Climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment.[1] The energy structure and human activity caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Effects of climate change

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

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.[2][better source needed] Qin Dahe, former head of China's Meteorological Administration, has said that temperatures in the Tibetan Plateau of China are rising four times faster than anywhere else.[3] 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.[4][better source needed]

Changing weather and water

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 natural environment and infrastructure. This threatens the lives of billions and aggravates poverty.

China observed a ground average temperature increase of 0.24℃/decade from 1951 to 2017, exceeding the global rate. The average precipitation of China was 641.3 mm in 2017, 1.8% more than average precipitation of previous years. The sea level rise was 3.3mm/year from 1980 to 2017. 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.[5]

Furthermore, climate change will worsen the uneven distribution of water resources in China. Outstanding rises in temperature would exacerbate evapo-transpiration, 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, an 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.[4][better source needed]

Public health

Lastly, climate change could endanger human health by increasing outbreaks of disease and their transmission. After floods, for example, infectious diseases such as diarrhea and cholera are all far more prevalent. These effects would exacerbate the degradation of the ecologically fragile areas in which poor communities are concentrated pushing thousands back into poverty.[6][better source needed]

Some regions in China will be exposed to a 50 percent higher malaria transmission probability rate (Béguin et al., 2011).[7][better source needed]

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 prairie. In the near future, climate change may cause negative influences, causing a reduction of output in wheat, rice and corn, and change agricultural distribution of production.[8][better source needed] China is also dealing with agricultural issues due global demands of products such as soy beans. This global demand is causing coupled effects that stretch across oceans which in turn is effecting other countries. Environmental factor#Socioeconomic Drivers

Forest and other natural ecosystems

Climate change increases forest belt limits and frequencies of pests and diseases, decreases frozen earth areas, and threatens to decrease glacial areas in the northwest China. The vulnerability of ecosystems may increase due to future climate change.[8][better source needed]

Water resource and coastal zone

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 in the spatial and temporal distribution in China's water resources, increasing extreme weather events and natural disasters. Climate change caused an increase in sea level, threatening to impair the functions of harbors.[8][better source needed]

Energy

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Most energy comes from coal
Development of carbon dioxide emissions
The 22,500 MW Three Gorges Dam hydroelectric power plant in China, the largest hydroelectric power station in the world.

China is both the world's largest energy consumer and the largest industrial country, and ensuring adequate energy supply to sustain economic growth has been a core concern of the Chinese Government since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.[9] Since the country's industrialization in the 1960s, China is currently the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and coal in China is a major cause of global warming.[10] However, from 2010 to 2015 China reduced energy consumption per unit of GDP by 18%, and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 20%.[11] On a per-capita basis, China was only the world's 51st largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2016.[12] China is also the world's largest renewable energy producer (see this article),[13] and the largest producer of hydroelectricity, solar power and wind power in the world. The energy policy of China is connected to its industrial policy, where the goals of China's industrial production dictate its energy demand managements.[14]   

Being a country that depends heavily on foreign petroleum import for both domestic consumption and as raw materials for light industry manufacturing, electrification is a huge component of the Chinese national energy policy. Details for the power sector are likely to be released winter 2021/22 for the 14th five-year plan,[15] and this is expected to determine whether the country builds more coal-fired power stations, and therefore whether global climate targets are likely to be met.[16]

Renewables

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Panorama of Envision's wind farm in Shanxi, China
Satellite picture of the Longyangxia Dam reservoir and solar power park.

China is the world's leader in electricity production from renewable energy sources, with over triple the generation of the second-ranking country, the United States. China's renewable energy sector is growing faster than its fossil fuels and nuclear power capacity, and is expected to contribute 43% of global renewable capacity growth.[17] China's total renewable energy capacity exceeded 1,000 GW 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 1,200 GW of solar and wind capacity by 2030.[17] In 2023, it was reported that China was on track to reach 1,371 gigawatts of wind and solar by 2025, five years ahead of target due to new renewables installations breaking records.[18]

Although China currently has the world's largest installed capacity of hydro, solar and wind power, its energy needs are so large that in 2019, renewable sources provided 26% of its electricity generation[19]—compared to 17% in the U.S.[20]—with most of the remainder provided by coal power plants. In early 2020, renewable energy comprised about 40% of China's total installed electric power capacity, and 26% of total power generation. By 2021, it had grown to 29.4% of total power generation. The share of renewables in total power generation is expected to continue increasing to 36% by 2025,[21] in line with China's pledge to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 and peak emissions before 2030.

China sees renewables as a source of energy security and not just only to reduce carbon emission.[22] China's Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Air Pollution issued by China's State Council in September 2013, illustrates the government's desire to increase the share of renewables in China's energy mix.[23] Unlike oil, coal and gas, the supplies of which are finite and subject to geopolitical tensions, renewable energy systems can be built and used wherever there is sufficient water, wind, and sun.[24]

China is also major leader of clean energy technology.[25]: 98  As Chinese renewable manufacturing has grown, the costs of renewable energy technologies have dropped dramatically due to both innovation and economies of scale from market expansion.[24] In 2015, China became the world's largest producer of photovoltaic power, with 43 GW of total installed capacity.[26][27] From 2005 to 2014, production of solar cells in China has expanded 100-fold.[24] However, China is not expected to achieve grid parity – when an alternate source of energy is as cheap or cheaper than power purchased from the grid—until 2022.[28]

The country is the world's largest investor in renewable energy, with the country's companies accounting for four of the world's five biggest renewable energy deals made in 2016.[29] In 2017, investments in renewable energy amounted to US$279.8 billion worldwide, with China accounting for US$126.6 billion or 45% of the global investments.[30] According to researcher Dr Cornelia Tremann, "China has since become the world's largest investor, producer and consumer of renewable energy worldwide, manufacturing state-of-the-art solar panels, wind turbines and hydroelectric energy facilities" as well as becoming the world's largest producer of electric cars and buses.[31]

Reactions

Public opinion

According to the Chinese citizen climate change recognition and understanding report[32] 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 environmentally friendly products. 98.7% of interviewees supported implementing climate change education at schools. Respondents were most concerned about the air pollution caused by climate change. The investigation included 4025 samples.[32]

The investigation showed that Chinese citizens agreed that they were experiencing climate change, and that it was caused by human activities.[33]

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.[34]

Government stance

Climate change has not been a priority to China until recently, 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[35].

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,[36] which holds that since China is still developing, its abilities and capacities to reduce emissions are comparatively lower than developed countries'.

Recently, the government has urged countries to continue to support the Paris agreement, even in the wake of the United States' withdrawal in 2017.[37]

On September 22, 2020, China President 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.”[38]

Policy action

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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. [39] Flooding in cities is being tackled by collecting and recycling rainwater.[40] 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. [41]

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 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[42].

Internally 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.[43]

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.[44][45] 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.[46] The scheme is run by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment,[44] which eventually plans to limit emissions from six of China's top carbon dioxide emitting industries.[47] In 2021 it started with its power plants, and covers 40% of China's emissions, which is 15% of world emissions.[48] 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).[46] China's national ETS is the largest of its kind,[48] and will help China achieve its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement.[46] 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.[48]

See also

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