Climate change in China

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Since 2006, China has been the world's largest emitter of CO
annually.[1][2][3][4][5] China ratified the Kyoto Protocol as a non-Annex B party without binding targets, and ratified the Paris Agreement to fight climate change.[6] As the world's largest coal producer and consumer country, China worked hard to change energy structure and experienced a decrease in coal consumption since 2013 to 2016.[7] However, China, the United States and India, the three biggest coal users, have increased coal mining in 2017.[8] The Chinese government has implemented several policies to control coal consumption, and boosted the usage of natural gas and electricity [citation needed]. Looking ahead, the construction and manufacturing industries of China will give way to the service industry, and the Chinese government will not set a higher goal for economic growth in 2018; thus coal consumption may not experience continuous growth in the next few years.[7]

The annual CO
emissions of China were 10150.82 million tonnes in 2016, followed by the United States (5311.69 million tonnes) and India (2430.8 million tonnes).[9] The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects in agriculture, forest, water resource etc.

China is implementing some policies to mitigate the bad effects of climate change, most of which aim to constrain coal consumption. The Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of China set goals and committed to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 in the latest, and increase the use of non-fossil fuel energy carriers, taking up 20% of the total primary energy supply.[10] If China successfully reached NDC's targets, the GHG emissions level would be 12.8–14.3 GtCO2e in 2030, reducing 64% to 70% of emission intensity below 2005 levels. China has surpassed solar deployment and wind energy deployment targets for 2020.[11]

Cumulative CO2 emissions of different countries (1970-2013)

Current situation[edit]

China observed a ground average temperature increase of 0.24℃/decade from 1951 to 2017, exceeding the global ground average temperature increase 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 in the Wanliguan Station were 404.4 ppm, 1907 ppb and 329.7 ppb separately in 2016, slightly higher than the global mean concentration in 2016.[12]

Energy consumption[edit]

According to the 2016 Chinese Statistical Yearbook published by China's National Bureau of Statistics, China's energy consumption was 430,000 (10,000 tons of Standard Coal Equivalent), including 64% coal, 18.1% crude oil, 5.9% natural gas, and 12.0% primary electricity and other energy in 2016. The percentage of coal has decreased since 2011, and the percentage of crude oil, natural gas and primary electricity and other energy have increased since 2011.[13]

China experienced an increase in electricity demand and use in 2017 as the economy accelerated.[14] According to the Climate Data Explorer published by World Resources Institute, China, the European Union and the U.S. contributed to more than 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[15] In 2016, China's greenhouse gas emissions accounted for 26% of total global emissions.[16] The energy industry has been the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions since the last decade.[15]

Although China has large countrywide emissions, its per capita carbon dioxide emissions are still lower than those of some other developed and developing countries. In 2007, China's per-capita emissions were 5.1 tons per person per year, compared to 19.4 in the U.S., 11.8 in Russia, and 8.6 in the EU 15.[17][18]

Public opinion[edit]

According to the Chinese citizen climate change recognition and understanding report[19] conducted by the China Climate Change Communication program, 94% of interviewees supported fulfilling the Paris agreement, 96.8% of interviewees supported international cooperation towards 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 brought out by climate change. The investigation included 4025 samples.[19]

The investigation showed that Chinese citizens agreed that they were experiencing climate change, and that it was caused by human activities.[20]

Furthermore, most Chinese citizens believe their actions as individuals can help combat climate change, 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.[21]

Government stance[edit]

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.

But recently, the government hasinping has urged countries to continue to support the agreement, even in the wake of the United States' withdrawal in 2017.[22]

Nevertheless, China still supports the "common but differentiated responsibilities" principle, which holds that since China is still developing, its abilities and capacities to reduce emissions are comparatively lower than developed countries'. Therefore, its emissions should not be required to decrease over time, but rather should be encouraged to increase less over time until industrialization is farther along and reductions are feasible.[23]

Effects of climate change[edit]

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

The implications of climate change impose serious setbacks on global health and will hinder the economic development of various regions worldwide impacting countries on more than just the basic environmental scale. As in the case of China, we will see the effects on a social and economic level.

China's first National Assessment of Global Climate Change, released recently 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.[24] 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.[25] 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 kilometres of China's coast, thereby displacing 67 million people.[26]

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.

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.[26]

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.[27]


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.[28]

Forest and other natural ecosystems[edit]

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.[28]

Water resource and coastal zone[edit]

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.[28]


Some regions in China will be exposed to a 50 percent higher malaria transmission probability rate (Béguin et al., 2011).[29]

Conclusion of IPCC[edit]

According to IPCC (2007), from 1900 to 2005, precipitation has declined in parts of southern Asia. By the 2050s, freshwater availability, including large river basins, is projected to decrease in Asian regions. Coastal areas, especially the delta areas in Asia, are projected to have increased flooding risk. Floods and droughts are expected to increase health concerns: diseases and mortality.[30]

Climate change mitigation methods[edit]

A 2011 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report predicted that Chinese CO2 emissions will peak around 2030. This because in many areas such as infrastructure, housing, commercial building, appliances per household, fertilizers, and cement production a maximum intensity will be reached and replacement will take the place of new demand. The 2030 emissions peak also became China's pledge at the Paris COP21 summit. Carbon emission intensity may decrease as policies become strengthened and more effectively implemented, including by more effective financial incentives, and as less carbon intensive energy supplies are deployed. In a "baseline" computer model CO2 emissions were predicted to peak in 2033; in an "Accelerated Improvement Scenario" they were predicted to peak in 2027.[31]

Coal is predicted to remain the most important power source in the near future but China has been seen as the world leader in clean coal technology.[32][33][34]

International involvement[edit]

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. It is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, although China is not required to reduce its carbon emissions under the terms of the present agreement.[citation needed]


In addition to the targets laid out in China's Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) in 2016, China also established 10 binding environmental targets in its Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016-2020). These include an aim to reduce carbon intensity by 18% by 2020, as well as a binding target for renewable energy at 15% of total energy, raised from under 12% in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. The Thirteenth Five-Year Plan also set, for the first time, a cap on total energy use from all sources: no more than 5 billion tons of coal through 2020.[35]

Carbon trading[edit]

China issued its first Climate Change Program in 2007, in response to its surpassing of the United States as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions in the world.[36] The Chinese national carbon trading scheme was later announced in November 2008 by the national government to enforce a compulsory carbon emission trading scheme across the country's provinces as part of its strategy to create a "low carbon civilisation".[37] The scheme would allow provinces to earn money by investing in carbon capture systems in those regions that fail to invest in the technology.[38]

In 2011, the Chinese government announced the location of pilot systems for the proposed national carbon trading scheme. Since 2014, these projects have begun in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Guangdong, Hubei, and Chongqing. Each region's pilot covers different sectors (including cement and steel industries as well as other manufacturing and industrial sectors) and percentages of the region's emissions. Since August 2008, voluntary emissions trading among individual institutions has also begun in China.[39]

In 2017, China released specific details of its proposed national carbon market. This program would initially cover the country's power generation sector (which contributes to half of China's overall emissions), and within the power sector, only companies emitting 26,000 tons of carbon per year. Nathaniel Keohane, Vice President for Global Climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that this initial stage would cover 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions. However, other major emitters like the automobile industry, the industrializing agricultural sector and its huge chemical complexes, steel mills, and cement factories, do not fall under the program in its initial period.[40]

The national carbon emissions trading scheme has no binding timeline for implementation; however, trading is projected to begin in 2020, with the establishment of basic infrastructure set to continue through 2018 and simulated trading in the power sector to begin in 2019. After 2020, trading will hypothetically expand to also cover 7 other sectors: petrochemicals, chemicals, building materials, iron and steel, non-ferrous metals, paper, and civil aviation, for a total of about 6,000 companies.[41]

Energy efficiency[edit]

In 2004, Premier Wen Jiabao promised to use an "iron hand" to make China more energy efficient.

Energy efficiency improvements have somewhat offset increases in energy output as China continues to develop. Since 2006, the Chinese government has increased export taxes on energy-inefficient industries, reduced import tariffs on certain non-renewable energy resources, and closed down a number of inefficient power and industrial plants. In 2009, for example, for every two new plants (in terms of energy generation capacity) built, one inefficient plant was closed. China is unique in its closing of so many inefficient plants.[42]

Renewable energy[edit]

With $34.6 billion invested in clean technology in 2009, China is the world's leading investor in wind turbines and other renewable energy technologies.[43][44] China produces more wind turbines and solar panels each year than any other country.[45]

Nuclear power is planned to be rapidly expanded. By mid-century fast neutron reactors are seen as the main nuclear power technology which allows much more efficient use of fuel resources.[46]

China has also dictated tough new energy standards for lighting and gas kilometrage for cars.[47] China could push electric cars to curb its dependence on imported petroleum (oil) and foreign automobile technology, although they offer smaller cuts in carbon emissions than alternatives like hybrid electric vehicles, consulting firm McKinsey & Co says.[48]


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.

See also[edit]


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