Climate Change in the Middle Kingdom

I originally penned this article as part of an application for a fairly well known newspaper. The assignment was to write about “how climate change is affecting your part of the world”. As part of the assignment I was meant to write the piece as though it was going to be published in a national Chinese newspaper.

Given that I had to write an article for a Chinese audience I was faced with an interesting challenge. I could have ignored that part of the assignment and just have written a piece as though it was going to be published in a western publication. As the newspaper I applied for isn’t subject to the same censorship laws as the Chinese press I’m sure this would have been completely acceptable. Instead I followed the criteria and submitted a piece that would be publishable on any Chinese news platform.

Unfortunately my application was unsuccessful, but I decided to publish the article here anyway. As I mentioned, I followed the criteria and what follows is a 1,000 word article written in the style of a Chinese newspaper. As a result it’s not critical of the government and it refers to China as “our country.”

I should point out two things:

  • I’ve changed the name of the experts I interviewed for this story. I don’t want to tarnish their reputations by attaching their names to a Pro-Beijing story that could be quoted out of context.
  • Obviously I don’t actually believe the government is doing enough to prevent climate change. For anyone interested in Chinese air pollution and its effects on global warming I strongly suggest checking out this video. It was hugely popular in China for about a week before the government began censoring it.

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©2012 Dan EntwistleIt’s long been touted in some areas of the world that our country prefers to bury its head in the sand, feigning ignorance to the causes and effects of climate change or, in some instances, outright opposing legislation on limiting greenhouse emissions. In the past these baseless accusations have come primarily from outside the country, however more recently certain sections of our society have also raised issue with our country’s stance towards climate change. It therefore must have come as a surprise to many when in November of last year Chairman Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama signed an agreement stating that China would slow and stop its emissions – a leading cause of climate change – from growing, by 2030.

Whilst the signing of the agreement made global headlines and demonstrated our country’s serious commitment to reducing the effects of climate change, it’s important to note that this position on climate change is not entirely new. 

“The November agreement is a continuation of work almost a decade in the making,” said Janet Larson, a research fellow specialising in Chinese environmental and climate policy at Norway’s Fridtjog Nansen Institute. “Actually the central government became aware of the negative effects climate change brought to China in around 2005-2006, and quickly moved to issue a National Climate Change Programme in 2007 in response to the matter.”

Indeed it would be practically impossible for the leadership to not to pay attention to the effects of climate change given the huge trouble it has brought to our country in recent years. From droughts in Yunnan to record high temperatures across Shanghai in the summer of 2013, the effects of climate change are ever present and are steadily becoming more and more of a concern to Chinese citizens.

“2013 was one of the worst summers I’ve ever experienced in Shanghai,” said Liu Jun, a lifelong resident of China’s largest metropolis. “Some people in my apartment block were forced to tamper with their electric meters just so we could have cheap enough electricity to afford to keep the air-conditioning on day-and-night, it was horrible. I don’t know what we would do if it got that hot again, I’m already beginning to dread what will come this year.”

Whilst climate change has brought an increase in temperature and a slew of other land-based problems – such as last year’s drought in Henan province, which cost the country 7.3 billion yuan – it has also brought with it an increase in the number of problems our country faces from the sea, in particular typhoons.

Last summer saw the strongest typhoon in four decades, Rammasun, hit dozens of cities across the south of China, causing 38.5 billion yuan in damages and killing 62 people across the country. Whilst it’s possible that the strength of Rammasun was a one-off, chance occurrence, scientists would have to disagree. “The climate change community, myself included, strongly believe that the number of typhoons will remain unchanged, but on average will become stronger and stronger in future,” said Professor Francis Stål, a meteorologist working at the University of Oslo.

The fact that another typhoon of Rammasun’s strength could hit China in the future has struck fear in to the hearts of those who were affected by the typhoon last summer. “I hope I never see another typhoon again in my life,” said Che Kailin, a Guangdong native. “When Rammasun hit last year I was at my Granddad’s house. I was sitting beside him when he suddenly took ill. My mother and I both felt that we should get him to the hospital but because of the typhoon the roads were flooded and the weather was so bad that we didn’t dare leave the house. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, we all felt so helpless that day.”

Typhoons aren’t the only threat China faces from its surroundings. Scientists are now also predicting that the adverse weather effects brought about by global climate change will pose a big problem for Shanghai. “Various research reports suggest that changes in the dynamics of ice sheets and the impact of reduced gravity of diminishing ice on nearby oceans will lead to sea level rises before the end of the century,” said Professor Stål, “If we look at areas of China by region it is apparent that Shanghai is the most at risk from a rise in sea levels.”©2015 Dan EntwistleWith all the changes that global warming has already brought – and is set to bring – to our country over the coming decades it is only natural that we question our country’s ability to weather the storm. Whilst those from outside our borders may question our commitment to reducing climate change, the people who really know are confident in the leadership’s ability to see us through the crisis and prevent future natural disasters, such as the flooding of Shanghai.

“We know that the government has a strong commitment to preventing climate change,” said one environmental expert at a top China University, “the recent agreement we signed with America is a clear indication of this.”

Whilst there is much left to be done in the fight against climate change it is apparent that the leadership is unwilling to shy away from the challenges that lay ahead. When questioned by a foreign journalist about our country’s air pollution – a key cause of climate change – Premier Li Keqiang bravely proclaimed: “The Chinese government is determined to tackle smog and environmental pollution as a whole…I said the Chinese government would declare war against environmental pollution. We’re determined to carry forward our efforts until we achieve our goal.”

With such a strong message coming out of Beijing it seems we can all sleep a little easier at night knowing that the leadership is taking whatever steps necessary to fight against climate change and reduce the effects it will have on our country in future.

©2015 Dan Entwistle

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