WASHINGTON -- Two environmental programs in China are generally successful, and key reforms could transform them into a model for the rest of the world, according to research results published this week in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Liu Jianguo, a scientist at Michigan State University, is the lead researcher of the study. Liu and other scientists reviewed China's Natural Forest Conservation and Grain to Green programs that together represent a government investment of more than 500 billion yuan (more than $72 billion.)
As two of the world's largest programs, they seek to alleviate environmental problems and offer alternative ways for people to make a living.
Both programs also have important global implications because they increase vegetative cover, enhance carbon sequestration and reduce dust to other countries by controlling soil erosion.
"China has experienced many environmental crises; the 1998 flash floods alone affected more than 200 million people," Liu said. "This is a new way of thinking for China. They have begun to realize the importance of dealing with environmental issues in relation to social and economic issues, and it is paying off."
The forest conservation program was designed to rectify the damage caused by years of unfettered logging, which has led to soil erosion, devastation of habitat such as pandas and other environmental problems. It uses logging bans to replace forests through incentives to forest enterprises.
The Grain to Green program works to convert cropland on steep slopes to forest and grassland by providing farmers with grain and cash subsidies.
Both programs are working for the environment and the Chinese people. Yet Liu and his colleagues pointed out that the complexities and the scale of the programs are not without problems.
The forest conservation program, for example, put many loggers out of work and caused financial trouble for some small governments that rely heavily on the industry.
The authors' recommendations are to establish endowments for the conservation efforts, and to seek funding from industry beneficiaries such as hydropower plants and other countries such as the United States.
They also recommend that local governments and farmers become more involved in planning the programs.
Overall, the authors found that the programs are landmark efforts that reward cooperation to solve large-scale environmental problems and consider human well-being. Continuing both programs, they say, is important, as is using them as a model.
"Research has demonstrated that if these policies don't continue, it's likely that a lot of the land that has returned to forest and grassland will be converted to cropland again," Liu said. "The conservation benefits will be lost. It is important to take a comprehensive and holistic approach to sustaining these programs."