Some 60,000 Chinese troops have been deployed to plants trees in an extended area around Beijing roughly the size of Utah, according to Asia Times.
The region suffers from dense air pollution, with the vast reforestation project intended to counter smog that regularly envelops the capital and parts of the northern provinces, especially in winter.
More than 6.66 million hectares (32,500 square miles) of new forest will be planted in 2018, with the People’s Liberation Army reassigning tens of thousands of infantry, with additional help from the police force.
Many of the troops will work in the heavily industrial province of Hebei, which circles Beijing. Authorities in Hebei have pledged to raise total forest coverage to 35 percent by the end of 2020.
The initiative is part of a wider plan to increase China’s overall level of forestation from 21.7 percent to 23 percent by the end of the decade, and to 26 percent by 2035.
China has long been the world’s largest polluter, producing almost double the amount of carbon dioxide than the world’s second biggest polluter, the U.S.
However, China has sought to lessen its over reliance on coal in recent years, and is looking to renewable energy by making huge investments in the research and deployment of solar and wind technologies. The country is also emerging as the world leader in the development of electric cars.
Following Washington’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement last year, China is filling the leadership vacuum when it comes to climate change.
“The Paris Agreement is a hard-won achievement,” Chinese President Xi Jinping said at Davos last year. “All signatories should stick to it instead of walking away from it, as this is a responsibility we must assume for future generations.”
Cover image: Soldiers holding shovels stand in line during a voluntary tree-planting activity on March 24, 2007 in Beijing, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)