China: The Impact of Climate Change to 2030

Compared to other countries, China ranks lower in resilience to climate change than Brazil, Turkey, and Mexico, but higher than India. China ranks high in food security, human health, and human resources. Projections of resilience show China gaining capacity quickly and outranking Brazil, Turkey, and Mexico by 2020.
In recent years, the Chinese Government has paid increasing attention to the negative consequences of climate change. In 2007, China laid out its roadmap to battle climate change in China's National Climate Change Program, which was followed by a white paper in 2008 titled China's Actions and Policies on Climate Change. Both documents reviewed China's past achievements and presented its future plans in the following areas:
• Strengthening government management in vulnerable sectors such as water resources, agriculture, forestry, and coastal regions.
• Building early-warning and monitoring networks.
• Raising public awareness.
• Enhancing R&D investment.
• Employing international resources.
China is thus demonstrating its determination to tackle climate change issues as an important domestic affair. However, some prominent climate impacts have seemingly not caught the government’s attention, such as the underrated and underpublicized water crisis, as well as the underdeveloped social protection system. In addition, China must demonstrate an ability to implement its ambitious plans.
The negative consequences of climate change may expose the following sectors to high risk:
  • Water. Scarcity of natural water resources, fast-growing urbanization and industrialization, severe water pollution, cheap water prices, and the adverse impacts of climate change on water sources may lead to a water crisis in China.
    The drought regions in northern China may be prone to social unrest caused by conflicts about water rights and distribution between social groups and between sectors. The expected South-to-North Water Diversion Project may alleviate the water stress of some northern regions, but it will not provide a full solution (and has in any case been delayed).2 The forthcoming water crisis may impact China’s social, economic, and political stability to a great extent.
  • Coastal Regions. Due to their flat and low landscape, China’s coastal regions, the engine of China’s economic achievement, are highly vulnerable to storm, flood, and sea-level rise.
    The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as typhoons has threatened economic development at local, regional, and national levels. China has been actively developing early warning systems and related monitoring systems and improving the design standards of sea dikes and port docks. These efforts may help buffer some risk of natural weather extreme events.
  • Social and Political Uncertainties. Facing a large unemployed population, China’s underdeveloped social protection system is less and less able to protect those who need it.
    Rising expenses in health care, education and housing have been financial burdens for the average Chinese family. The export-oriented economy is vulnerable to a global financial crisis. The increasing dependence on foreign oil exposes China to an unstable world oil market.
    The adverse impacts of climate change will add extra pressure to existing social and resource (such as energy) stresses. Establishing an effective social protection system should be ranked high on the Chinese Government’s long to-do list.
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