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Climate change impacts in China

Dan Farber, professor of law | March 8, 2011

The received wisdom used to be that climate change would have relatively little impact on China.  But that views seems outdated.

Like the United States, China is large and geographically diverse; as such, the impacts of climate change vary across the country. For example, the Chinese government reports that the “frequency of heat waves in summer has increased and droughts have worsened in some areas, especially in northern China; heavy precipitation has increased in southern China; and the snow disaster has became (sic) more frequent in western China.”  China projects a likely drop in the yield of the three major crops — wheat, rice and corn.

In the water sector, Chinese officials note that the overall water supply of the Yellow, Huaihe, Haihe and Liaohe Rivers in northern China has decreased significantly, while water supply in southern China has slightly increased. Chinese officials report increased flooding and droughts. Looking forward, they predict that “accelerated melting of glaciers in western China due to climate warming will further reduce the area of glaciers and glacier ice reserves, thus having significant impacts on rivers and run-offs with sources in glacier melt water. Climate warming could reinforce the drought trend in northern China, and intensify water scarcity and imbalance between water supply and demand.”

Chinese authorities report an “accelerating trend of sea level rise” over the last three decades, which has caused “seawater intrusion, soil salinization and coastal erosion,” has damaged the ecological systems of coastal wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs, and has “diminished the service functions and bio-diversity of ecological system in coastal area.”

Overall, the government seems far from sanguine about the potential impacts of climate change. The government’s prediction is that “climate change will also produce far-reaching impacts on society, economy and other fields, and cause huge losses to the national economy.” It predicts increased chances of the spread of disease; increased potential for “geological and meteorological disasters and consequent threats to the security of major projects;” and threats to the “ecological environment and bio-diversity of nature reserves and national parks” resulting in economic loss. Finally, the report predicts increased “threats to the safety of life and property, and to the normal order and stability of social life.”

Of course, political developments are as unpredictable in China as everywhere else.  The fact that the government, or at least portions of the government, realize that climate change would be bad for China, may or may not translate into concrete policy.  But there’s at least some reason to think that China is taking the problem seriously.

Cross-posted from the environmental law and policy blog Legal Planet.

Comments to “Climate change impacts in China

  1. There is need for strong political will and awareness of people to wake up to the impending loss due to climate change. We all need to tune our practices which go in interest of the humanity. We also need to be judicious in consuming natural resources and respect our natural environment.

  2. Looks like its a good time to buy ag commodities with all the impacts described above. Such a shame that both the scientists and the politicians allowed this to happen; really, its a crime against humanity. We have now entered the Era of Impacts.

  3. Very little has been done to stem global warming. It’s quite clear very little else will be done. The Chinese government, for example, forecasts adding 500 new coal-fired power plants in the next ten years. They already burn a third of all coal produced in the world. To fuel these plants the Chinese will have to import the equivalent of all the coal currently produced by the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th largest coal producing countries.

    In another example closer to home, the wattage of street lighting added to the City of Berkeley in the last 15 years (which hasn’t built a new street in decades) exceeds all the efforts of Berkeley’s own Energy Office to reduce electrical demand throughout the city, public and private, in all other modes of consumption combined in a like period.

    The Titanic will not be re-floated. Global warming will not be reduced. Perhaps we should stop wringing our hands over reducing global warming and get busy understanding the likely impacts and responding to the new realities.

  4. Pardon me, but I just can’t give up on the greatest threat to humanity in the history; global warming must be considered the equivalent of WWIII.

    Cal professors and scholars must focus on at least two cultural values:

    1. Leadership – we must fight back against the takeover of American Democracy by those who shout the loudest (ochlocracy) and those that thrive on disseminating misinformation and ignorance (agnotocracy), and those who talk endlessly to buy time for those who dominate our democracy with the power of money (greedocracy).

    2. Communication – exchange information with the general public and educate us with the sense of urgency required to save quality of life for future generations. “Tear Down Your Ivory Tower” that prohibits educating the general public whose future depends on understanding threats against civilization while we can still do something about it before the window of opportunity closes.


    Restore the genius culture of our founding fathers to reboot America.

    Use the power of youth to motivate younger generations whose future is most at risk.

  5. The most amazing thing about this post is the fact that from the absence of comments it makes it appear that no one really seems to care about global warming at Cal.

    That pretty well illustrates the reason why politicians are able to ignore global warming also.

  6. I agree with Jack. US and China dont want to wake up and solve this issue. The question is…dont they realise of the magnitud of this problem or dont they want to realise? What are the interests behind all this?

  7. After WWII, America was the role model for the world, but today we are reduced to criticizing other countries to hide the fact that our own environmental, social, political and economic problems are out of our control.

    The failures by our political and intellectual institutions have reduced America to the point where we can no longer guarantee availability and acceptable quality of basic life support requirements like food, water and air.

    It is amazing that we have no scientific leaders who have been able to explain global warming so that We The People can even understand how bad things really are.

    It would be most useful to have a group of young spokespersons explain this to their younger generations that shall have to suffer the increasingly unacceptable consequences of our failures first, so they can at least have a chance to join together and demand immediate implementation of solutions.

    We must learn how to reboot America, focus on fundamentals that made America the greatest country in history after WWII, and rebuild from there.

    But first we most desperately need to find qualified institutional leaders with morals, ethics, honor and integrity to once again pledge their lives, fortunes, and sacred honour to rebuilding America to overcome the threats and failures we are experiencing, and implement fast-track solutions to guarantee long-term survival of an acceptable quality of life before the window of opportunity closes.

    At this point, all I can be certain of is that this comment will be marginalized by the Powers That Be.

  8. Most interesting that America is also experiencing the same climate change threats and impacts, and our government is also failing to protect quality of life for future generations.

    We The People are supposed to be able to do better than this, but our politicians and intellectuals fail to meet the challenges of change just like those of failed civilizations before ours.

    We keep proving that our brains are not designed to protect us from self-destruction caused by Us/Them divisions.

  9. Soon, we could just substitute the word “USA” for “China” in a report like this. We better get it in gear soon in Washington. If they don’t wake up soon to reality, it could be too late for civilization. And, I don’t say that lightly.

    Good post by the way. Informative.

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