Warming stripes of China between 1901 and 2019
Warming stripes of China between 1901 and 2019

Climate change is having major effects on the Chinese economy, society and the environment.[1][2] China is the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, through an energy infrastructure heavily focused on coal. Other industries, such as a burgeoning construction industry and industrial manufacturing, contribute heavily to carbon emissions. However, like other developing countries, on a per-capita basis, China's carbon emissions are considerably less than countries like the United States.[3] It has also been noted that higher-income countries have outsourced emissions-intensive industries to China.[4][5] On the basis of cumulative CO2 emissions measured from 1751 through to 2017, China is responsible for 13% globally and about half of the United States' cumulative emissions.[6][7]

China is suffering from the negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources, and is expected to continue to see increased impacts. China's government is taking some measures to increase renewable energy, and other decarbonization efforts, vowing to hit peak emissions before 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060 by adopting "more vigorous policies and measures."[8]

Greenhouse gas emissions

China has the most total annual emissions (area of rectangle) of any nation, and has higher than average per capita emissions.[9]
Cumulatively over time, emissions from China have caused more economic damage globally than any other nation except the U.S.[10]

Greenhouse gas emissions by China are the largest of any country in the world both in production and consumption terms, and stem mainly from coal burning in China, including coal-fired power stations, coal mining,[11] and blast furnaces producing iron and steel.[12] When measuring production-based emissions, China emitted over 14 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2eq of greenhouse gases in 2019,[13] 27% of the world total.[14][15] When measuring in consumption-based terms, which adds emissions associated with imported goods and extracts those associated with exported goods, China accounts for 13 gigatonnes (Gt) or 25% of global emissions.[16]

Despite having the largest emissions in the world, China's large population means its per person emissions have remained considerably lower than those in the developed world.[16] This corresponds to over 10.1 tonnes CO2eq emitted per person each year, slightly over the world average and the EU average but significantly lower than the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, with its 17.6 tonnes per person.[16] Accounting for historic emissions, OECD countries produced four times more CO2 in cumulative emissions than China, due to developed countries' early start in industrialization.[14][16]

Impacts on the natural environment

This section needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (September 2019)

China has and will suffer some of the effects of global warming, including sea level rise, glacier retreat and air pollution.

Temperature and weather changes

There has also been an increased occurrence of climate-related disasters such as drought and flood, and the amplitude is growing. These events have grave consequences for productivity when they occur, and also create serious repercussions for the natural environment and infrastructure. This threatens the lives of billions and aggravates poverty.

Responding to Climate Change: China's Policies and Actions

First in Preface: China's New Responses to Climate Change.

Second in Preface: Implementing a National Strategy of Actively Responding to climate Change.

Third in Preface: Significant Changes in China's Response to Climate Change.

Fourth in Preface: Building a Fair and Rational Global Climate Governance System for Win-Win Results.

Since the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) convened in 2012, China has prioritized its response to climate change.

A study published in 2017, using continuous and coherent severe weather reports from over 500 manned stations from 1961 to 2010, found a significant decreasing trend in severe weather occurrence across China, with the total number of severe weather days that have either thunderstorms, hail and/or damaging wind decreasing about 50% from 1961 to 2010. The reduction in severe weather occurrences correlated strongly with the weakening of the East Asian summer monsoon.[17][18]

China observed a ground average temperature increase of 0.24 °C (0.43 °F) per decade from 1951 to 2017, exceeding the global rate. The average precipitation of China was 641.3 millimetres (25.25 in) in 2017, 1.8% more than the average precipitation of previous years. There was an annual increase in concentrations of carbon dioxide from 1990 to 2016. The annual mean concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide at Wanliguan Station were 404.4 ppm, 1907 ppb, and 329.7 ppb separately in 2016, slightly higher than the global mean concentration in 2016.[19]

Current Köppen–Geiger climate classification map for China (1980-2016)
Predicted future Köppen–Geiger climate classification map for China (2071-2100)

Sea level rise

Coastal cities such as Guangzhou are vulnerable to sea level rise[20]
Coastal cities such as Guangzhou are vulnerable to sea level rise[20]

The sea level rise was 3.4mm/year from 1980 to 2019 compared to the global average of 3.2mm/year.[21]

China's first National Assessment of Global Climate Change, released in the 2000s by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST), states that China already suffers from the environmental impacts of climate change: increase of surface and ocean temperature, rise of sea level.[22][better source needed] Temperatures in the Tibetan Plateau of China are rising four times faster than anywhere else (data from 2011).[23] Rising sea level is an alarming trend because China has a very long and densely populated coastline, with some of the most economically developed cities such as Shanghai, Tianjin, and Guangzhou situated there. Chinese research has estimated that a one-meter rise in sea level would inundate 92,000 square kilometers of China's coast, thereby displacing 67 million people.[24][better source needed]

Climate change caused an increase in sea level, threatening to impair the functions of harbors.[25][better source needed]

Rising sea levels affect China's coastal land.  Cities along the coast such as Shanghai, only 3–5 meters above sea level leaves its 18 million residents vulnerable.  Sea levels in Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong have already risen .12 meters in the last 50 years.[26]

Ecosystems

Climate change increases forest belt limits and frequencies of pests and diseases, decreases frozen earth areas, and threatens to decrease glacial areas in northwest China. The vulnerability of ecosystems may increase due to future climate change.[25][better source needed] In the years 1970-2016 the occurrence of crop pest and diseases increased 4 times. 22% of that rise are due to climate change. By the year 2100 the occurrence will rise 243% under a low emission scenario and by 460% under a high emissions scenario. China is the biggest producer of wheat and rice in the world. It is in the second place in maize production.[27][28]

Desertification Control Project, Ningxia China
Desertification Control Project, Ningxia China

China is home to 17,300 species of plants and animals: 667 vertebrates, ancient flora and fauna. Due to rising global temperatures, within the next century 20-30% of species will go extinct.[29]

More than one fourth of China is covered by desert, which is growing due to desertification.  Desertification in China destroys farmland, biodiversity, and exacerbates poverty.[30]

Water resources

Climate change decreased total water resources in North China while increasing total water resources in South China. There were more floods, drought, and extreme weather events. There may be a big impact on the spatial and temporal distribution in China's water resources, increasing extreme weather events and natural disasters.[25]

Glacier melting in the Northern Region of China causes flooding in the upper parts of the Yangtze River.  This ruins soil and arable land.  The glacial melting causes lower parts of the Yangtze River to have lower volumes of water, also disrupting farming.[26]

Furthermore, climate change will worsen the uneven distribution of water resources in China. Outstanding rises in temperature would exacerbate evapotranspiration, intensifying the risk of water shortage for agricultural production in the North. Although China's southern region has an abundance of rainfall, most of its water is lost due to flooding. As the Chinese government faces challenges managing its expanding population, increased demand for water to support the nation's economic activity and people will burden the government. In essence, a water shortage is indeed a large concern for the country.[24][better source needed]

Overfishing and rising ocean temperatures are killing the coral reefs in the South China Sea.  This lowers biodiversity, and negatively affects the fish market economy in China.[26]

Impacts on people

At least 72% of Chinese, American and European respondents to a 2020−2021 European Investment Bank climate survey stated that climate change had an impact on everyday life.
At least 72% of Chinese, American and European respondents to a 2020−2021 European Investment Bank climate survey stated that climate change had an impact on everyday life.

Health impacts

Climate change has a significant impact on the health of Chinese people. The high temperature has caused health risks for some groups of people, such as older people (≥65 years old), outdoor workers, or people living in poverty. In 2019, each person who is older than 65 years had to endure extra 13 days of the heatwave, and 26,800 people died because of the heatwave in 2019.

In the future, the probability rate of malaria transmission will increase 39-140 percent if the temperature increase of 1-2 degrees Celsius in south China.[31]

Economic impacts

According to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report the country that will pay the highest financial cost if the temperature continue to rise is China. The impacts will include food insecurity, water scarcity, flooding, especially in coastal areas where most of the population lives due to higher than average sea level rise, and more powerful cyclones. At some point part of the country can face wet-bulb temperatures higher than humans and other mammals can tolerate more than six hours.[32]

Agriculture

The negative effects on China's agriculture caused by climate change have appeared. There was an increase in agricultural production instability, severe damages caused by high temperature and drought, and lower production and quality in the prairie. In the near future, climate change may cause negative influences, causing a reduction of output in wheat, rice, and corn, and change the agricultural distribution of production.[25][better source needed] China is also dealing with agricultural issues due global demands of products such as soybeans. This global demand is causing coupled effects that stretch across oceans which in turn is affecting other countries. Environmental factor#Socioeconomic Drivers

Fishing Industry

Due to overfishing, pollution, global temperature increase, and change in pH to the world's oceans, the South China Sea is suffering from a lack in biodiversity among marine life.[26] Historically, China was the world's largest capture fisheries and aquaculture producer, making the fish market a significant part of the Chinese economy.[33] Due to the environmental impacts, coral reefs in the South China Sea are dying, decreasing the amount of marine life in the South China Sea. Fisheries are not able to catch the amount of fish that was once brought to the fish market, making that part of the economy suffer. The amount of fishing in China is unsustainable, and therefore declining.[34] The fishing industry supplies a significant amount of jobs, exports, and domestic consumption, which will disappear if the fishing industry collapses.

Mitigation and adaptation

In general, the climate policy of China can be described as "underpromise so that it can overdeliver". China sets itself low climate targets that cannot surely prevent a 2 degrees temperature rise, but it mostly achieves and even overachieve its targets. China wants to peak its carbon emissions before 2030 and became carbon neutral by 2070. The paramount leader of China declared that his country will stop financing coal power plants abroad. China achieved 9 of its 15 climate targets in the Paris agreement before it was planned to happen. The climate policy of China can become more effective as a result of higher climate ambition of other countries and better cooperation with the USA.[35] In March 2022 China increased its fossil fuel production "amid growing fears of global energy shortages and rising concerns of an economic slump".[36]

The main climate targets of China as of 2022:

According to a report China will probably overachieved its targets, will peak emission already in 2025, and by 2030 they will return to current levels. However, such pathway still leads to 3 degree temperature rise.[37]

Calculations in 2021 showed that for giving the world a 50% chance of avoiding a temperature rise of 2 degrees or more China should increase its climate commitments by 7%.[38]: Table 1  For a 95% chance it should increase the commitments by 24%. For giving a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees China should increase its commitments by 41%.[38]

Mitigation approaches

Main article: Greenhouse gas emissions by China § Mitigation

In 2022, China issued its climate targets in the 14th Five-Year Plan. Those include: reduce the economy's energy intensity by 13.5%, reduce the CO2 intensity of the economy by 18%, increase in the share of nonfossil energy to about 20%. The change is in comparison to the numbers for the year 2021.[39] All three targets should be achieved by 2025.

In the beginning of the year 2022 a government-supported research said China will peak CO2 emissions in the year 2027 at 12.2Gt and reach net zero carbon emissions before 2060 if it will change its development model.[40]

Renewable energy

Ensuring adequate energy supply to sustain economic growth has been a core concern of the Chinese government since 1949.[41] The country is the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and coal in China is a major cause of global warming.[42] However, from 2010 to 2015 China reduced energy consumption per unit of GDP by 18%, and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 20%.[43] On a per-capita basis, it was the world's 51st largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2016.[44] China is also the world's largest renewable energy producer.[45] China is the largest producer of hydroelectricity, solar power and wind power in the world. The energy policy of China is connected to its industrial policy. The goals of China's industrial policy dictate its energy needs.[46]   
China is the world's leading country in electricity production from renewable energy sources, with over triple the generation of the second-ranking country, the United States.[47] China's renewable energy sector is growing faster than its fossil fuels and nuclear power capacity, and is expected to contribute 43 percent of global renewable capacity growth.[48] China's total renewable energy capacity exceeded 1,000GW in 2021, accounting for 43.5 per cent of the country's total power generation capacity, 10.2 percentage points higher than in 2015. The country aims to have 80 per cent of its total energy mix come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2060, and achieve a combined 1,200GW of solar and wind capacity by 2030.[48]

Energy efficiency

A 2011 report by a project facilitated by World Resources Institute stated that the 11th five-year plan (2005 to 2010), in response to worsening energy intensity in the 2002-2005 period, set a goal of a 20% improvement of energy intensity. The report stated that this goal likely was achieved or nearly achieved. The next five-year plan set a goal of improving energy intensity by 16%.[49] In 2022 China published a plan of energy conservation for the 14th five-year plan (2021 to 2025) with a target of cutting energy consumption per unit of GDP by 13.5% by the year 2025 in comparison to the level of 2020.[50] The plan regards 17 different sectors in the economy. In some sectors 20% - 40% of the capacities are not meeting the standards they need to meet by 2025. This policy expects to benefit the biggest companies who have the possibility to reach the targets.[51]

In the provinces of China, there are various projects held aiming to solve emissions reduction and energy-saving, which is a big step in tackling climate change. Beijing is developing in replacing traditional bulbs with energy-saving light bulbs. Provinces such as Rizhao and Dezhou are promoting solar energy in the building heating system. Besides, Tsinghua University launched a lead on low-carbon city development. The city is currently working with Tsinghua University to improve the urban environment by introducing renewable energy into industries and households.[52] More than 360 Chinese cities have dockless bike-sharing systems that deploy nearly 20 million bicycles that travel an average of 47 million kilometres per day. According to the World Resources Institute report, dockless bike-sharing systems reduced China's GHG emissions by 4.8 million tonnes of CO2 annually.[53]

Adaptation approaches

Pictured here is the conversion of three large rivers in Ningbo, China. The country is taking substantial measures to combat the flash floods predicted to intensify in the future.
Pictured here is the conversion of three large rivers in Ningbo, China. The country is taking substantial measures to combat the flash floods predicted to intensify in the future.

China has experienced a seven-fold increase in the frequency of floods since the 1950s, rising every decade. The frequency of extreme rainfall has increased and is predicted to continue to increase in the western and southern parts of China. The country is currently undertaking efforts to reduce the threat of these floods (which have the potential effect of completely destroying vulnerable communities), largely focusing on improving the infrastructure responsible for tracking and maintaining adequate water levels. That being said, the country is promoting the extension of technologies for water allocation and water-saving mechanisms. In the country's National Climate Change Policy Program, one of the goals specifically set out is to enhance the ability to bear the impacts of climate change, as well as to raise the public awareness on climate change. China's National Climate Change Policy states that it will integrate climate change policies into the national development strategy. In China, this national policy comes in the form of its "Five Year Plans for Economic and Social Development". China's Five Year Plans serve as the strategic road maps for the country's development. The goals spelled out in the Five Year Plans are mandatory as government officials are held responsible for meeting the targets.[54]

The Great Green Wall is a major tree planting initiative aiming to combat climate change.[55]

Policies and legislation

Climate change has not been a priority to China until recently (around 2008), when this issue was brought to a higher platform. Chinese state affairs operate as a central system, not a federal system. For example, the central government makes decisions and the local governments fulfill them. As a result, the local governments receive constraints and are measured by their performance from the central governments. Solving environmental issues such as climate change requires long-term investments in money, resources, and time. It is believed that these efforts will be detrimental to economic growth, which is of particular importance to the promotion of local government executives. This is why local governments have no engagement in addressing this issue.[56]

In China's first NDC submission, key areas were identified for climate change adaptation, including agriculture, water resources, and vulnerable areas. It also mentioned that an adaptation strategy should be implemented through regional strategies.[57] Flooding in cities is being tackled by collecting and recycling rainwater.[58] In 2013, China issued its National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation and set goals of reducing vulnerability, strengthening monitoring, and raising public awareness. Efforts on implementation have been put in adapting forestry, meteorological management, infrastructure, and risk planning.[59]

The development of technology and economy in China share more responsibility in tackling climate change. After facing the 2011 smog issue, China's government launched an extensive strategy, which is to improve air quality by reducing the growth of coal consumption. Nevertheless, the trade war that involved China as one of the leading participants has resulted in the loss of control of polluting industries, especially in the steel and cement during 2018. Fortunately, nearly 70 multinational and local brands implemented the monitoring data by The Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE) in China, stimulating nearly 8,000 suppliers approaching regulatory violations.[60]

Paris agreement

The Paris agreement is a legally binding international agreement. Its main goal is to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.[61] The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are the plans to fight climate change adapted for each country, which outlines specific goals and targets for the upcoming five years to help mitigate the effects of climate change.[62] Every party in the agreement has different targets based on its own historical climate records and country's circumstances and all the targets for each country are stated in their NDC.[63]

China is currently a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement. As a part of this agreement it has agreed to the 2016 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

The NDC target regarding the China against climate change and greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris agreement are the following:[64]

In the NDC of China there is a list of things that have been achieved by 2014:[64]

Progress

Climate action tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement. Climate action tracker found China actions to be "Highly insufficient".[65]

National carbon trading scheme

The Chinese national carbon trading scheme is an intensity-based trading system for carbon dioxide emissions by China, which started operating in 2021.[66] This emission trading scheme (ETS) creates a carbon market where emitters can buy and sell emission credits. The scheme will allow carbon emitters to reduce emissions or purchase emission allowances from other emitters. Through this scheme, China will limit emissions while allowing economic freedom for emitters.

China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) and many major Chinese cities have severe air pollution.[67] The scheme is run by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment,[66] which eventually plans to limit emissions from six of China's top carbon dioxide emitting industries.[68] In 2021 it started with its power plants, and covers 40% of China's emissions, which is 15% of world emissions.[69] China was able to gain experience in drafting and implementation of an ETS plan from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where China was part of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).[67] China's national ETS is the largest of its kind,[69] and will help China achieve its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement.[67] In July 2021, permits were being handed out for free rather than auctioned, and the market price per tonne of CO2e was around RMB 50, far less than the EU ETS and the UK ETS.[69]

International cooperation

Main article: Debate over China's economic responsibilities for climate change mitigation

Xie Zhenhua, Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs of China, speaking at the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018.
Xie Zhenhua, Special Representative for Climate Change Affairs of China, speaking at the Global Climate Action Summit in 2018.

Attitudes of the Chinese government on climate change, specifically regarding the role of China in climate change action, have shifted notably in recent years. Historically, climate change was largely seen as a problem that has been created by and should be solved by industrialized countries; in 2015, China said it supports the "common but differentiated responsibilities" principle,[70] which holds that since China is still developing, its abilities and capacities to reduce emissions are comparatively lower than developed countries', but China became the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2006 and is now responsible for more than a quarter of the world's overall greenhouse gas emissions.[71]

In 2018, the government has urged countries to continue to support the Paris agreement, even in the wake of the United States' withdrawal in 2017.[72] In 2020, Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced at the UN General Assembly in New York that his country will end its contribution to global heating and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 by adopting "more vigorous policies and measures."[8]

Both internationally and within the People's Republic of China, there has been an ongoing debate over China's economic responsibilities for climate change mitigation. The argument has been made that China has a crucial role to play in keeping global warming under 2 °C, and that this cannot be accomplished unless coal use, which accounts for the majority of China's emissions,[73] falls sharply.[74][75] CCP general secretary Xi Jinping says China will "phase down" coal use from 2026 - and will not build new coal-fired projects abroad - but some governments and campaigners say the plans are not going far enough.

The People's Republic of China is an active participant in the climate change talks and other multilateral environmental negotiations, and claims to take environmental challenges seriously but is pushing for the developed world to help developing countries to a greater extent.

However the Belt and Road Initiative is constructing coal-fired power stations (for example Emba Hunutlu power station in Turkey) thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions from other countries.[76]

Environment ministers from the BASIC countries, which includes China, meet in 2010 to discuss climate change mitigation following the COP15 summit.
Environment ministers from the BASIC countries, which includes China, meet in 2010 to discuss climate change mitigation following the COP15 summit.

China is a part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, BASIC Alliance.  This alliance is an international commitment to work in partnership with Brazil, South Africa, and India.[77] BASIC's international commitments and goals are to be carbon net-zero before 2060, and to help achieve the global goal from the UNFCCC of reducing emissions to 1.5% degrees Celsius before pre-industrial levels.[77] In 2021, at the UN General Assembly, Chinese leader Xi Jinping stated that China will no longer fund coal-fired power plants abroad. Xi also repeated the country's commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.[78]

In 2022 the cooperation on climate issues between China and US considerably improved. The countries create "a group from both countries to work toward quickly reducing greenhouse gas emissions." John Kerry mentioned a possibility of technological help from the part of US and informational help from the part of China.[79]

Society and culture

Public opinion

According to a study from 2017 conducted by the China Climate Change Communication program, 94% of interviewees supported fulfilling the Paris agreement, 96.8% of interviewees supported international cooperation on global climate change, and more than 70% of interviewees were willing to purchase products environmentally friendly . 98.7% of interviewees supported implementing climate change education at schools. Respondents were most concerned about the air pollution caused by climate change.[80] The investigation included 4025 samples.[80]

The investigation showed that Chinese citizens agreed that they were experiencing climate change and that it was caused by human activities.[81]

Furthermore, most Chinese citizens believe individual action on climate change can help, although the government is still seen as the entity most responsible for dealing with climate change. If the government does take action, fiscal and taxation policies are seen as potentially effective.[82]

Activism

"Great Climate Wall of China", an installation featuring portraits of Chinese citizens calling for action on climate change.[83]
"Great Climate Wall of China", an installation featuring portraits of Chinese citizens calling for action on climate change.[83]

Despite public gatherings and protests being strictly controlled in China, small number of young people have called on the government to increase its action on climate change. In 2019, activist Howey Ou staged the country's first school strike for climate in Guilin. Organisations connected to the government, such as China Youth Climate Action Network, have also disseminated training and public awareness activities related to the issue.[84]

See also

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