China continues to get hotter and wetter, troublingly not just along the coastal cities used to annual typhoons. Flooding caused by torrential rains and typhoons have started to increasingly hit China’s inland and Northern cities.
In July, torrential rains unloading the equivalent of a year’s worth of rainfall in just three days caused major flooding in Zhengzhou city and surrounding towns in Henan Province, killing more than 70 people, affecting some 9.3 million people and causing economic damage worth 82 billion yuan (US$12.7 billion). Prior to the rains, Henan and its capital Zhengzhou were suffering from a heatwave.
Only a few days later, typhoon In-Fa made landfall in China’s eastern province Zhejiang, just south of Shanghai, causing heavy flooding, the evacuation of residents, the closure of Shanghai’s two airports, and a purported 3.35 billion yuan (US$516 million) in damage.
These events are only the latest manifestations of what China’s Meteorological Administration (CMA) describes in their recently published annual Blue Book on Climate Change in China 2021 as an increasing pattern of extreme weather events. According to the authority’s newest report, between 1951 to 2020, China has seen the average temperature rising by 0.26℃/decade, exceeding the annual global average of 0.15℃/decade. Between 1961 and 2020, extreme heavy precipitation saw a gradual rise, while extreme heat events have increased significantly in the country since the mid-1990s.
From 1961 to 2020, China’s average annual precipitation increased with an average of 5.1 mm per decade, most noticeably in the eastern part of the Yangtze River, central and northern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, northern and western Xinjiang. At the same time, rainfall days decreased, meaning fewer days of rain but heavier rainfall. In addition, both the number of and average intensity of typhoons that make landfall in China have increased since the late 1990s and they have moved north, affecting cities ill prepared for the onslaught of wind and rain.
The Blue Book also points to rising sea levels in China with 2020 sea levels along the coast having been the third highest since 1980, or 73 mm higher than the average from 1993 to 2011.
Natural disasters are not news to China. Flooding caused typhoons occur regularly, and China also has some experience with devastating earthquakes. In many cases, China’s government deploys the China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) to lead rescue and recovery efforts. The PLA have the manpower, equipment and experience in organizing large scale rescue efforts. Given the stringent command structure between party and army, army staff can be quickly deployed wherever necessary.
The first acknowledged climate change plan was a stand-alone chapter on the requirement to plan for climate change resilience in the 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) issued in 2010. The chapter called for enhancing capacity for mitigating climate change and its impact, both in urban planning and construction. Since then various government planning documents, i.e. the 13th Five-Year Plans or the National Climate Adaptation Plan, stipulate climate related policies regarding mitigation, adaptation and resilience to the impact of climate change. They include guidelines for adaptation in agriculture, water resource management, forestry, wetlands, coastal ecosystems, human health, disaster prevention and mitigation, risk control and early warning systems.
Climate change adaptation strategies are also part of development plans for pilot regions and cities, with which China trials new systems and technologies). For example, in cities that are hit frequently by typhoons or rainstorms or are located adjacent to larger water bodies like rivers, local authorities are turning to technology in their quest to make their towns more climate resilient. Several cities, for example, have been exploring Sponge City concepts in their urban planning, pursuing an integrated system of urban design, new materials for street surfaces, concomitant drainage systems and wetland restoration to help absorb excess water. Some cities are introducing “smart tunnels” that can automatically initiate a water prevention process and shut tunnels automatically if the water reaches a certain level. And others introduce early warning systems that aid preemptive evacuation and preparedness.
Current ability of the country to adapt to extreme weather conditions it faced in 2021:
Rating: ** Fair
Four Stars (****): Outstanding
Three stars (***): Good
Two stars (**): Fair
One star (*): Unprepared
China’s preparedness for disaster prevention and relief and the ability to activate clean-up efforts through the PLA are very good in regions where extreme weather events happen regularly. Cities like Guangzhou that are battered annually by typhoons have had years of experience to improve urban climate resilience and emergency response plans. Similarly, China has spent decades developing plans to fend off the desertification of forest and grassland areas and stop the expansion of deserts with visible results. The nation’s efforts in regreening and afforestation are showing results with forest coverage increasing. According to the Blue Book, in 2020 China’s annual average normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) increased by 7.6% from the 2000 to 2019 average—the highest value since 2000. The expansion of desert has slowed and the number of dust days in China’s North have decreased slightly.
The challenges now lie in the uncertainty with regards to inland cities like Zhengzhou, or northern cities like Tianjin, which have traditionally been far away from the hot and humid typhoon belt and have little experience with extreme rainfall or heat. What is certain is that, according to a recent Greenpeace East Asia analysis, many cities will increasingly experience extreme heatwaves and are ill prepared. But it remains unclear what else may lay in store in store for cities caused by the warming climate.
Following the recent flooding in Zhengzhou, China’s State Council has set up a task force to carry out a comprehensive investigation and review of the disaster response. The target is to learn from the experiences for the future and develop strategies to improve forecasting and avoid problematic urban planning. China’s government will have to continuously review and revise its climate resilience plans and stay vigilant to further changes and uncertainties.
The State Council (share your ideas with China’s Premier in English)
Premier Keqiang Li
Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People’s Republic of China
Minister Huang Runqi
(For English) email@example.com
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-09/china-s-new-oil-giants-flourish-in-xi-s-clean-energy-wave (last accessed august 10, 2021)
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard China Country Manager Annette Wiedenbach