yutian10aChina has long been aware of the high environment cost of its  recent industrialisation. Whether it has done enough to mitigate the damage is another question.

However, there’s no denying that the rising tide of green awareness in China is a powerful agent for change particularly now that the latest IPCC report has unequivocally shown that climate change is real and its consequences will persists for decades to come.

Qin Dahe, a Chinese glaciologist, Nobel Peace Prize winner and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group, said:

Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”

China has good reason to be worried about climate change. As the oceans warm, global mean sea levels will continue to rise, which will potentially affect millions of people in Shanghai and China’s highly populated coastal cities.

The increased  prevalence of droughts and floods — another consequence of climate change — will have particularly dire consequences for China by disrupting water and food supplies.

In 2011, natural disasters in China affected 430m people and caused direct economic losses of more than 300bn yuan.

The risks were clearly spelt out in China’s own report on climate change, published last year, which explained the measure the government is taking to adapt to climate change — promoting water-saving technologies, for example — so as to reduce its impact on economic and social development.

The report also talks about the government measures that have been adopted to move China towards a low-carbon economy, by promoting renewable energy, low-carbon public transportation and carbon emission trading schemes.   The full range of goverment measures can be read here

To environmentalists, these measures are well intentioned but do not really address the fundamental problem, which is China’s heavy dependence on coal to feed its industries and generate electrical power.

China consumes half the coal burnt in the world, so a significant reduction in coal consumption would not only reduce  the global carbon footprint but also benefit China directly by addressing one of its biggest health issues —  the chronic levels of particulate pollution in China’s smog-ridden cities.

The government recently announced an ambitious plan to curb air pollution that includes setting limits on burning coal and taking high-polluting vehicles off the roads to ensure a drop in the concentration of particulate matter in cities.

More on China & the IPCC report here