China’s Top Meteorologist: ‘Serious Threat’ Of Climate Change Could Have ‘Huge Impacts’

CREDIT: flickr/ Bert van Dijk

The Miyun reservoir, 100 miles north of Beijing, is the main water source for the city's more than 20 million inhabitants. Greater agricultural demands and a decline in precipitation, among other factors, have cut the reservoir's output by two-thirds since the 1960s.

It’s World Meteorological Day and China’s top meteorologist is worried about climate change. Over the weekend Zheng Guoguang, chief of China’s Meteorological Administration, made an unusually frank and straightforward admission about the “huge impact” that climate change could have on the country.

Zheng told state media on Sunday that rising temperatures would reduce crop yields, lead to “ecological degradation” and create unstable river flows that threaten major hydropower projects.

“As the world warms, risks of climate change and climate disasters to China could become more grave,” Zheng said, also noting that temperature increases in mainland China over the last 100 years have exceeded global averages.

“To face the challenges from past and future climate change, we must respect nature and live in harmony with it,” he said. “We must promote the idea of nature and emphasize climate security.”

This open avowal of the risks of climate change may be becoming a trend in the country known for its tight-lipped bureaucracy. Zheng’s statement comes just weeks after China’s new environment minister Chen Jining said that “Under the Dome,” an extremely popular documentary about Chinese air pollution, reflected “growing public concern over environmental protection and threats to human health.”

That Zheng’s remarks came just before the United Nations’ World Meteorological Day is an appropriate indicator of the links between weather and climate change. While often misconstrued by politicians and the media, climate is the long-term trend of weather: A cold, snowy winter in Boston doesn’t disprove human-caused climate change, but climate change could cause winters in Boston to become colder and snowier on average.

Weather predictions have improved dramatically over the last few decades — a five-day forecast is now as accurate as a two-day forecast was 25 years ago. As climate predictions improve along a similar trajectory, the information will be used to guide climate resiliency plans, reduce disaster risks, manage agriculture, and better oversee energy and water systems.

“This revolution in climate knowledge is just beginning,” states the World Meteorological Association. “In five to 10 years people will become just as familiar with using climate predictions as they are with weather forecasts.”

In a statement noting the significance of the day, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, said that “extreme weather and changing climatic patterns are having a growing impact on our planet and on human well-being.” He went on to say that climate change is increasing the intensity and frequency of extreme weather and “threatening water and food security in many parts of the world.”

China and the U.S. combined account for about 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Any future climate agreement hinges on the participation of these two industrial powerhouses. With leaders gathering in Paris at the end of the year in an effort to finalize a new climate pact, China’s every action relating to climate and environmental progress is being closely scrutinized.

China’s place in the ongoing discussion was elevated at the end of 2014 when the country made a made a powerful joint pledge with the U.S. to limit greenhouse gas emissions during President Obama’s visit to the Chinese capital. In the pledge, the U.S. committed to cut its emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and China agreed to get 20 percent of its energy from non-fossil-fuel sources by 2030 and to peak greenhouse gas emissions that same year.