Land use change and soil carbon sequestration in China: Where does it pay to conserve?

Abstract

This paper estimates the impact of land use change on soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration in China from 1985 to 2005 using a nationwide, georeferenced database on land use, soil, and climate. The method presented here is capable of incorporating site-specific information on soil, climate, and land use change into a national-level analysis. We find that grassland restoration contributed to the largest increase in SOC in China from 1985 to 2005, while grassland degradation caused the largest decrease. Overall, land use change resulted in only a small net increase in SOC, by 7.5 TgC (0.02 %), which is statistically insignificant at the 95 % confidence level. A cost-effectiveness analysis indicates that it is important to consider SOC when assessing land conservation programs. Restoring degraded grassland is more cost-effective than returning dry farmland to grassland. Inner Mongolia is a key region for dense grassland restoration.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Tier 1 methods use default values, typically with limited disaggregation of area data, resulting in high uncertainty in emission/sequestration estimates. Tier 2 methods correspond to use of country-specific coefficients and typically finer scale area disaggregation which reduces uncertainty. The methodology applied in this study falls into the category of Tier 2 methods.

  2. 2.

    In the data sets of SOC density and IPCC soil class, the spatial layers on parameters of soil in China were initially derived from the Soil Map of China based on data from the Second National Soil Survey of China (1995) (Shi et al. 2004). The Survey includes soil inventory data from 2473 typical soil profiles collected during 1979–1985. Thus, we treat the SOC density map as the 1985 observations and use the 1985 land use data for causal analysis. The remaining land use data are used to calculate SOC stock changes caused by land use conversion from 1985 to 2005.

  3. 3.

    These estimates are derived from the largest samples among the three models (i.e., r = 20 km, r = 40 km, and r → ∞) and hence have the smallest standard errors.

  4. 4.

    Piao et al. (2009) find that a soil carbon accumulation in the evergreen forests of southern China and a net soil carbon loss in northern deciduous forests.

  5. 5.

    For example, China launched a program to convert pastures to grassland, namely tuimu huancao. The first small-scale pilot projects were carried out in Qinghai in 2001, followed by a number of large-scale provincial programs since 2003 (Yeh 2005). Another example is returning cropland to grass, which is a sub-program of SLCP.

  6. 6.

    Payment shortfalls are common under the SLCP. A major cause of this gap is that program implementation costs need to be funded by local governments, who often try to recoup these costs by lowering the actual payment made to farm households (Bennett 2008).

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Acknowledgments

Li received grants from Global Futures and Strategic Foresight (GFSF), a CGIAR initiative led by IFPRI and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM), and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Deng received grants from China National Natural Science Funds for Distinguished Young Scholar (Grant No. 71225005) and the Key Project in the National Science and Technology Pillar Program of China (2013BAC03B00). The authors gratefully acknowledge several anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. The authors also greatly appreciate the land use/cover data support from the Data Center for Resources and Environmental Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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Correspondence to Man Li.

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Editor: Helmut Haberl.

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Li, M., Wu, J. & Deng, X. Land use change and soil carbon sequestration in China: Where does it pay to conserve?. Reg Environ Change 16, 2429–2441 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-016-0948-9

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Keywords

  • China
  • Land use change
  • Soil carbon sequestration
  • Land conservation

JEL Classification

  • Q15
  • Q24