UCL Institute for Global Prosperity


Land use trade-offs in China's protected areas

IGP's Prof. Robert Costanza and Dr Ida Kubiszewski are co-authors on new paper: Land use trade-offs in China's protected areas from the perspective of accounting values of ecosystem services

Mountains in China

13 July 2022

Authors: Haojie ChenRobert CostanzaIda Kubiszewski for Science Direct

“Accounting values” (quantity * unit value), assessed with an assumption of a constant unit value, are often used in creating macroeconomic aggregates like Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This approach has also been used to estimate the total value of ecosystem services (ES) - the benefits humans receive from functioning ecosystems. In China, this has been referred to as Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP). While the concepts of value and ES may be understood from multiple perspectives, ESs' accounting values contribute important information to the discussion of land use trade-offs in China's protected areas (PAs). These trade-offs include (1) whether additional conserved lands should be opened to tourism development, since tourism brings both positive and negative impacts; (2) whether PAs should be reduced, maintained, or expanded, since PAs safeguard sustainable wellbeing but also require maintenance; and (3) how to undertake conservation on lands traditionally used for human livelihood development, since conservation and livelihood may conflict. Previous studies have suggested (1) joint evaluation based on both GDP and ESs' values may lead to more sustainable decision-making than solely GDP-oriented evaluation; (2) the benefits of maintaining terrestrial PAs in China is $2.64 trillion/yr, over 14 times greater than the costs; (3) integrating ES valuation into environmental impact assessment helps link environmental impacts with human wellbeing and financial costs (e.g., land encroachment of a tourism highway in the Wulingyaun Scenic Area was estimated to cause permanent loss of ES values at $0.5 million/yr); and (4) integrating non-marketable cultural ESs into payment for ESs schemes can further balance conservation with livelihood development. Future research should consider (1) option and non-use values to present a more comprehensive picture of PAs' contributions to sustainable wellbeing and human interdependence with the rest of nature (2) both PAs' quantity (e.g., optimal coverage of PAs); and quality (e.g., management effectiveness, connectivity); (3) more sophisticated and feasible valuation methods (e.g., more cost-effective and engaged deliberation) to improve the credibility of aggregate values over large spatial scales; and (4) interaction between environmental components and ESs.

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Photo by Ren Ran on Unsplash