From unexpected snowstorms in southern China to extreme drought in the north, China has been increasingly beset by the consequences of climate change. These threaten not only China’s economic growth but exacerbate China’s policy challenges in working to reduce poverty and enhance food security. Given the lack of an effective international protocol to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, all countries—both developing and developed—are being called to take more concrete actions in addressing climate change.

Xu Yinlong of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences explored China’s national climate change adaptation strategy in an international context. Qi Ye of Tsinghua University served as the commentator. Carnegie’s Kevin Tu moderated.

China’s Climate Change Challenges

  • Extreme Weather Conditions: Climate change in China has been marked not just by increased average temperatures and unbalanced regional precipitation, but also a number of extreme climate events, such as the 2006 super-typhoons Saomai and Billis and the extreme drought in the north China plain, Xu explained. These phenomena have been accompanied by outbreaks of diseases and pest infestations, such as wheat aphids and rice plant hoppers.
  • Impact on Livelihood: The growing number of environmental disasters threatens food security and the livelihood of millions of average Chinese, Xu said. He explained that the 2008 snowstorm in southern China ruined nearly 15 million hectares of crops and caused direct economic losses of over 159 billion RMB. During the drought in southwest China in the spring of 2010, nearly 6.73 million hectares of croplands were affected and direct economic losses were greater than 24.6 billion RMB. The degradation of grassland and the increased use of pesticides to combat growing pest outbreaks threaten China’s livestock as well, Xu added.
  • Uncoordinated Actions: Actions to offset climate change have initially been slow and uncoordinated. Both Xu and Qi stated that a lack of scientific research and insufficient awareness to support climate adaptation has reduced the perceived need for adaptation. Furthermore, both researchers emphasized that the lack of funding for climate adaptation, and the overall absence of a national plan for climate adaptation, has resulted in uncoordinated actions at local government level. This has been exacerbated by what Xu described as a lack of vulnerability and risk analyses when prescribing adaptation projects.

Evolution of Climate Adaptation in China

  • Bright Prospects: Despite the difficulties that China faces with climate adaptation, the panelists expressed optimism that China will make significant progress in the future. Xu added that the level of research on China's climate change strategy has increased, from China's Initial National Communication on Climate Change in 2004 to the Studies on National Strategy of Climate Change in 2011. Qi further emphasized that the central government has been pushing for increasingly stringent climate legislation and that local governments have been amenable to climate change adaptation projects.
  • Relations between Climate Mitigation and Adaptation: The panelists argued that both climate mitigation and adaptation are necessary and can be tackled jointly. Qi stated that any approach to climate adaptation must have synergy or “co-benefits.” For example, any carbon reduction plan must also include pollution reduction measures that enable local communities to adapt to climate change. Furthermore, Qi emphasized that a national climate adaptation strategy must be adopted as soon as possible to accommodate the long-term trend of rising urbanization.
  • Policy Proposals: Xu and his colleagues recently released a report, entitled “Studies on National Climate Adaptation Strategy in China,” which proposes a number of climate adaptation action plans to be achieved by 2020, categorized by sectors. These sectors include: agriculture, water resources, forestry, coastal zone, human health, ecosystems and biodiversity, major projects, energy; social sectors such as urban development, environmental protection, infrastructure, and societal well-being; and regional sectors. He offered examples of some of the recommendations made for the agricultural sector, such as water conservation projects, agricultural infrastructure development, construction of gene pools and seed banks, adjusting cropping systems, enhancing the monitoring and early-warning system for agro-meteorological disasters, grassland degradation prevention, and forage resourcing and planning.

Climate Adaptation in an International Context

  • CURE Economies: Tu mentioned that the Group of CURE economies (which he described as including China, the United States, Russia, and the European Union) represent 57 percent of global GDP, 55 percent of global energy consumption, and 59 percent of global carbon emissions. Coordination among these key economies will be essential for both mitigating climate change and for transferring technology and resources for climate change adaptation.
  • Potential for Cooperation: Xu pointed out that climate change adaptation has potential for both North-South cooperation between developed countries and developing countries and also has potential for South-South cooperation between developing countries. China's own experience as a key emerging economy and its efforts on climate adaptation can assist other developing countries with their own sustainable development.