China's Climate Change Report: "It's Getting Hot in Here"
Two months after former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern warned that developing countries would be worst hit by climate change, the most developing developing country of them all has issued its own weather forecast: rising temperatures, worsening drought and a slate of 'extreme weather events.' Already the country is suffering from decreased grain production and severe water shortages. A director of the National Climate Centre said that by 2030-2050, China's potential grain output could fall by 10 percent, unless crop varieties and practices adapt to the increasingly turbulent climate. In the south, heavier rainfalls could trigger more landslides and mudslides, the report also warns. Global warming is everyone's problem—but with China on course to overtake the United States by 2009 as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide, the report adds to the crucial call for the Middle Kingdom to put all hands on deck. "The report will serve as the country's scientific and technical reference in policy making and international co-operation," said Li Xueyong, vice-minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology.
Aside from the serious official predictions—the likes of which the White House has not made—what looks to be significant about the report is the way that it continues to push China to recognize how dirty it is, and to clean up for itself. Of course, no one breathing in China today would deny the country has serious environmental problems; the question, now more than ever, is how to deal with it.
At a Party meeting the same day the report was released, President Hu Jintao called for intensified efforts to save energy, including price, tax and other financial measures to promote energy saving and curb wasteful use. Hu also indicated that industries that consume excessive energy and pollute the environment should be shut down—presumably not in the still-fashionable style of Potemkin (factories will be temporarily shut down for the 2008 Olympics, officials announced yesterday).
Of course the central government's wishes matter little without the cooperation of local officials—and with so many officials on the take, the environment, along with a plethora of social concerns, is at risk. That was the gist of a report also made yesterday to the country's top legislature by the country's environmental minister.
"In some places, officials still focus on economic growth and neglect environmental protection," Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), told the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
Others meanwhile are busy blaming the West for China's smog; eco-hero Pan Yue even claimed "ecological colonialism." But I think Pan misfires here. Of course Western countries have benefited from China's lax environmental standards (not to mention labor laws), and as activist Ma Jun recently announced, around 30 multinationals, including Pepsi and Panasonic, have been found to be breaking China's pollution laws (out of 2,700 violators). But, as Elizabeth Economy recently pointed out, a fervent blame game doesn't help. As the new report will acknowledge--it won't be fully released until next year--global warming is everyone's problem, and China must figure out how to be part of the solution.