Plant hope for humanity in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
Forests originally covered about 60-70% of the land (13 billion hectares). However, the proportion of forest has been reduced to about 31 percent (4 billion hectares) due to desertification, deforestation, forest conversion, and expansion of agricultural land and pasture due to population growth. Forests are at risk of being cut down and degraded.
Forests currently absorb about 16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Therefore, we can additionally absorb more than 10 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and produce more than 20 billion tons of oxygen per year by increasing the size of forests by 50%. The humid climate created in the forest territory leads to an increase in land productivity and the expansion of habitable land, and allows the tremendous variety of living species to be preserved.
However, wouldn’t it be surprising if the Republic of Korea could make this grand project a reality? Dr. Brown has already highlighted Korea’s success story in reforestation over the past 30 to 40 years as a real case of implementing the strategy. And our country’s success has already served as an example to countries suffering from tropical forest loss, desertification and arid progress.
There are efforts at the international level. The United Nations Environment Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recently established and implemented a ten-year plan from 2021 to 2030 to restore the global ecosystem. And the UN has set a goal of planting 1 trillion trees, urging all countries to join. The need and urgency to restore the world’s forests to overcome climate and ecological crises is growing, and therefore Korea’s role, which holds the key, is more in demand than ever.
Korea has been committed to restoring the world’s forests from the earliest stages, taking a step further from its own success in reforestation. The Korea Forest Service has completed more than 8,000 hectares of reforestation in the Kubuqi Desert in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region after diligent efforts to prevent desertification. The project notably started with the establishment of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Beijing in the mid-1990s and was implemented with funding from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). The success of reforestation in the Kubuqi Desert has opened the door to a large-scale reforestation project in China, the country hardest hit by yellow dust. However, China has now become the country carrying out the world’s largest scale reforestation in desert regions.
Mongolia’s Desertification Control and Reforestation Project began in the mid-2000s. In 2005, the Korean and Mongolian governments planned to establish a 200,000-hectare green belt with a total length of about 3 700km. The first phase of the project was implemented for 10 years from 2007 to 2016. As a result, a total of 3,046 hectares of afforestation was completed in desert and arid regions, including 833 hectares in Lun soum, 673 hectares in Dalanzadgad and 1,540 hectares in Bayanzag.
The second phase of the project was carried out for five years from 2017 to this year, and as a result, the construction of an urban forest covering about 40 hectares in the Sukhbaatar district of the capital Ulaanbaatar has been completed. Mongolia is much colder, drier and windier because its climatic conditions are different from those of China. Therefore, it is crucial to create the conditions for overcoming difficulties in advance. It is necessary to select tree species adapted to the local climate, to obtain sufficient seedlings and groundwater and to establish windbreaks. During my visit to the site of the reforestation project in Mongolia, I could see Siberian poplars and elms planted in the arid lands of Lun soum growing densely. The trees, which are planted at the start of the project and grow to more than 10 meters, form a forest belt. The survival rate of Saxaul trees planted in the desert area is over 90%, demonstrating the reforestation potential of the Gobi Desert.
During the visit to Mongolia, the Korean and Mongolian governments confirmed the tangible achievements and reached an agreement to implement the third phase of the project to combat desertification and reforestation and agreed to expand and diversify it further. This is a follow-up action to the recently held online summit between the leaders of the two countries. Seoul also plans to upgrade the project from a bilateral official development assistance (ODA) to an international multilateral project.
Desertification is already underway on 73% of the territory of Mongolia, and the forest area represents only 7% of its territory. But the achievements of the anti-desertification and reforestation project in Mongolia are a living hope for the country by showing the potential to achieve reforestation like Korea. In addition, reforestation can fundamentally solve the problem of yellow dust in Northeast Asia from the Gobi Desert, and moreover, it is a substantial solution to the problem of humanity facing climatic crises and ecological.
Wild sandstorms are still blowing from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in our generation, but we look forward to a fragrant forest wind blowing from the desert at least in the next generation.
Choi Byeong-Am is the Korean Forest Service Minister. – Ed.
By Korea Herald ([email protected])