’t seen nothing yet. There is not a challenge that the provincial government cannot throw a multi-year plan at, and the latest is the construction of forests.

That’s right: not buildings, ports or railways. Forests.

By next year, Guangdong plans to have constructed – planted is not the word they used –a total of 122,000 acres of man-made forests. The goal is to improve the region’s environmental quality and – wait for it – “create a win-win scenario for both environmental sustainability and economic development”.

The three-year plan actually got underway in 2018. And most interestingly, it is one of those plans that was launched with a GBA title on it before the GBA masterplan was unveiled in February this year. The “Three-Year Action Plan for the Construction of Forestry in Guangdong, Hong Kong, and Macao (2018-2020)” will “vigorously promote the greening work in our province, protect natural land, promote forestry exchange and boost cooperation between cities in the Greater Bay Area.” Furthermore, it will “repair and standardize the protection of wild animals and plants, promote the construction of a natural education system, accelerate the construction of a national forest city in the region, and build a protected land system.”

As the plan makes clear, “Ecological protection and economic development are mutually beneficial.”

Cross-border cooperation will be key to this endeavor. The plan specifically mentions the need to integrate resources between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau, especially in the field of conservation education. As such, between 50 and 100 “nature education bases” will be built. These will be used both to conduct demonstrations and hold seminars, but also to conduct research and establish guidelines and standards for nature education.

As for forest creation, the plan proposes to focus on tending young forests while building a national reserve with dedicated areas for precious tree species. No fewer than 1.09 million sqm of young and middle-aged forests will be “constructed”. This will provide a boost to poverty-stricken villages through investment in establishment and protection and green areas: no fewer than 344 “greening and beautifying villages” projects will be undertaken this year, and another 448 are planned for next year.

It’s not all carrot, of course. There is a stick being wielded for opponents of this plan. Forest resources conservation management will be strengthened, and officials will “severely crack down” on “illegal and criminal activities” such as deforestation and unauthorized excavation of forest land. By the end of this year, the forest coverage rate of the nine provincial cities in the GBA will reach 51.9%; by next year, it will be 52.0%. (These are precision-minded planners.) 

The plan recognizes that humans are not the only natural enemy of forests. A “forestry pest safety defense system,” will be established, which will require enhancing quarantine inspection capabilities for regional alien species, while strengthening the risk assessment and quarantine traceability of inbound plants, strictly implementing introductory plant isolation trials, and effectively preventing forestry pest invasions. Forest resources and ecological environment security in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau. 

Wetlands have not been forgotten. The plan proposes specific goals and measures for promoting the protection and restoration of wetlands and mangroves and for constructing their own nature reserves. This involves integrating important estuary bays, coral reefs, and mangrove distribution areas into the natural reserve management system.

Shenzhen will take the lead in this endeavor. More than one new national wetland park will be established at various levels, and a number of demonstration wetland parks will be built with high standards. Moreover, in this year and next, no fewer than 2,830 acres of mangroves will be “constructed”.  

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