Wednesday, February 10, 2010

China's security in a drier age

Scott Moore in China Dialogue: Outside analysts have long stressed that climate change threatens China’s basic national interests. The Chinese government has come to embrace a similar rationale, as a result moving towards aggres­sive efforts to limit the country’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

In August 2009, China’s cabinet, the Standing Committee of the State Council, announced that China would seek to control its greenhouse-gas emissions even as it continues its economic development. Climate change, the council affirmed, threatens the country’s development by increasing extreme-weather events and exacerbating water shortages. As a result, China will set itself on a path towards low-carbon economic growth, stabilising emissions within the next few decades.

…At the heart of these challenges to China’s future are changes in the quantity and distribution of water resources throughout the country and its neighbours. Droughts and flooding are expected to become more severe in many areas and the melting of Himalayan glaciers to lead to steep, long-term declines in water avai­ability in several areas of China and south Asia. Moreover, because of these changes, most major river systems are likely to experience increased variability in water flow, making it harder for farmers and other users to predict water supply. Other interlinked processes, such as desertification in northern China and saltwater in­trusion in low-lying coastal areas, pose further challenges to food production and ecosystems.

…These implications indicate that climate change will increasingly bear on China’s strategic ambitions and priorities, forcing the revision of some. Three themes are particularly relevant for policymaking. First, climate change impacts are defined primarily by the uncertainty that they introduce; it is difficult to plan large-scale development objectives, for example, without being able to count on stable water resources. Second, it is clear that regional climate change impacts will be more acute in some places, like northwestern China, than in others. Third and finally, there will be a growing opportunity cost, in terms of financial, administrative and other resources, to adapting to climate change. For a developing country like China, this opportunity cost is of no small concern.

…A tendency towards more extreme climate events is also predicted for other regions surrounding China. A major study of the Indian Himalayas found that climate change will increase the variation of seasonal flows significantly. In the Mekong basin, south-east Asia’s most important river system, maximum monthly water flows are expected by the IPCC to increase by 35% to 41% by mid-to-late century over twentieth century levels, while the minimum monthly water flows are expected to decline by 17% to 24%. Such increased variation threatens to disrupt normal economic and agricultural activity in vulnerable regions. In the case of the Mekong, this vari­ability is enhanced by additional risks from sea-level rise and resulting saltwater in­trusion, which pose a profound threat to agricultural production in the river’s delta region.

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