China’s summer of extreme heat and rainfall highlights climate change threats
Since the start of the summer, scenes of devastation and misery have been unfolding across China as the world’s most populous nation grapples with a relentless torrent of extreme weather emergencies.
Scientists have been warning for years that the climate crisis will amplify extreme weather events, making them deadlier and more frequent. Now, like much of the world, China is reeling from its impact.
In recent weeks, a total of 71 national weather stations across China recorded record-breaking temperatures. Four cities — three in central Hebei province and one in southwest Yunnan — saw temperatures hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), according to the National Climate Center.
The sweltering heat has coincided with a rise in Covid cases, making government-mandated mass testing all the more excruciating for residents – including the elderly – who have to queue in the sun. It has also become a dangerous task for health workers who, under the government’s zero Covid policy, are required to spend long hours outdoors, covered from head to toe in airtight PPE equipment while they administer the tests.
Several videos of Covid workers collapsing to the ground from heatstroke have gone viral on social media.
And the worst may be yet to come, according to Yao Wenguang, an official with the Ministry of Water Resources in charge of flood and drought prevention.
“It is expected that from July to August, there will be more extreme weather events in China, and regional flood and drought conditions will be stronger than usual,” Yao told the news agency. Xinhua official last month.
Count the fees
Between 1951 and 2020, China’s annual average surface temperature rose at a rate of 0.26 degrees Celsius per decade, according to the report. Sea levels around China’s coasts rose faster than the global average from 1980 to 2020, the report said.
Climate change can make extreme weather events – such as summer floods, which China has faced for centuries – more frequent and intense, said Johnny Chan, professor emeritus of atmospheric science at City University of Hong Kong.
A warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor, potentially leading to more severe thunderstorms, while global warming can alter atmospheric circulation, which can contribute to extreme weather such as heat waves, Chan said. .
“We should be really worried, because these extreme weather events are actually affecting the most underprivileged, underprivileged and most vulnerable sections of the population – those in rural areas, or those who don’t have air conditioning or live in crowded conditions,” he added. Chan said.
For China, the sheer size of its population and economy means that the scale of damage from extreme weather events is often massive.
Meanwhile, many Chinese are just beginning to realize that climate change will affect them personally.
The Chinese government has promised to bring greenhouse gases to a peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Liu Junyan, climate and energy project manager for Greenpeace East Asia, said the flooding in Zhengzhou was a wake-up call to the Chinese government and public.
“Central government and local governments have started to realize that climate change is such a huge threat to society and its sustainable development,” she said, adding that she had noticed more and more discussions about climate change and extreme weather in Chinese traditional and social media.
Since last summer, many Chinese cities have improved their emergency response systems for extreme rainfall. In May, authorities in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou suspended schools, advised residents to work from home, closed construction sites and suspended public transport in parts of the city following torrential rain alerts.
“Climate change has already had serious negative impacts on China’s natural ecological system, and has continued to spread and permeate the economy and society,” the government said in its National Climate Adaptation Strategy. climate change.
He pledged to make China a “climate-resilient society” by 2035, by establishing a national climate risk monitoring and assessment system and building early warning capabilities.
Liu said the policy document is “very important and ambitious” guidance for local governments, but lacks details on implementation.
“The impact of climate change can be very localized and its threat to vulnerable communities can be very different from place to place,” she said. “Local governments have yet to develop more detailed and tangible plans to implement this grand strategy.”