Land use in China

China is experiencing massive land use changes and impacts to the environment due to an unprecedented period of economic growth, which has catapulted it from one of the world’s poorest countries 30 years ago to the world’s second largest economy today.[1] Based on trends in economic development, population growth, and land use, China’s natural landscape will experience significant and increasing pressures well into the future.


China has four times the population of the U.S., within roughly the same area. With 1.3 billion inhabitants, 20% of the world’s population lives in China.[2] While the rate of population growth has been declining for decades, the total number of inhabitants has been growing and is expected to do so through 2030.[3] China’s urban population is growing rapidly; between 1950 and 2009, the percentage of the population living in urban areas quadrupled from 14% to 48%.[4] Meanwhile, the rural population is declining, opening the landscape in areas that are not urbanized. The forests and farming land of eastern China support far more people and major cities than do the grasslands, deserts, and high mountain regions of the west.

Cultivated land

Main article: Agriculture in China

The vast majority of China’s cultivated land lies in eastern China. Nearly all of the arable land, totaling 122 million hectares or 13% of the country, is cultivated.[5] To ensure adequate food production, the government has identified a minimum threshold or “redline” of 120 million hectares of cultivated land.[6] Chinese law also requires a one-to-one replacement (in quantity and quality of farmland that is converted to other uses). These policies, combined with development and other land use pressures, are shifting the location of farmland. Some cultivated lands are being newly created from other uses such as forestry, grasslands, and wetlands while existing cultivated lands are being converted to other uses such as built-up areas, forests, and grasslands

Livestock grazing

Livestock grazing occurs throughout China and is possibly the most common use of grasslands. China is the world’s largest producer of sheep and goats, and the fourth largest producer of cattle.[7] Livestock grazing is a major driver of grassland degradation in China. The government has instituted a variety of programs to combat desertification, which has slowed to 3,000 km2 per year.[8]

Forest uses

Since the late 1950s, China’s forests have experienced several periods of significant deforestation, which contributed to related environmental disasters such as the Yangtze River flood in 1998. In response, the Central Government has attempted to restore forest cover by investing upwards of 1 trillion RMB into six forest conservation programs, the most significant of which include Grain to Green (1999–2016) and the Natural Forest Protection Program (NFPP) (1998–2020). These programs combine afforestation efforts (primarily in northern China) and timber harvesting bans or limits to restore forest cover. Forest cover was 20% as of 2008; the Central Government aims to achieve 23% forest cover by 2020, and 26% by 2050.[9][10]

Mining and Energy Development

China has one of the largest mining sectors in the world and is the world’s largest energy producer.[11] Energy production is on the rise, which will impact biodiversity as China constructs more mines, oil and gas wells, dams and hydropower stations, wind farms, pipelines, and other infrastructure. In particular, western and central China will experience increasing energy development because they hold many untapped and lesser tapped oil and gas fields, coal reserves, and areas with the highest potential for wind and solar energy production


Main article: Transport in China

China is expanding its road and rail networks, investing 5 trillion RMB to construct 40,000 km of railroads by 2020.[12][13] The vast majority of planned and existing transit is located in eastern China. Secondary road construction is more of an emphasis in western China. The rail network is expanding nationwide to connect most cities with populations of at least 200,000.[14]

See also


  1. "China overtakes Japan as world's second largest economy". BBC. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  2. "The World Factbook - China". CIA. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  3. "China expected to see zero population growth by 2030". Xinhua News. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  4. Guo, Changdong. "China witnesses accelerated urbanization". China Daily. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  5. Qiang, Xiaoji. "China vows to preserve arable and amid urbanization". China Daily. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  6. "Speed up the development of modern countryside". The Central People's Government of the P.R.C. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  7. "FAOSTAT". Food & Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  8. "China says it's slowing rate of desertification". Reuters. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  9. "Forestry Development in China". State Forestry Administration. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  10. "Forest parks management status in China". State Forestry Ministry. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  11. Weber-Fahr, Monika. "Global mining: Treasure or trouble? Mining in developing countries" (PDF). World Bank and International Finance Corporation. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  12. Xu, Yaping. "By the end of last year China's railway reached 78,000 km and ranked the world's third". Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  13. "China will invest 5 trillion in constructing 40,000 km new railway to stimulate economic growth". Ministry of Railways. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  14. "China's mid-term and long-term railway network scheme". China Railway Construction Corporation Limited. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
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