Resources Science ›› 2021, Vol. 43 ›› Issue (11): 2147-2159.doi: 10.18402/resci.2021.11.01

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Classification of natural resources: From theory to practice and from principle to management

FENG Zhiming1,2,3(), XIAO Chiwei1,2()   

  1. 1. Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Key Laboratory of Carrying Capacity Assessment for Resource and Environment, Ministry of Natural Resources, Beijing 101149, China
  • Received:2021-05-03 Revised:2021-07-16 Online:2021-11-25 Published:2022-01-27
  • Contact: XIAO Chiwei


The unification of classification standards of natural resources is of great significance for the integrated management of natural resources and development of Resources Science. Based on the scientific connotation of natural resources, this article compared and summarized the tradition and classics, theories and attributes, and jurisprudence and management of natural resources classifications and their evolution process. This preliminary review typically relied on the currently available historical English literature (including published papers, books, and reports) and some literature in Chinese. The review showed that the classification of natural resources mainly focuses on three aspects of theories, principles, and management. Compared with the first aspect, the latter two of classifications showed larger differences in China and internationally. In particular, the existing natural resources classification cannot well avoid the overlap of natural resource management and the classification standards are not uniform. Internationally, many scholars have conducted in-depth studies and analyses on single category or specific region of resources classification in the early 1990s. Then new developments were achieved in Geography, Ecology, Resources Science, Economics, and Environmental Science in the 1960s. Overall, international methodologies provide a basis for the classification of natural resources in China, although there is still a lack of a standard set of classification theories. In China, the massive comprehensive surveys of natural resources (1950s-1960s) are a turning point in the study on the classification of natural resources. Thereafter, research on single category natural resources classification (e.g., land resources and water resources) has developed rapidly, while comprehensive classification remains sparse, sporadic, and scattered. It was not until the late 1990s that the establishment of the China Society of Natural Resources (1983) and the publication of China Encyclopedia of Resources Science (2000) symbolized the born of systematic and comprehensive classification of natural resources in China. In particular, the multilevel classification method based on the uses and attributes of natural resources is widely used. At present, studies related to the integrated classification of natural resources in China are at their developing stage, and the unified classification system has gained much attention from national decision-making departments of the Ministry of Natural Resources the People’s Republic of China. In view of the situation, it is necessary to recognize and clarify the characteristics and functions of different classifications of natural resources for standardization and modernization of management and classification of natural resources.

Key words: natural resources, natural resources classification, natural resources management, resources science, resources law