Risk analysis of water scarcity in artificial woodlands of semi-arid and arid China

Zhang, J. Z., et al., 2017. Land Use Policy

Original research (primary data)
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All activities are inherently risky, including seemingly beneficial activities such as ecological restoration. However, small risks are easy to ignore, even if they may accumulate to create a large cumulative risk. Therefore, the long-term ecological benefits and risks of any ecological restoration project must both be considered. However, quantitative evaluation of the risk of afforestation in arid and semi-arid regions has been insufficiently studied. Here, we present a method for evaluating the risk associated with ecological restoration, using water shortages in artificial woodlands in China’s arid and semi-arid regions as an example of cumulative risk. We found an annual risk that amounted to 5174 RMB ha(-1) in 2014, which was 17% of the ecological service value of the forests. However, this cost depends on changes in the price, availability, and use of water in these regions. If ecological degradation occurs, it will trigger a series of serious consequences, and its cost may far exceed the expected benefits. Our inability to predict natural disasters such as drought and the problem of imperfect communication among stakeholders must be considered to achieve ecological restoration. The method described in this paper will provide theoretical support for future risk evaluations and guidance for the allocation of natural resources such as water, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful environmental management.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-195-1
  • Intervention type: Created habitats
  • Intervention description:

    Afforestation areas between 1952 to 2014 which include the Grain for Green Program and the Three Norths Shelter Forest Project

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: Yes
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Reduced water availability  Negative Water shortage (m3) (see effectiveness box for description)
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    Afforestation areas in semi-arid/arid areas in china - The semi-arid area comprised Shanxi, Tibet, Shaanxi, and Qinghai provinces, and the arid area comprised Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Gansu, and Xinjiang provinces.

  • Country: China
  • Habitat/Biome type: Created forest |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: To assess effectiveness, calculate the water shortage that is caused by afforestation using the following equation: We calculated the water shortage for the artificial forests in China’s arid and semi-arid regions using the following equation: Qit = (ETit −Pit)×Ait ×Rit (2) Where Qit (m3) is the average water shortage in province i in year t; ETit (mm) represents the mean evapotranspiration of artificial woodland in province i in year t; Pit (mm) is the precipitation in province i in year t; Ait (ha) is the afforestation area in province i in year t; and Rit (%) is the tree preservation rate (the proportion of the planted trees that were still alive) in province i in year t. economic appraisal: compared the costs ($$) in terms of water consumption to the value of ES provided by the forests (this $$ value determined from another study) - "In addition, the current cost of the excess water consumption is 47.82 × 109 RMB, and dividing this by the current area of artifi- cial forests suggests that the cost of replacing the missing water was 5174 RMB ha−1 yr−1 in 2014, which amounts to 17% of the ecological service value in China’s arid and semi-arid regions (29 965 RMB ha−1 yr−1 ; Wang et al., 2011). "
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: No
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: Not reported
  • Ecosystem measures:
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures:
  • Considers economic costs: Yes
  • Economic appraisal conducted: Yes
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: