Felled trees. Whining chainsaws. Trucks loaded with logs. Exhaust smell from time to time. A recent visit to a nearby park took me by surprise, with the scene unfolding in an otherwise lush, tranquil and fragrant environment.
On closer inspection, it turned out to be the opposite of what it appeared. It is a city project for fostering healthier forests. By replacing less effective tree species like eucalyptus with carefully selected new types of trees at a number of Shenzhen parks, city planners hope to deliver increased biodiversity as well as more impressive sceneries, explained a nearby bulletin board put up by the city's park management center.
In awed curiosity, I searched online and made a few phone calls to related government agencies. The information I got subsequently left me in reverence.
Initially put in place in August 2017, the project has actually undergone years of preparatory work before entering a stage that is visible to the public, according to the park management center. The lengthy process, as it is, won't conclude until another three years are spent on nurturing the saplings.
In financial terms, it is impressive as well. With a total investment of 1.06 billion yuan (US$153 million) from the city government, the project will eventually renovate roughly 10,000 hectares of the city's forested land. By the time it completes, new groves of broadleaf flowering trees are envisaged to become fresh Instagrammable attractions of the city, as shown in some computer-generated photos on the bulletin board.
It is not the first time that the city spares no expense to take care of its ecosystems. Another prominent example is OCT Wetland Park, which saw its previously damaged ecosystem restored and repaired at a cost of 200 million yuan over a stretch of five years starting in 2007.
The renovation of the 685,000-square-meter wetland, which is connected with the Shenzhen Bay water system, has been hailed as a textbook example of modern wetland management, with its visible effect on the city's ecosystems and biodiversity.
Even endangered species such as the black-faced spoonbill, Eurasian spoonbill and four-spot midget began to turn up in the park, wooed by animal lovers as celebrities among the 800-odd species recorded at the wetland park.
Numerous studies have shown that benefits of protecting ecosystems are obvious and wide-ranging, but not all cities have the determination and patience to do so. Just like what one of our readers, Romario Severino, a Brazilian photographer with a focus on wildlife photography in Shenzhen, once told us: "Shenzhen is becoming visually more pleasant each year that's passing. … We can only praise Shenzhen administration for taking care of something that many cities neglect." Severino has had several of his pictures of Shenzhen wildlife published on international publications such as National Geographic.
Shenzhen's ecological footprint is not confined to these big-budget projects, however. Even possessing more than 1,200 parks covering a total area of about 400 square kilometers is far from its ultimate goal.
Responding to a Central Government call to build an ecological civilization, the city, the trailblazer in China's reform and opening up, earlier this year again made bold, pioneering moves in experimenting with a greener measurement of development called "gross ecosystem product," or GEP. By putting a value on all the goods and services produced by ecosystems, the city aims to incentivize all parts of society to further improve the environment, and if possible, to find an exemplary way to sustainability.
Bearing in mind the national goals of peaking carbon emissions before 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality in 2060, the city, in its latest government work report as well as long-range objectives, has laid out concrete steps in pursuing green and low-carbon development, articulating works to be done in areas including air and water conservation, garbage treatment, and energy use.
"Clear waters and lush hills are worth a mountain of gold and a mountain of silver." The catchy quote of President Xi Jinping, colloquially known as "Two Mountains," is something Shenzhen holds dear.
(The author is a business editor with Shenzhen Daily.)