Resource use in China: the current situation and impending challenges

As used in this report, the term resources refers only to material resources, including natural resources (primary raw materials) and deiived products that have been processed from raw materials. It does not include such things as human resources or social and political resources, under a more broadly defined use of the term. Material resources provide the material foundation for social and economic development. China’s sustainable use of such materials not only faces formidable challenges but also enjoys a number of favorable considerations. A thorough understanding of the country’s resource endowment, as well as how it uses resources, is the prerequisite for formulating a strategy for sustainable use of resources. Such an understanding must be grounded in China’s current realities.

China’s overall endowment of resources and its development and use of resources

Resources may be categorized according to their sources as well as how they are utilized. Primaiy raw materials or natural resources can be divided into the categories of ‘inexhaustible’ and ‘exhaustible’ resources, with the former including such tilings as solar power, which will not be depleted for the foreseeable future, and the latter including the great majority of raw materials. Exhaustible resources can, in turn, be divided into those that are renewable and those that are not. Nonrenewable resources include minerals, coal, and oil, while renewable resources include such things as forests and various kinds of aquatic life in the oceans, rivers, and lakes.1 Some resources, in both renewable and nonrenewable categories, can be recycled and some cannot. The relationships among these types of resources are shown in Figure 1.1.

Exploitation and use of land resources

China’s land covers more than 9.6 million square kilometers. Despite this breadth of national territory, however, only 26.9% of the land can be used for fanning, forestry, or animal husbandry, due to the extent of deserts, gobi, bare rocky land and gullies, and year-round snow cover. According to the 2015 Report on China’s Land Resources, at the end of 2014 the total amount of land defined as

Classification of resources

Figure 1.1 Classification of resources

‘agricultural-use land’ in China was 645.7411 million hectares, of which 135.0573 million hectares was actual farmland - in the Chinese unit of measurement, farmland came to 2.026 billion mu? Of agricultural-use land, another 14.3782 million hectares were in ‘orchards and plantations,’ 253.0713 million hectares were forested, and 219.4660 million hectares were pastureland and grassland. The total amount of land classified as ‘construction-use land’ in China, that is, land on which building construction or industry is permitted, came to 38.1142 million hectares. Of this construction land, the combined amount of land for urban and village use and land for industrial and mining use came to 31.0566 million hectares.

China’s land resources can be characterized as fairly substantial in absolute terms but far lower than the average worldwide in per capita terms. China ranks near the top of most countries in absolute landmass, and it comes in fourth in the total amount of arable land. It ranks fairly low in per capita terms with respect to each category of land, however. It has less than one-third the global per capita average of arable land and less than one-fifth the global per capita average of forested land.

China’s geographic distribution of land resources is uneven. There are major differences in the productive capacity of land and the carrying capacity of the land in different parts of the country. In terms of geographic distribution, China’s land resources show a large difference among east, central, and western regions, with the productivity of land being apparent on a regional basis. The eastern regions are rich in water and heat, and rain and heat occur in the same seasons. The soil is fertile, many different species of plants and animals grow well, and the land is productive, making the east an important agricultural as well as forestry zone. With just 13.9% of China’s total landmass, however, the eastern region carries 41.2% of the country’s total population. Meanwhile, the central and western parts of the country have plenty of sunshine, but the land is arid and not very productive. The central part of China occupies roughly 29.6% of the country’s land and is a production base for grain, cotton, vegetable oils, and forest products, but it is already intensively exploited. The western region occupies 56.5% of China’s landmass but is situated in arid and semiarid zones, with limited water resources and a fragile ecosystem. The land is not well developed, nor does it have the potential for development.

China’s land has been severely degraded. Arable land3 is of poor quality overall, and enormous pressures are arrayed against land protection and conservation. Right now, 22% of China’s total laud area has been ‘encroached upon’ or degraded in one way or another, including through desertification. A considerable percentage of China’s farmland (arable land) suffers from waterlogging, salinization, erosion, and gleization.4 Low-productivity soils, including low- yield paddy fields and red-earth soils, are common, and the country has little in the way of further land reserves. The rating of this year’s arable land quality came to an overall 9.96 on average, which is low.5 Just 2.9% of total arable land was rated ‘high quality.’ Extreme pressures are at work against protecting land or improving it. The data indicate that, by the end of 2015, the total amount of arable land in China came to 2.026 billion mu, which is equivalent to 334 million acres. This figure went down by 4.5 million mu from the previous year due to such things as building on previously faimed land, ecosystem degradation, natural disaster, and restructuring of agricultural practices. At the same time, 3.51 million mu of land came into the arable land category as a result of land reclamation projects and restructuring of agricultural practices, so the net loss of arable land came to 0.99 million mu. Meanwhile, land defined as ‘construction-use land’ came to 578 million mu in 2015, nationwide, or 95.2 million acres. This meant that construction-use land in 2015 had increased by 7.6 million mu of laud over 2014. (In teims of acres, in 2015, the increase in construction-use land came to 1.25 million acres).

In recent years, the speed at which arable land is being used for other purposes has been curtailed to a degree, given more powerful efforts to protect it. In 2015, China either launched or approved 9,535 projects that involved land remediation. These projects involved 1.6123 million hectares of land (3.98 million acres), and an additional 156,800 hectares6 of land was added to the ‘arable land’ category as a result (387,461 acres). That same year, nationwide, the country gave permits that allowed 394,800 hectares of previously arable land to be used for building construction (975,570 acres). This was a decline of 2.2% over the previous year (see Figure 1.2). The ‘actual supply’ of state-owned land for construction purposes came to 533,600 hectares in 2015, which was a decline over the previous year of 17.7% (see Figure 1.3).

Land approved for construction purposes since 2011

Figure 1.2 Land approved for construction purposes since 2011

Changes in the supply of state-owned land for construction (2011-2015) Source

Figure 1.3 Changes in the supply of state-owned land for construction (2011-2015) Source: Ministry of Land and Resources (2016).

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