China will continue to work with countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative to combat desertification through more training courses and projects, Zhang Jianlong, head of the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, said on Monday.
"Concerted efforts are needed because 25 percent of global land resources have degraded, leaving 1.5 billion people suffering from sandstorms. Therefore, more exchange programs on desertification will be carried out between China and other nations," Zhang said at an international conference marking the 25th anniversary of World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.
Fu Rong, director of the international office of the administration's department of combating desertification, said the number of students from BRI partner countries that studied desertification control in China last year was double that of 2017. This year, the number is expected to increase again.
"We will improve and refine our courses, such as combining the ideology of ecological civilization with practical skills of desertification prevention," Fu said.
"This year, we will continue with existing cooperative programs with countries like Iran, Mongolia, Italy, Thailand and the Philippines to share China's skills and experiences on combating desertification," she said.
Zhang said that in the 1990s, desert areas in China expanded at the rate of 10,400 square kilometers annually. However, over the past decade they have shrunk by 2,424 sq km a year.
"Saihanba in Hebei province, Kubuqi in Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Youyu in Shanxi province are all great examples," Zhang said. "Moreover, China has fulfilled in advance the UN's Sustainable Development Goal of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030."
Pradeep Monga, deputy executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, praised China's achievements.
"Over the past decades, China, along with its efforts in economic development, has increased its forest coverage from less than 9 percent in 1949 to almost 22 percent today, effectively reversing the desertification process. As a consequence, more than 70 million people have been lifted out of poverty whose livelihoods were mostly dependent on degraded lands," Monga said.
However, he said scientists saw some challenges ahead.
"If we follow business as usual, by 2050 land degradation and climate change are likely to force up to 700 million people to migrate. Crop yields are projected to fall by an average of 10 percent globally and up to 50 percent in certain regions due to land degradation and climate change."
He added that biodiversity loss could reach about 40 percent of current levels, leading to the extinction of a large number of species.
He said to ensure positive steps toward sustainable development, "we need to do more by promoting technical knowledge and professional training."
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