China's Local and Global Climate Change: Things Are Heating Up


The International Ice and Snow Festival is one of China's biggest winter tourist attractions — and one of its most wonderfully surreal. Put on annually by China's northernmost provincial capital, the Festival transforms the city of Harbin into an overwhelming winter fantasyland featuring ice and snow everything. There's an ice church, an ice bar, a giant snow Buddha, an ice lighthouse, and a mini Great Wall of Ice. You can have your photograph taken with a faun, watch Russian figure skaters, or approach the idle German shepherds waiting to take you for a dogsled ride. Thousands flock to the city each year despite the bone-chilling cold. Much more after the jump.But this year, the cold's not quite so bone-chilling. "This is the worst year ever," one local complained. "The Festival is usually much bigger. It was too warm, so there wasn't enough time to prepare [the sculptures]."

China's heating up, and the government knows and acknowledges it (see our coverage here).

The diminished Ice and Snow Festival is just one small effect of unsettling warming weather trends already being seen. This is the warmest winter northeastern China has had in more than 50 years. Unseasonable warm weather in northwestern China, which officials have linked to climate change, is the cause of severe ongoing drought. At least 300,000 people are short of drinking water as a result.

As Harbin's been heating up, so has contention between China and much of the developed world. Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, more popularly known as the IPCC, released its report on February 2, the pressure has been on for developing nations to accept limits on their greenhouse gas emissions. According to the IPCC report, climatic warming is definitely happening, and there's a greater than 90% chance that it's being caused by human activity. The first phase of the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012, and after that many want limits on greenhouse gas emissions — carbon caps — at least for some in the global South. (Bush's rationale for passing on the Protocol was that developing nations aren't currently held to any emissions limitations.)

China, which is on track to surpass the United States as the world's biggest greenhouse gas producer by 2009, has begun to come under heavy pressure to curb its heavy polluting. But since its first official response to the IPCC report, China has made clear its unwillingness to commit to post-Kyoto carbon caps. On Tuesday, Munir Akram, Pakistan's permanent representative to the United Nations and chairman of the G77 group of developing nations, spoke on behalf of China, India, and all developing countries. According to Reuters, he called on the global North to take responsibility:

"Most environmental degradation that's happened has been historically caused by the industrial world China, India and others are at the stage where they are now taking off and it's quite natural that their emissions of carbon are increasing There's a sort of propaganda effort to try to shift the blame for environmental degradation on to these fast-growing economies, and the motives are not very well disguised

So with everyone getting all hot under the collar, what's the good news? Despite its engagement in this international blame game, the Chinese government acknowledges global warming and is highly concerned about domestic effects. From major investment in renewable energy to increasing energy efficiency to potential development of a carbon market (more coming on this soon), Chinese national policy is taking big steps to combat climate change. As the BBC reported soon after the IPCC report was released:

The country's top meteorologist, Qin Dahe was China 's representative on an inter-governmental panel on climate change

"The Chinese government is taking climate change extremely seriously," he said. "President Hu Jintao has said that climate change is not just an environmental issue but also a development issue."

What's in store for future International Ice and Snow Festivals? It all depends on the weather.

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