Spotlight on the UNEP Goodwill Ambassadors

Chinese Forests: Our Lifeline for Sustained Prosperity

by Li Bingbing

Each time I travel along the Yangtze River, I remember the summer of 1998. That year, the river was ravaged by three months of severe flooding that washed away 13 million homes and caused US$26 billion worth of damage.

Those floods showed how destructive nature can be in the absence of forests. Yet for decades we have been trying to harvest our economic gains at the cost of unsustainably exploiting our environment and its most valuable asset – the forests.
The Chinese government is aware of the damage and has worked hard to find a solution. Later that year it launched the State Natural Forest Protection Project (SNFPP), a nationwide campaign to halt deforestation and over-logging in order to restore the health of our forests.

By 2000, these conservation efforts had extended to cover the natural forests along the upper reaches of China’s major rivers, including the Yangtze. Ten years after its inception, the SNFPP has reinstated the life-nurturing capacity of our natural forests; today, over half of China’s natural forests are protected.

We have learned a lesson the hard way: we need our forests because they support our modern way of life. Without them, nature can wreak havoc. With them, nature can protect us and enrich our ecosystems.
Forests provide us with many services to sustain our lives. I have seen the beauty and strength of a healthy forest that provides us with the water we drink and protects us during the rainy season against landslides and flooding.

We have also learned that a healthy forest brings back wildlife. Ten years ago you would have been lucky to spot a wild animal near the Three Gorges forestland in central Hubei province. Today, villagers proudly tell visitors about the monkeys and frequent bird sightings.

Even though what happened in 1998 cannot be undone, I know that each and every one of us can do something to prevent it from happening again by protecting our forests.

I was so inspired by the ecosystem services that forests provide that I decided last year to start my own movement in China. I call it the LOVE project. Through it I want to promote greener cities, a greener economy and a greener way of life.

As a Goodwill Ambassador for United Nations Environment Programme, I hope that all of us will not just talk the talk, but walk the walk: we must love our forests and protect them.

We all need to realize that the numerous benefits that have been so generously given to us are limited. They need our protection and care if they are going to be shared by future generations.

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