Cli­mate change will chal­lenge au­thor­i­tar­ian China: Ex­perts

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

The gleam­ing tow­ers of Shang­hai be­lie the Chi­nese com­mer­cial hub’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to cli­mate change, and the city is spend­ing bil­lions to try to pro­tect it­self, but ex­perts say the coun­try’s au­thor­i­tar­ian sys­tem is a hid­den weak­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port last year by Cli­mate Cen­tral, a US-based re­search group, the low­ly­ing megac­ity is, in pop­u­la­tion terms, the world’s most at risk from ris­ing sea lev­els. A two de­gree Cel­sius in­crease in global tem­per­a­tures would in­un­date land cur­rently lived on by 11.6 mil­lion peo­ple, it said-by far the world’s highest. A 4 C rise would see that leap to 22.4 mil­lion.

The United Na­tions’ In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change lists Shang­hai among the cities in Asia ex­pected to be most vul­ner­a­ble to coastal flood­ing by the 2070s. It is al­ready scram­bling to for­tify it­self against in­creased rain­fall city of­fi­cials say is out­strip­ping cur­rent de­fenses. “In the past two years we have of­ten seen more than 100 mil­lime­ters of rain­fall within a sin­gle hour, but our city only has the ca­pac­ity to deal with 36 mil­lime­ters,” Zhang Zhenyu, the deputy di­rec­tor of the Shang­hai Flood Con­trol Head­quar­ters told AFP, as staff pored over weather data. “Es­pe­cially this year with global warm­ing, Shang­hai’s weather has seen a dra­matic change.” Work will be­gin this year on a 40 bil­lion yuan ($6 bil­lion) un­der­ground tun­nel be­neath Shang­hai’s Suzhou Creek to man­age ex­cess rain­fall, and 135 kilo­me­ters of a more than 500 kilome­ter long sea wall are to be re­in­forced.

Field of vi­sion

The en­vi­ron­ment has be­come an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal is­sue in China, swathes of which are reg­u­larly blan­keted by chok­ing pol­lu­tion, caus­ing wide­spread pub­lic anger. On Shang­hai’s Huangpu river, res­i­dents re­lax on sunny morn­ings among the tall reeds and still wa­ters of a wet­land park built on a for­mer in­dus­trial site to de­fend against floods and clean the pol­luted river. But it is only a small sec­tion of the wa­ter­front and ex­perts point to an over­looked cli­mate change vul­ner­a­bil­ity - China’s Com­mu­nist-con­trolled po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

It can en­able au­thor­i­ties to put ini­tia­tives into ef­fect on a huge scale once they have been de­cided on, such as its high-speed rail net­work, the world’s largest. But of­fi­cials’ pro­mo­tion prospects have long been linked to eco­nomic growth in their ar­eas, cre­at­ing “dan­ger­ous short­ter­mism” in de­ci­sion mak­ing, ac­cord­ing to Cleo Paskal, an en­ergy, en­vi­ron­ment and re­sources spe­cial­ist at Bri­tish think-tank Chatham House. As an ex­am­ple, she cited giv­ing per­mis­sion for toxic chem­i­cal con­tain­ment pools to be built next to ar­eas of high pop­u­la­tion den­sity along a vul­ner­a­ble coast.

“Over the long term, es­pe­cially with en­vi­ron­men­tal change, that is clearly a mas­sive risk, but for the pro­mo­tion po­ten­tial of the de­ci­sion mak­ers con­cerned, the sys­tem reg­is­ters it as ‘growth’,” she said. Cen­sor­ship is an­other is­sue, said Li Yifei, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies at New York Uni­ver­sity Shang­hai, with en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search deemed too sen­si­tive risk­ing be­ing banned from pub­li­ca­tion, and made ac­ces­si­ble only to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials rather than other re­searchers.

— AP

BEI­JING: A man and a child wear masks dur­ing a heav­ily pol­luted day.

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