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China aims to plant new forests in 2018 covering an area roughly the size of Ireland in efforts to improve the environment.

The country hopes to increase its forest coverage to 23 per cent of its total landmass by the end of the decade, China Daily reported on Friday.

The head of China’s State Forestry Administration Zhang Jianlong announced the plans at a meeting on Thursday and said the government wants to grow 6.66 million hectares of new forest this year.

Mr Jianlong added:

Companies, organisations and talent that specialise in greening work are all welcome to join in the country's massive greening campaign.

Cooperation between government and social capital will be put on the priority list.

He said that over the last five years, moves to invest in forestry have proved a success with over 33.8 million hectares planted nationwide, bringing the country’s total forest area to 208 million hectares.

Mr Jianlong also spoke of the heavily polluted Hebei province, which surrounds the capital Beijing. He said three new forests will be planted there to raise coverage to 35 per cent by 2020.

Forests made up 17 per cent of China's land mass in 2000, according to figures from Global Forest Watch. The tree monitoring organisation says over 8 million hectares of tree cover was lost between 2001 and 2016.

The biggest annual decrease in eight years came in 2016 when over 700,000 hectares disappeared.

Michigan State University published a report on deforestation in China in 2016. Decades of logging, floods, and conversion to farmland were blamed.

However, the report noted China's successful forest conservation and restoration programmes since the beginning of the 21st Century.

Co-author Jianguo Liu said:

It is encouraging that China’s forest has been recovering in the midst of its daunting environmental challenges such as severe air pollution and water shortages.

HT The Telegraph

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