China smogBeijing – Senior Chinese officials have tried to tackle their country’s chronic air- pollution problem in piecemeal ways – fining some polluting companies, investing in alternative energy sources and ordering lower-level officials to enforce standards.

Now Hebei Province, which surrounds Beijing, wants to create a “green necklace” of trees in hopes of cleaning the air of the pollution caused by its coal-powered steel factories.

Most of the pollution affects the capital and north-eastern China where, despite some minor improvements, pollution levels are among the worst in the world.

The “green necklace” plan was announced Thursday on the Hebei provincial government website. The announcement referred to details that appeared in a 15 March document about coordinating development in Hebei and Beijing.

Its aim is to increase forest coverage on the Hebei-Beijing border, in part by tapping into rivers, reservoirs, wetlands and farmland.

Though it calls for greater wetlands preservation, it does not mention that Beijing suffers from a chronic drought, so there is very little water on which to draw.

Earlier that month, the website of the government-controlled China Science Daily, officially called Science Times in English, published an opinion article that said the root cause of the smog in Beijing was declining wind strength.

One of the factors behind that was the planting of trees where none had existed before, the article said. That seems to contradict the official claims that creating a “green necklace” around Beijing would reduce pollution levels.

China has tried ambitious tree-planting projects before. The most famous have been in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in northern China, where people have been ordered or encouraged to plant trees to hold back the spread of the Gobi Desert.

Still, whilst scientists have debated the extent to which those measures can help, deserts have continued to expand in critical regions.

Some environmental experts say the real solution to the pollution crisis around Beijing and Hebei is to shut down significant numbers of steel factories in the region. However, powerful official interests and state-owned enterprises have opposed such a move.