Report: Climate Change Could Hamper China’s Rise

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Jan. 20 – The effects of climate change could seriously damage the Chinese economy in the near future, according to the Chinese government’s latest research into the phenomenon. Both food and water supplies are threatened with critical shortages, while an increase in flooding and drought could ravage vulnerable areas.

The 710-page “Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change” was published last year, but only recently entered the public domain. Authored by teams of government-supervised scientists, the report builds on an initial assessment conducted in 2007 to provide evidence and forecasting which will shape, rather than set, government policy.

The booming industry that has put millions of new cars on China’s roads and sprouted legions of factories has helped propel China towards its current status as the world’s second-largest economy. However, it has also made China the world’s biggest producer of the harmful greenhouse gasses which now present a long-term threat to the impressive growth in prosperity.

According to the report, China’s carbon-dioxide emissions (a major “greenhouse gas”) will only begin to diminish after 2030, with no significant drop until around 2050. By then, if current global warming trends are allowed to continue unhindered, China’s grain output could fall by up to 20 percent. This, says the report, could potentially be offset to a degree by the fertilizing effects of more carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere, in addition to shrewd crop choices and improvements to farming practices.

However, by the end of the century, based on the results of various projections of greenhouse gas levels, China’s atmospheric temperature will increase by between 2.5 and 4.6 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average. It is the effect this warming will have on the country’s water which poses the greatest danger to society.

Both drought and flooding are already major issues in China. The report predicts an increasing concentration of rain during the summer and autumn months, overwhelming rivers in the south; and long dry winters, which will be especially crippling for those living in China’s parched northwestern provinces.

Rising sea levels will also make coastal areas more vulnerable to flooding from typhoons and flood tides, defenses for which are currently “inadequate,” says the report. This is of particular concern, as such coastal areas are home to the major cities and Special Economic Zones at the center of China’s rapid industrialization. Shanghai is expected to see an increase of 10 to 15 centimeters in its coastal waters over the next three decades; it has already risen by 11.5 centimeters in the previous three.

With global warming will come changes to the pattern of the seasons and thus the realignment of China’s agricultural map. A warmer, wetter northeast will sustain more rice and other crops, while the cotton-growing region of Xinjiang in the northwest could suffer a decline in agricultural output.

“Future climate warming will therefore increase the costs of agriculture,” says the report.

“The observed impacts of climate change on agriculture have been both positive and negative, but mainly negative,” Lin Erda, one of the chief authors of the report, told Reuters.

The impact on the government’s budget looks certain to be equally as unwelcome, with the cost of China’s emission reduction efforts up to 2020 estimated to be 10 trillion yuan (US$1.6 trillion).

The figures from this report will weigh heavily on a government already tasked with balancing rapid (and mostly coal-fed) industrialization with the urgent need for clean energy and comprehensive environmental protection.

From the scientists, the message is clear: Without effective measures in response, by the latter part of the 21st Century, climate change could still constitute a threat to our country’s food security.

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