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Nat Sustain. 2019;2:122-129. doi: 10.1038/s41893-019-0220-7. Epub 2019 Feb 11.

China and India lead in greening of the world through land-use management.

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Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China.
College of Resource and Environment, Huazhong Agricultural University, 1 Shizishan Street, Wuhan 430070, China.
Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, Goa 403726, India.
Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research - Atmospheric Environmental Research, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany.
Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement/IPSL, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Université Paris Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette, France.
Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Fram Centre, 9296 Tromsø, Norway.
Center for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka 560012, India.
Shenzhen Key Laboratory of Circular Economy, Shenzhen Graduate School, Peking University, Shenzhen 518055, China.
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA.


Satellite data show increasing leaf area of vegetation due to direct (human land-use management) and indirect factors (climate change, CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition, recovery from natural disturbances, etc.). Among these, climate change and CO2 fertilization effect seem to be the dominant drivers. However, recent satellite data (2000-2017) reveal a greening pattern that is strikingly prominent in China and India, and overlapping with croplands world-wide. China alone accounts for 25% of the global net increase in leaf area with only 6.6% of global vegetated area. The greening in China is from forests (42%) and croplands (32%), but in India is mostly from croplands (82%) with minor contribution from forests (4.4%). China is engineering ambitious programs to conserve and expand forests with the goal of mitigating land degradation, air pollution and climate change. Food production in China and India has increased by over 35% since 2000 mostly due to increasing harvested area through multiple cropping facilitated by fertilizer use and surface/ground-water irrigation. Our results indicate that the direct factor is a key driver of the "Greening Earth", accounting for over a third, and likely more, of the observed net increase in green leaf area. They highlight the need for realistic representation of human land-use practices in Earth system models.

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