China’s three north shelter forest program: cost–benefit analysis and policy implications

Abstract

Sandstorms and soil erosion are serious problems around the world, but particularly in arid northern China. In response to these problems, the Chinese government has implemented the world's largest shelter forest construction project: the Three North Shelter Forest Program (TNSFP). However, we do not know how successful the program has been, because no one has carried out a comprehensive cost–benefit analysis. To analyze the benefits of the different ecological restoration methods implemented under the TNSFP and provide guidance for future ecological restoration efforts, we developed an improved cost–benefit analysis method that considers as many of the benefits and costs (including opportunity costs) as possible, subject to data availability, thereby clarifying the net benefit after accounting for these costs. We found different net benefits for the restoration types implemented under the TNSFP. The lowest net benefit was for afforestation by planting, at − 6.8 × 103 RMB ha−1 year−1, which was negative due to its high costs; in contrast, the highest net benefit was for fruit tree plantations, at 53.3 × 103 RMB ha−1 year−1, and this resulted from its high product value. There were large differences among regions in China, which indicates that the regional governments should adjust the balance among the ecological restoration measures in their region to account for the unique local conditions and maximize the net benefits of ecological restoration.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

References

  1. Bateman, I. J., Harwood, A. R., Mace, G. M., Watson, R. T., Abson, D. J., Andrews, B., et al. (2013). Bringing ecosystem services into economic decision-making: Land use in the United Kingdom. Science, 341, 45–50.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baumgärtner, J., & Bieri, M. (2006). Fruit tree ecosystem service provision and enhancement. Ecological Engineering, 27, 118–123.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Benayas, J. M. R., Newton, A. C., Diaz, A., & Bullock, J. M. (2009). Enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services by ecological restoration: a meta-analysis. Science, 325, 1121–1124.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Cao, S., Liu, Y., Su, W., Zheng, X., & Yu, Z. (2018). The net ecosystem services value in mainland China. Science China Earth Sciences, 61, 595–603.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cao, S., Wang, G., & Chen, L. (2010). Questionable value of planting thirsty trees in dry regions. Nature, 465, 31.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chen, Z. X., & Zhang, X. S. (2000). The value of China’s ecosystem benefits. Science Bulletin, 45(1), 17–22. ((in Chinese)).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Costanza, R., d’Arge, R., Groot, R. D., Farberk, S., Grasso, M., Hannon, B., et al. (1997). The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature, 387, 253–260.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Development, N., & Commission, R. (2015). National agricultural products cost-benefit data collection. Beijing: China Statistics Press. ((in Chinese)).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Duan, H., Yan, C., Tsunekawa, A., Song, X., Li, S., & Xie, J. (2011). Assessing vegetation dynamics in the Three-North Shelter Forest region of China using AVHRR NDVI data. Environmental Earth Sciences, 64, 1011–1020.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Farley, J. (2008). The role of prices in conserving critical natural capital. Conservation Biology, 22, 1399–1408.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Geng, H. L. (2012). The negative external effects and their internalization in the development of Tibetan tourism. Journal of Tibet University Social Science, 27, 13–18. ((in Chinese)).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Goldstein, J., Pejchar, L., & Daily, G. (2008). Using return-on-investment to guide restoration: A case study from Hawaii. Conservation Letters, 1, 236–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Guerry, A. D., Polasky, S., Lubchenco, J., Chaplin-Kramer, R., Daily, G. C., Griffin, R., et al. (2015). Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: from promise to practice. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112, 7348–7355.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. He, B., Chen, A., Wang, H., & Wang, Q. (2015). Dynamic response of satellite-derived vegetation growth to climate change in the Three North Shelter Forest Region in China. Remote Sensing, 7, 9998–10016.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Huang, S., & Kong, J. (2016). Assessing land degradation dynamics and distinguishing human-induced changes from climate factors in the Three-North Shelter Forest Region of China. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information, 5(9), 158.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Liu, J. G., Li, S. X., Ouyang, Z. Y., Tam, C., & Chen, X. D. (2008). Ecological and socioeconomic effects of China’s policies for ecosystem services. Proceedings of the National academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105, 9477–9482.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Liu, L., Tang, H., Caccetta, P., Lehmann, E. A., Hu, Y., & Wu, X. (2013). Mapping afforestation and deforestation from 1974 to 2012 using Landsat time-series stacks in Yulin District, a key region of the Three-North Shelter region, China. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 185, 9949–9965.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Lu, C., Zhao, T., Shi, X., & Cao, S. (2018). Ecological restoration by afforestation may increase groundwater depth and create potentially large ecological and water opportunity costs in arid and semiarid China. Journal of Cleaner Production, 176, 1213–1222.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ouyang, Z., Zheng, H., Xiao, Y., Polasky, S., Liu, J., Xu, W., et al. (2016). Improvements in ecosystem services from investments in natural capital. Science, 352, 1455–1459.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Piao, S., Fang, J., Liu, H., & Zhu, B. (2005). NDVI-indicated decline in desertification in China in the past two decades (p. 32). Lett: Geophys. Res.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Power, A. G. (2010). Ecosystem services and agriculture: Tradeoffs and synergies. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, 2959–2971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. State Forestry Administration. (1979–2018). China Forestry Statistical Yearbook. Beijing: China Forestry Press (in Chinese).

  23. Su, Q., Sun, L., Yang, Y., Zhou, X., Li, R., & Jia, S. (2017). Dynamic monitoring of the strong sandstorm migration in northern and northwestern China via satellite data. Aerosol and Air Quality Research, 17, 3244–3252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Tamang, B., Sarkar, B. C., Pala, N. A., Shukla, G., Vineeta Patra, P. S., Bhat, J. A., et al. (2018). Uses and ecosystem services of trees outside forest (TOF)—A case study from Uttar Banga Krishi Viswavidyalaya, West Bengal, India. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 39(6), 431–437.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Vogt, J. V., Safriel, U., Von Maltitz, G., Sokona, Y., Zougmore, R., Bastin, G., & Hill, J. (2011). Monitoring and assessment of land degradation and desertification: Towards new conceptual and integrated approaches. Land Degradation & Development, 22, 150–165.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Wang, B., Gao, P., Niu, X., & Sun, J. (2017). Policy-driven China’s Grain to Green Program: Implications for ecosystem services. Ecosystem Services, 27, 38–47.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Wang, B., & Lu, S. (2009). Evaluation of the value of China’s economic forest ecosystem services. Chinese Journal of Applied Ecology, 20(02), 417–425. ((in Chinese)).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Wang, W., & Fang, Z. (2006). Numerical simulation and synoptic analysis of dust emission and transport in East Asia. Global Planetary Change, 52, 57–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Wang, X., Dong, Z., Liu, L., & Qu, H. (2004). Sand sea activity and interactions with climatic parameters in the Taklimakan Sand Sea, China. Journal of Arid Environments, 57(2), 225–238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Wang, X., Zhang, C., Hasi, E., & Dong, Z. (2010). Has the Three Norths Forest Shelterbelt Program solved the desertification and dust storm problems in arid and semiarid China? Journal of Arid Environments, 74, 13–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Wegner, G., & Pascual, U. (2011). Cost–benefit analysis in the context of ecosystem services for human well-being: A multidisciplinary critique. Global Environmental Change, 21, 492–504.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Yang, X. H., & Ci, L. J. (2008). Comment on “why large-scale afforestation efforts in China have failed to solve the desertification problem.” Environmental Science and Technology, 42, 7722–7723.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Yang, Z. X., Zheng, D. W., & Feng, S. D. (2007). Evaluation of negative external effects of farmland production in Beijing. China Environmental Science, 27, 29–33. ((in Chinese)).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  34. Yang, Z. X., Zheng, D. W., & Li, Y. G. (2014). Analysis and value estimation of economic loss of soil erosion in Beijing. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 18(3), 175–178. ((in Chinese)).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Yin, R. S., & Yin, G. P. (2010). China’s primary programs of terrestrial ecosystem restoration: initiation, implementation, and challenges. Environmental Management, 45, 429–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Zhang, G., Dong, J., Xiao, X., Hu, Z., & Sheldon, S. (2012). Effectiveness of ecological restoration projects in Horqin sandy land, China based on SPOT-VGT NDVI data. Ecological Engineering, 38, 20–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Zheng, X., & Zhu, J. (2017). A new climatic classification of afforestation in Three-North regions of China with multi-source remote sensing data. Theoretical and Applied Climatology, 127, 465–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Zheng, X., Zhu, J., & Yan, Q. (2013). Monthly air temperatures over Northern China estimated by integrating MODIS data with GIS techniques. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 52, 1987–2000.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Zheng, X., Zhu, J., Yan, Q., & Song, L. (2012). Effects of land use changes on the groundwater table and the decline of Pinus sylvestris var. mongolica plantations in southern Horqin Sandy Land, Northeast China. Agricultural Water Management, 109, 94–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Zhu, Z. (1998). Concept, cause and control of desertification in China. Quaternary Sciences, 18, 145–155.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the National Key Technology R & D Program China (No. 2016YFC0501002). We thank Geoffrey Hart of Montréal, Canada, for his help in writing this paper. We are also grateful for the comments and criticisms of an early version of this manuscript by our colleagues and the journal's reviewers.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

SC designed the research; XS analyzed the data and wrote the paper. Both authors have approved the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shixiong Cao.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the Supplementary Information.

Supplementary Information 1 (DOCX 24 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Suo, X., Cao, S. China’s three north shelter forest program: cost–benefit analysis and policy implications. Environ Dev Sustain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-021-01260-z

Download citation

Keywords

  • Land degradation
  • Ecological restoration
  • Value of ecosystem services
  • Net benefits
  • Cost–benefit analysis