Rarely do three news stories in the same week provide such a stark contrast between sober reality and self-destructive rhetoric.
Today, CNN reports that China is suffering its “worst drought in 50 years” and that many places in northern and central China “have not had rainfall for more than 100 days.” This is but a taste of what’s to come (see Climate change, global desertification “largely irreversible for 1000 years”).
On Sunday, the BBC reported Sunday:
A senior family planning official in China has noted an alarming rise in the number of babies with birth defects….
Jiang Fan, from China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, said environmental pollution was a cause of the increase.
The coal-mining heartland of Shanxi province had the biggest problem.
Coal is not healthy for kids. As one U.S. study found, “Closing coal-fired power plants can have a direct, positive impact on children’s cognitive development and health” (See “If you want smarter kids, shut coal plants“). Hence, Coal for Dummies.
On Monday, the Financial Times published an interview with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in which he continues to reject the possibility that China will act to constrain coal use and reduce pollution. When asked “Is China ready to sign a treaty to cap carbon emissions?” he replied is Bush-like pablum:
The Chinese position on this issue is as follows.
Number one, China supports the Copenhagen conference. It supports all measures which are playing their roles in meeting the challenge of climate change, and we support the development of a green economy. We are of the view that to develop a green economy is probably another area in the economy as we meet the international financial crisis.
Number two, the Chinese government gives top priority to meeting the challenge of climate change. We have established a national leadership group on tackling climate change, and I’m head of the group.
This is the U.S. equivalent of “We’ve established a commission to look at this.”
We have formulated a national programme on coping with climate change, and this is not only the first programme of its kind for China, but also the first one of its kind among all developing countries.
In China’s 11th five-year plan, we have set ourselves obligatory targets in saving energy and reducing pollution. The target requires us that we must reduce the per unit GDP energy consumption by 4 per cent every year, and in total by 20 per cent in five years.
We failed to meet the targets in the first two years of the five-year period, and we succeeded in meeting the target in 2008. We will continue to make efforts on this front and set targets for ourselves. I think this can be seen as a way that China is holding itself accountable to the relevant targets.
China’s energy intensity target is no more meaningful than Bush’s carbon intensity target (see “Bush Touts Meaningless Greenhouse Gas Targets While Making his Double-U-Turn on Climate“). So what if China reduces its annual energy use per unit GDP by 4% if its GDP is rising 8% to 10% a year and the resulting 4% to 6% growth in energy is met primarily by coal?
Number three, it’s difficult for China to take quantified emission reduction quotas at the Copenhagen conference, because this country is still at an early stage of development. Europe started its industrialisation several hundred years ago, but for China, it has only been dozens of years.
China is going to have to get past this nonsense that it is like Haiti or Kenya. It is a hyperdeveloping country that has been consuming more coal, steel, cement than any other country by far for years. It is perfectly reasonable for China to develop fast, but to impy that it is only at an “early stage of development” is a canard.
China has a 1.3bn population, and in terms of per capita greenhouse gas emission, we are certainly not the biggest one, yet we are still very active and positive about our cooperation with Europe in terms of saving energy, reducing pollution, developing a low carbon economy, and developing those environmentally friendly technologies.
This “reducing pollution” mantra is, of course, nonsense. As is the “low-carbon economy.” China consumes more than twice the coal as the United States, and it will triple U.S. coal use within the decade if Land and Resources Ministry chief planner Hu Cunzhi is to be believed (see “China announces plan to single-handedly finish off the climate“).
That rapacious myopia would have two consequences. “Traditional” pollution would soar, with consequences that are all too well known to Chinese planners:
A 2007 commission report said the rate of defects had risen 40% since 2001, from 104.9 per 10,000 births to 145.5 in 2006.
Officials blame emissions from Shanxi’s large coal and chemical industry for the problems there.
“The problem of birth defects is related to environmental pollution, especially in eight main coal zones,” said An Huanxiao, the director of Shanxi provincial family planning agency.
And global warming pollution would soar, with consequences that I hope are well known to Chinese planners, including devastating sea level rise, the loss of the inland glaciers that feed the rivers for hundreds of millions of Chinese, and extended droughts and desertification that will hit an equally large number. If “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California,” as our Nobel prize-winning energy secretary said this week, what do you think China is looking at?
Indeed, the UK’s Guardian reported Wednesday:
A severe drought in northern China — considered the country’s breadbasket — has hit almost 43% of the country’s wheat crop this winter, senior officials have warned….
Henan Daily reported that the drought is the province’s most severe since 1951, with no rain for 105 days. It warned that up to 63% of the region’s wheat crop is threatened.
And this is only the beginning.
To paraphrase the Prime Minister, climate change is still at an early stage of development. China has only experienced maybe three dozen years of warming, but we are on track for several hundred years of warming with temperatures rising 10 times as much this century as the last one.
Let’s really, really hope his remarks are just a negotiating tactic.
One final point — China seems to believe that regional geo-engineering is the solution to their water problem:
… the northern half of China had over 40% of the country’s population, more than 50% of the arable land and much industry due to its coal reserves — yet less than 20% of the nation’s water.
China said last month that it would spend 21.3bn yuan on the next phase of its ambitious water diversion project to help the arid north. The multibillion pound scheme, which will take up to half a century to complete, will connect the Yangtze, Huaihe, Yellow and Haihe rivers. It will require the creation of east, middle and western channels and will eventually divert 44.8bn cubic metres of water annually. The first phase of the eastern programme will begin to deliver water by 2013.
Only problem — in a half century, a lot of these rivers won’t be delivering bloody much water when it’s needed.
As the Independent reported in a 2007 article, “China’s water supply could be cut off as Tibet’s glaciers melt” (see “Debunking Bj¸rn Lomborg — Part III, He’s a Real Nowhere Man“)
Water from the mountain region feeds the Yellow, Yangtze and other rivers that feed hundreds of millions of people across China and South Asia.
UPDATE: Xinhua News Agency/China View reports:
XINING, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) — Chinese scientists said Wednesday glaciers that serve as water sources on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau are melting at a “worrisome speed,” having receded 196 square km over the past nearly 40 years.
The decline is equal to about one-fourth of the area of New York City.
Xin Yuanhong, senior engineer in charge of a three-year field study of glaciers in the region, said glaciers at the headwaters of the Yangtze, China’s longest river, cover 1,051 square km, down from 1,247 square km in 1971.
“The reduction means more than 989 million cubic meters of water melted away,” said Xin, whose team surveyed the glaciers between June 2005 and August 2008. That much water would fill Beijing’s largest reservoir….
The team found the glacier tongue of Yuzhu Peak of Kunlun Mountain fell by 1,500 meters over the past nearly 40 years. The retreat rate is close to that of the Quelccaya Glacier in Peru, the world’s largest tropical ice mass.
The eastern side of the glaciers in the Tanggula Mountain Pass saw the fastest melt rate, with the front receding 265 m annually. The average annual retreat speed was 7.57 m when compared with the figures for 1970.
Xin attributed the accelerated melting to global warming.
“Melting glacier water will replenish rivers in the short run, but as the resource diminishes, drought will dominate the river reaches in the long term,” he said.
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- Who will be the biggest obstacle to climate action in the next decade — China, Russia, India, or us?
- What will make Obama a great president, Part 2: A climate deal with China
- Is it the end of the line for coal-to-oil in China?
- Chapter Nine Excerpt: The U.S.-China Suicide Pact on Climate
- Are China’s Carbon Emissions China’s?
- Taking on the “China Excuse” for inaction
- Bush-like doubletalk from Chinese foreign minister
- China’s immoral energy policy — Part II: The efficient alternative
- The immorality of China’s coal policy is breathtaking (literally) — Part I