Change has ar­rived

The World of Chinese - - COVER STORY -

The planet is warm­ing at an alarm­ing rate, and more con­cise data means that the ef­fects can be better mea­sured. Whether it’s build­ing bridges in ci­ties or pre­par­ing for floods in the coun­try­side, the num­bers are show­ing that the con­cern over cli­mate change is no longer just hand­wring­ing.

China has ex­pe­ri­enced no­tice­able cli­mate change over the past cen­tury. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) re­port in 2014, China’s an­nual av­er­age air tem­per­a­ture in­creased by 0.5 to 0.8 de­grees Cel­sius over the past 100 years, which was slightly greater than the global av­er­age.

The most im­me­di­ate prob­lem for China is glaciers. Pro­jec­tions show that a tem­per­a­ture rise of 4 de­grees could trig­ger rapid melt­ing of glaciers on a global scale and China’s west­ern re­gion, known as the Third Pole, is in se­ri­ous dan­ger. The Third Na­tional As­sess­ment Re­port on Cli­mate Change in 2015, claims that glaciers in west­ern China have shrunk by 18 per­cent since the 1950s, an av­er­age loss of 244 square kilo­me­ters a year. The 2014 IPCC re­port pre­dicted that the Hi­malayan glaciers could lose one-third to one-half of their mass by 2100.

These shrink­ing glaciers re­sult in flood­ing from glacial lakes in the west all the way to the Yangtze River Delta, caus­ing an in­crease in flood­ing. From 2008 to 2010, 62 per­cent of Chi­nese ci­ties ex­pe­ri­enced flood­ing; 173 ci­ties had three or more floods in that pe­riod, ac­cord­ing to an as­sess­ment from the China En­vi­ron­ment Fo­rum and West­ern Ken­tucky Univer­sity.

The glacial melt­ing is also caus­ing droughts. The clos­est glacier to a ma­jor city in the world, out­side of Urumqi, has re­treated more than 180 me­ters, shed­ding nearly a quar­ter of its mass. This is very likely to bring se­ri­ous wa­ter dis­rup­tions to the two mil­lion peo­ple in Urumqi, ac­cord­ing to re­searchers at the Tian­shan Glacier Sta­tion, Urumqi Glacier No.1. As glaciers shrink, so too do the fresh­wa­ter lakes and streams upon which so many ru­ral res­i­dents de­pend. Cli­mate change has also ac­cel­er­ated de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. The New York Times re­cently claimed that China’s deserts have been spread­ing at an an­nual rate of more than 1,300 square miles for years.

The ef­fects of cli­mate change on agri­cul­ture are al­ready mea­sur­able. Ac­cord­ing to a pa­per in the Journal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Eco­nomics and Man­age­ment, chang­ing cli­mate con­di­tions from 2001 to 2009 led to a net eco­nomic loss of ap­prox­i­mately 200 mil­lion USD

in China’s corn and soy­bean sec­tors in 2009 alone. And the IPCC re­port in 2007 con­cluded that un­der the worst case sce­nario, the ex­pected ef­fects of tem­per­a­ture and pre­cip­i­ta­tion change could cause a drop in China’s rain-fed yields of rice, wheat, and maize of be­tween 20 and 36 per­cent over the next 20 to 80 years.

An­other oft-over­looked el­e­ment to cli­mate change is the spread of dis­ease in tra­di­tion­ally cooler ar­eas, and such has been the case with malaria and dengue fever in parts of China. In 2014, China saw its worst out­break of dengue fever in the south­ern prov­ince of Guang­dong, with six peo­ple killed and thou­sands in­fected, ac­cord­ing to the Health De­part­ment of Guang­dong Prov­ince.

For the au­thor­i­ties, the ques­tion is how to best avoid the af­fects of near­future cli­mate change and all signs point to in­fra­struc­ture being the best re­sponse. That, how­ever, does not come cheap. With once-ev­ery-20years flood­ing pre­dicted to oc­cur as fre­quently as ev­ery four years by 2050, pre­par­ing for cli­mate change in the PRC could cost 44 bil­lion USD a year by 2050, ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank in 2013.

While no par­tic­u­lar nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non is nec­es­sar­ily “caused” by cli­mate change di­rectly, the ef­fects of a warm­ing globe are now clearly vis­i­ble, and fig­ur­ing out how to deal with the bar­rage of trou­bles will be an ex­pen­sive prob­lem for gen­er­a­tions to come. - SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

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