Combating climate change: China goes offensive

Updated: 2007-10-04 11:22

Chinese President Hu Jintao and a group of other state leaders were pictured wearing open-necked shirts with short sleeves, rather than their normal jackets and ties when attending a high-profile conference at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on June 25 of this year.

The less formal attire wasn't just for their own comfort. China's leaders are trying to set an example for all the office workers to dress in light, casual clothing in summer in order to reduce the use of air conditioners.

The State Council, or cabinet, ordered in June that air-conditioning units in most office buildings be set no cooler than 26 degrees Celsius. "As a developing country, China tries to shoulder more responsibilities in addressing the issue of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions," says Lu Xuedu, deputy director of the Global Environmental Affairs Office of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

In China's National Climate Change Program issued on June 4, the government pledged to restructure the economy, promote clean energy technologies and improve energy efficiency. With the new program, the nation has opted not to hide behind the fact that the Kyoto Protocol frees developing countries from the obligation to reduce GHG emissions, said Ma Kai, minister in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission.

An Imminent Threat

"Climate change has begun to take its toll in China in recent years, and we shouldn't wait till it is too late to take action," says Lu Xuedu.

Since the mid-1980s, China has experienced 19 warm winters. In 2006, the average temperature for winter hit 9.92 degrees Celsius, the highest since 1951, according to statistics from the National Meteorological Center.

Lu points out that if climate change remains unchecked, the output of China's major crops including wheat, rice and corn will drop by up to 37 percent in the second half of this century. Global warming will also reduce the river levels, and lead to more droughts and floods. And water supply in western China will fall short of demand by up to 20 billion cubic meters from 2010 to 2030.

Climate change also presents a major threat to ecologically  vulnerable areas such as the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, says Qin Dahe, an expert in glaciers, who is also an academician of the Chinese  Academy of Sciences (CAS).

"The glaciers on the plateau have been melting faster in recent decades," he said.

If the speed of the temperature rise fails to slow down, he warns, the total area of glaciers on the plateau will shrink to 100,000 square kilometers in 2030 from 500,000 square kilometers in 1995.

Since many major rivers in Asia come from the plateau, this shrinkage might result in water shortages for more than one billion people in Asia. 

Liu Jingshi, a researcher with the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau Research Institute of the CAS, adds the plateau has also softened as global warming melts the permafrost.

Liu says that the melting permafrost has already flooded some of the Tibetan herdsmen's families, and will become even more dangerous to them if the temperature continues to rise.

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