Mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate threat to China’s food se­cu­rity

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - VIEWS -

China is al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the ef­fects of cli­mate change. Ac­cord­ing to the Third Na­tional As­sess­ment Report on Cli­mate Change, the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture of China’s land area rose by 0.9 Cel­sius to 1.5 C from 1909 to 2011, which is higher than the global av­er­age. It is pro­jected to rise an­other 1.3 C to 5 C by the end of this cen­tury.

Be­sides tem­per­a­ture rise, cli­mate change has had other ob­serv­able ef­fects on China, such as ris­ing sea lev­els, melt­ing glaciers, chang­ing pre­cip­i­ta­tion pat­terns, more droughts and heat waves, and in­creas­ing risks of hur­ri­canes. Cli­mate change there­fore has a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on China’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and eco­nomic growth.

Due to its com­plex cli­mate con­di­tions and frag­ile ecosys­tems, China is sen­si­tive to cli­mate change, with its agri­cul­ture be­ing par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble.

Al­though cli­mate change will im­prove ther­mal con­di­tions for agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion in some ar­eas, the neg­a­tive im­pacts are more pro­nounced. They in­clude de­clin­ing crop qual­ity and yield, de­creas­ing arable land qual­ity, in­creas­ing price of wa­ter and fer­til­iz­ers, ag­gra­vated crop pests and dis­eases, and more fre­quent and in­tense ex­treme cli­mate events. It is widely be­lieved the net ef­fect of cli­mate change on agri­cul­ture is neg­a­tive.

Cli­mate change there­fore poses a huge chal­lenge to the sta­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity of food pro­duc­tion in China. Agri­cul­ture em­ploys about 40 per­cent of China’s pop­u­la­tion; it also pro­duces 30 per­cent of rice, 17 per­cent of wheat, and 20 per­cent of corn in the world. The cli­matic shocks to agri­cul­ture will not only threaten the food se­cu­rity of the world’s largest pop­u­la­tion, but also have a rip­ple ef­fect on the global food mar­ket.

All these call for thor­ough as­sess­ment of the eco­nomic im­pacts of cli­mate change on China’s agri­cul­ture and a strat­egy to ad­dress the chal­lenge.

The cost of cli­mate change on China’s agri­cul­ture has been as­sessed in a re­cent pa­per pub­lished in the Jour­nal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Eco­nomics and Man­age­ment by re­searchers from Hong Kong Polytech­nic Uni­ver­sity, Duke Kun­shan Uni­ver­sity and the Chi­nese Academy of Agri­cul­tural Sciences. The report’s au­thors say cli­mate change is likely to de­crease the yields of rice, wheat and corn in China, and the au­thor­i­ties need to take ur­gent ac­tions to deal with the chal­lenge.

The im­pacts of cli­mate change on the three sta­ple crops are het­ero­ge­neous across Chi­nese re­gions. While cli­mate change is harm­ful for rice pro­duc­tion in south­ern China, it is ben­e­fi­cial in north­ern China. Ad­di­tion­ally, the ma­jor rice-pro­duc­ing prov­inces, such as Hu­nan, Hubei, Jiangsu, and Jiangxi, will suf­fer sig­nif­i­cant losses.

For wheat, north­east­ern China could ben­e­fit from cli­mate change. And while Cen­tral China, in­clud­ing sev­eral coun­ties in He­nan, Shan­dong and He­bei prov­inces, will suf­fer mod­er­ate losses, the im­pact of cli­mate change on south­ern China will be se­vere.

When it comes to corn, all re­gions show the neg­a­tive im­pacts of cli­mate change, ex­cept for some coun­ties in the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion. In par­tic­u­lar, the ma­jor corn-pro­duc­ing prov­inces, such as Jilin, Hei­longjiang, He­nan and He­bei, will be se­verely af­fected.

The im­pacts of cli­mate change on rice, wheat, and corn pro­duc­tions are of great eco­nomic sig­nif­i­cance. And ev­i­dence sug­gests cli­mate change can en­dan­ger China’s food se­cu­rity. Do­mes­tic food pro­duc­tion is likely to de­cline if ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy and im­proved farm­ing meth­ods can­not fill the sup­ply gap caused by cli­mate change. And if China has to rely, even if partly, on the world mar­ket for food se­cu­rity, it can­not achieve self-suf­fi­ciency in food pro­duc­tion, which is a top pri­or­ity for the Chi­nese govern­ment.

Given the im­pacts of cli­mate change and po­ten­tial risks, China needs to take im­me­di­ate mea­sures to deal with even­tu­al­i­ties. Adap­ta­tion can help China mit­i­gate the neg­a­tive im­pacts of cli­mate change and ben­e­fit from the pos­i­tive im­pacts. Ac­cord­ing to the find­ings of a study, China’s Na­tional Tech­nol­ogy Needs As­sess­ment for Cli­mate Change Adap­ta­tion, funded by the World Bank, the pri­or­ity adap­tive mea­sures in­clude stress-tol­er­ant va­ri­etal breed­ing, pre­ci­sion agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy, and agri­cul­tural wa­ter-sav­ing tech­nol­ogy. By pro­mot­ing these cli­mate­friendly agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies, China can re­duce the cli­mate risks on food se­cu­rity.

The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search cen­ter, Duke Kun­shan Uni­ver­sity, Jiangsu prov­ince.


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