The Chinese government will speed up the development of clean energy and eco-tourism in its spacious desert areas as part of its battle to find innovative and sustainable ways to fight desertification, a senior official said on Saturday.
According to statistics from the State Forestry Administration, about 2.6 million square kilometers are covered in sand, which is more than a quarter of China’s total landmass.
Despite their appearance, deserts can be full of resources and China should adopt an integrated approach in which it combines ecological improvement with the cultivation of emerging industries, said State Councilor Liu Yandong, who delivered a keynote speech at the Kubuqi International Desert Forum.
The two-day symposium kicked off on Saturday at Kubuqi Desert in Ordos, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and attracted more than 300 scholars, entrepreneurs and officials from home and abroad.
China’s economic growth demands increased energy production but relying too heavily on fossil fuels such as oil and coal is not only unsustainable but will cause a large increase in the emission of carbon dioxide, said Jiang Mianheng, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Western China’s vast deserts could be part of the solution to the problem with their potential to produce green energy from solar, wind and bio power, Jiang said.
While the deserts could help China find the energy it will need, the nation is also eager to reverse the process of desertification, something that will take long-term effort and that will not be done without the participation of enterprises and the public, said Zhang Yongli, deputy head of the State Forestry Administration.
Zhang cited the example of Elion Resources Group, which has invested about 3 billion yuan ($464 million) during the past two decades on planting trees and grass in Kubuqi Desert, which act as a green wall that helps prevent sandstorms blasting south to Beijing, Zhang said. Kubuqi is 800 km from the capital.
To date, the company has turned 5,000 sq km of desert into green land. The business has benefited from its hard work by using the herbal plants and green energy it has accessed.
Tourism in the deserts has also proved to be a profitable industry and will create more employment opportunities for residents in areas where the land can no longer support farming, according to Shao Qiwei, director of the National Tourism Administration.
As part of the battle to reverse desertification, the government will pay subsidies to herdsmen in areas with a fragile ecosystem that can no longer support the pressure of grazing, said State Councilor Liu. The central government will allocate 13 billion yuan to launch the program in eight major pasture areas.