SURE: SUstainable Natural REsource Use in Rural China

In the coming decades, sustainable resource use will rank high on the agenda in China. Efforts aimed at promoting sustainable resource use in rural China will be confronted with a number of major challenges. First, the gradual transition towards a market-oriented economy implies that economic instruments and decentral and informal resource management institutions are likely to increase in importance. Second, China's ongoing domestic economic liberalisation and integration into the world economy will continue to affect domestic resource and product prices and bring home international environmental regimes. Third, China’s rapid economic growth and its growing global role will increase pressure and competing claims on (scarce) natural resources such as land, water, and energy, and will stimulate (political and economic) demand for a shift towards sustainable resource use into new directions.

Institutions of different kind play a key role in both natural resource degradation, and sustainable use and preservation. In studying the role of institutions in such a dynamic socio-economic environment, the research programme focuses on three areas of changing institutions:

(1) the system of land institutions, with a focus on land tenure and eco-restoration programs;
(2) the system of water institutions, related to both water quantity and quality;

(3) emerging institutions related to renewable energy in rural areas, with a focus on bio-energy.


The purpose of the project is to contribute to an improved understanding of:

  1. the impact of global integration, transition towards a market-oriented economy, and rapidly increasing resource scarcity on the prevailing institutional design with respect to resource use in the above three areas and on ongoing transformations in these institutions;
  2. the consequences of the prevailing institutional design and its ongoing transformation for sustainable natural resource use in these three areas and for rural incomes derived from these resources;
  3. the kind of further institutional change needed to better fulfil future requirements for sustainable natural resource use in these three areas and for sustainable rural development. Special attention will be paid to the (shifting) relations between formal and informal institutions.

The research consortium of SURE has already substantially contributed to scientific knowledge in this field.

The project is part of the 'Programme Strategic Scientific Alliances' (PSA) of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Education (MoST). The programme phase of the PSA started in 2008, and will continue until 2013.