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2011-01-31 | Discussion Paper

China’s Forest Land Tenure Reform: Impacts and Implications for Choice, Conservation and Climate Change

Xu, Jintao, Andy White and Uma Lele. 2010. “China’s Forest Land Tenure Reform: Impacts and Implications for Choice, Conservation and Climate Change” Discussion paper
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Climate change has brought issues of deforestation and forest land governance to the forefront. It is now widely accepted that deforestation and must be addressed in order to effectively reduce sociated weak local land use governance is a key driver behind deforestation and degradation and associated forest degradation are responsible for about 17% of total global carbon emissions—with over 70% of these emissions coming from forest burning and clearing in the five forest-rich countries of Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

These countries share not only high rates of deforestation, but also the fact that there is government ownership over essentially all forest lands, except for Brazil which has over recent years recognized indigenous peoples’ land rights and allocated land to settler households.


China’s recent forest land reforms provide an important case study with useful implications for global attempts to reduce forest emissions and decrease forest-based poverty and conflicts. These reforms are arguably the largest ones undertaken in modern times both in terms of area and people affected, as China’s collectively owned forest totals approximately 100 million hect- ares and is home to more than 400 million people.9 The reforms offer important lessons for other developing countries that have recently begun to address the problem of unclear forest tenure; they have done so with a dominant trend toward legally recognizing the land rights of indigenous peoples and strengthening access and ownership rights of other forest communities and households.