In December 2019, the CCP held a press conference at the 13th National People's Congress to release the revised Forest Law 中华人民共和国森林法, a Law that has already been revised three times since 1984 (NPC Observer, 2019).
China's nature suffers from desertification and, according to SCMP, loses around 2,500 square kilometres of land every year. This is over 1000 square kilometers more than in 1950, and roughly equal to the size of Germany’s federal state Saarland. Apart from the loss of land, another consequence of desertification is the rising temperature in Beijing and regular occurrence of sandstorms. These sandstorms, poetically called “yellow dragons'' in China, blow as far as the Korean Peninsula and Japan and can cause “brown rain” and river blockage. Sand from these storms has been found even on the West Coast of the United States (Dorloff, 2013).
These sandstorms, who would have expected otherwise, are man-made. In the middle of the 20th century, industrialization increased the demand for firewood, which resulted in deforestation. Due to a growing population, the demand for water and agricultural land rose enormously. The latter overexploited the soil, as it deprives it of nutrients and changes its structure. Furthermore, the overgrazing of cattle in combination with deforestation reduces the sparse plant cover through which the foil loses its firmness and loses its protection. Over time, either the precipitation clears away the top layer of soil (humus layer) or it dries out and is carried away by the wind.
Forests are very suitable for reducing wind speeds and thus slowing down soil erosion. Therefore, trees, bushes, and grasses need to be planted in a protective belt with a length of over 4,500 km and a width of several humdreds of km, which will serve as a wall. The construction of the Green Wall 绿色长城, officially called 三北防护林, began in 1978 and will continue until 2050. By then, 350,000 square kilometres of land should be pelranted, an area the size of the Federal Republic of Germany.
Desertification is a problem that doesn't only affect China. There are very few forestry regulations worldwide. The so-called “Forest Declaration of Principles” adopted in Rio in 1992 contains requirements for the sustainable management, conservation and development of forests. However, the provisions are not legally binding and leave it up to the individual States to regulate the management of the forests. As a consequence of the forest policy statement, a worldwide certification system for the sustainable management of forests has been introduced. In Germany, more than two thirds of the forests are already certified and are administered sustainably and according to the international standard.
The Chinese Forest Law has been revised a few times already (namely in 1985, 1998, 2009), with the most recent revision taking place in December 2019 with effect from July of the same year. In the following text, key paragraphs from the version from 2019 will be examined and partially compared with the version of 2009. The latest revision consists of 84 paragraphs, while the 2009 version had only 49 (NPC Observer, 2019). This is because the circumstances, as well as the tasks and the functions of forestry, have changed fundamentally at present, and it is urgently necessary to change the current forestry law accordingly in order to legally secure the reform and development of forestry.
The first paragraph of the first chapter begins with the concept that was first developed by Xi Jinping in Zhejiang in 2005 and is called “绿水青山就是金山银山理念” (“clear waters and green mountains are as valuable as gold and silver mountains“). The concept was considered of national interest in 2015, when Xi Jinping was then president and increasingly devoted himself to the topic of the environment. Grace Tsoi (2018) described in her article that an assignment in the Beijing Gaokao 高考 of 2018 addressed forestry law. The Gaokao usually tests the students' usage of language and the questions for the essays are mostly of philosophical nature. The last time questions were asked about political issues was under Mao.
The first paragraph is about promoting the development of a modern forestry governance system. It is intended to mobilize the enthusiasm of various companies, protect their legal rights and interests, strengthen the protection of property rights, change the management method in which the examination and approval of supervision is in the foreground, abolish the management system with a planned economy and make a differentiation between different types of forest.
The second paragraph is about promoting the transformation of forestry and sustainable development. As early as 2016, measures such as the complete cessation of the commercial deforestation of natural forests were promoted, and the development of forestry has shifted from mainly focusing on wood production to developing ecological construction.
In Germany, forest owners are obliged to manage their forests "properly and sustainably" (§11 Federal Forest Act). Here it is important that forests function not only as a source of raw materials, but also as a living space for different species, a means for soil, climate, and water protection, as well as a place of relaxation.
The third paragraph deals with the ownership of the forest in 2009. The new law consists of accelerating the promotion of land greening and improving forest quality. Thanks to these and other reforestation programs, China's forest area is currently increasing by 2.8 million hectares per year (Felbermeier et al., 2011). Nonetheless, overall there are still problems such as lack of forests and green areas and low forest quality.
Within the 4th paragraph, the State wants to establish a system of responsibility for forest resource protection as well as an assessment and evaluation system (目标责任制 and 考核评价制度). People's governments at higher levels shall evaluate the performance of people's governments at local levels in achieving the goals of forest resource protection and development, forest fire prevention, and pest prevention and control, and shall also publish the evaluation results.
The 林长制 evaluation system ("forest head system") is a five-level system to be implemented in provinces, cities, and villages according to the principle of "grading responsibility". The "forest heads" at each level are responsible for supervising and managing the protection and development of forest resources in their respective areas of responsibility. A forestry department prepares specific plans according to the objectives.
In addition, the text of the new law contains clauses on the settlement of disputes over forest ownership, or on fire prevention and pest control in forestry, on the construction of infrastructure, and on legal responsibilities.
Paragraph 5 deals with fiscal and financial measures. People's governments at all levels shall establish economic compensation for companies that suffer losses due to the reclassification of the forest. It also guarantees investment in the protection and restoration of forest ecology and promotes the development of forestry.
Paragraph 9 mentions the new Forestry Department of the State Council, which has existed since 2018 and is responsible for forestry work throughout the country. Since 2007, there has been a bilateral agreement between the German Federal Ministry of Agriculture (BMEL) and the State Forestry Administration of China. The aim is to support sustainable forest management in China and to increase sustainable timber production in China, which is far below its potential.
According to Paragraph 10, “It is the duty of citizens to plant trees and protect forests. People's governments at all levels organize and carry out nationwide tree planting activities. Tree Planting Day is celebrated every year on March 12.” This holiday existed before, however, it was not included in the 2009 legal text (NPC Observer, 2019). Every Chinese citizen between 11 and 60 years of age must plant 3-5 trees per year (Halik, 1999). As an alternative, there is the possibility to pay a fine.
Another project to support forestry is the so-called “Ant Forest” (蚂蚁森林), which has now been around since August 2016. This is a project by Alipay of the Alibaba Group. Citizens can purchase “green energy” in their Alipay account through paying bills online, walking or using public transportation. Using the “green energy”, a real tree can then be purchased and planted on these “Ant Forests”. 第十三条
Paragraph 13 states that organizations or even individuals who have made outstanding achievements in reforestation, forest protection, forest management and forest science research, et cetera shall be commended and rewarded in accordance with relevant government regulations.
In sum the new law contains a number of substantial improvements to preserve China's forests and its resources, enhance forest governance, and encourage sustainable development. In its reforestation programme to restore forest ecosystems and combat desertification, China is trying to build an ecological civilisation and is actively involving its people in a way that can be inspirational to other nations.
Juliane Rüger was born in Leipzig (Germany) in 1997. This summer she will graduate in International Business Management with an emphasis on China at the East Asian Institute of Ludwigshafen University. She is a member of the European Guanxi Chapter in Germany. You can find her on Instagram as @_junalie or on LinkedIn.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.
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