Thursday, 7 June 2007

Climate Change Spotlights: Conservation International highlights China

Today saw the release by Conservation International of a list of 20 locations to highlight the impact of climate change.
"These 20 locations are a selection of examples, drawn from the expert opinion of our top climate change scientists, that illustrate the various impacts climate change is already having on life, both wild and human, across the planet."

Included are the regions you would expect, the Arctic, the Amazon, the Congo etc.

One of those locations highlighted is "China" with the following accompanying photograph and text. The bold type is mine.

I have posted before under the "environment" tab in the sidebar on the potential economic impact of climate change and pollution on Chinese growth. It is not something to be underestimated. My belief is that the Chinese government is well aware of this fact but faces a difficult balancing act between growth, poverty alleviation and limiting greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

This article paints a rather bleak picture.

Just several years ago climate experts estimated China would surpass the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases by 2025. Now the experts say this will occur by 2008. A new coal plant is built every week, and some 14,000 cars are added daily to already-congested urban roads. China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world and more than a million Chinese die from respiratory diseases each year.

The haze also compromises economic security by blocking sunlight and impeding crop growth. Scientists believe severe floods in southern China and extreme drought in northern China may be a result of black carbon soot released from burning crop residues and coal-burning operations. Drought has desiccated 267,000 square kilometers of agricultural land, and desertification afflicts some 3 million square kilometers of mainly grasslands, with winds whipping sandstorms that travel all the way to North America.

At the same time, portions of this landscape are considered the most botanically rich temperate region in the world. Even though the species richness is not fully documented, diversity of vascular plants is estimated at around 12,000 species, representing as much as 40 percent of all the species in China. Of these, about 30 percent are endemic. The mountains of Southwest China also provide habitat for golden monkeys (Rhinopithecus roxellana), giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), and a number of pheasants – all are threatened species found nowhere else on Earth.

Illegal hunting, overgrazing, and firewood collection are some of the primary threats to biodiversity in this region. The construction of the largest dam in history – the 18,000-Megawatt Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River – has already and will continue to heavily threaten the biodiversity of this region. China has additional plans to construct the equivalent of a Three Gorges Dam every 16 months over the next decade or so. The Yangtze is also home to the baiji or Chinese river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer) – one of the most threatened dolphin species in the world – which is now on the verge of being lost forever.

China’s massive population of 1.3 billion people has exacerbated pressures on the environment and has also made more people vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Scientists project that sea levels will increase dramatically – anywhere from one to six meters – in this century. This will no doubt put coastal cities, agriculture, livelihoods, and infrastructure at great risk. China is among 10 countries with the largest number of people threatened by rising sea levels.

The more Earth’s climate changes, the worse China’s water crisis becomes. Western China’s glaciers have shrunk by one-fifth, threatening the water supply for a quarter of a billion people. The country is already plagued by a severe water shortage brought on by inefficient irrigation systems, where nearly two-thirds of water fails to reach crops. The shortage is exacerbated by severe water pollution; more than 70 percent of the country’s untreated wastewater is discharged directly into rivers.

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