2015 Paris Climate Conference

China wakes up to what lies ahead

Pedestrians wear masks on a polluted day in Beijing.
Pedestrians wear masks on a polluted day in Beijing.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • Rising seas besieging China's economically vital coastal zones. Mighty feats of infrastructure, like the Three Gorges Dam and railway in Tibet, strained by turbulent rainfall and the melting of frozen earth. And on the Himalayan frontiers, the risk in future decades of international conflict over dwindling water supplies as glaciers retreat.

These and other sombre scenarios are laid out in the Chinese government's latest scientific assessment of global warming, released just before negotiations in Paris for a new international agreement on climate change.

"There's deepening awareness of the gravity of the problems," Dr Zhang Haibin, a professor at Peking University who was among some 550 experts who prepared the report, said in an interview. He noted a shift since the first such assessment was issued nine years ago. "From the first to the second to this third report, the negative impacts of climate change on China are increasingly apparent."

The new report went on sale in recent days after its release by the Ministry of Science and Technology, and is available only in Chinese.

It presents global warming as squeezing China from two fronts: the environmental hazards and the international response. China is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially from rising seas and shifting rainfall and snow patterns. And it also faces growing international pressure to cut its greenhouse gas pollution, which is by far the most by any country, almost twice that of the second-placed country, the United States.

To ward off those international demands, one section of the report urges Beijing to be more flexible in negotiations, where China's dual status as a huge developing economy and the biggest polluter has generated friction with the European Union, the US and other countries that want firmer commitments for when its greenhouse gas output will start to fall.

The report says: "China should confront the vagueness of its role and change." Overall, the report also says China's water resources, already strained, could shrink by 5 per cent by mid-century, because of climate change.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline 'China wakes up to what lies ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe