The UK and China have been working together since 2001 to better understand how China is going to be impacted by climate change, particularly in the agriculture sector. But understanding must also lead to action, with adaptation needing to be integrated into the development process at both national and local levels. This work, which is ongoing, will increasingly provide a model for how to approach adaptation in other countries.
In my opinion, this work has also contributed to the realization among top-level Chinese officials that it is important to take global action on climate change as part of the international negotiation process; until very recently, most of the international engagement with China has focused on mitigation, with the result that the very real and urgent challenges that China faces in regards to its own adaptation needs have been sidelined.
Another Stressor for Chinese Agriculture
China’s Polices and Actions for Addressing Climate Change, issued in October 2008, state:
The impacts of future climate change on agriculture and livestock industry will be mainly adverse. It is likely there will be a drop in the yield of three major crops — wheat, rice and corn; …enlarged scope of crop diseases and insect outbreaks; [and] increased desertification.Even though assessing the likely impacts of climate change on crop yields is a complicated process, with some evidence showing that in some areas crops may benefit if agricultural technology can keep pace, the overall picture is grim for China.
Potential climate impacts are very worrying for a country which already faces so many other challenges within the agricultural sector, among them the facts that it has to feed nearly one quarter of the world’s population (1.3 billion people) with only seven percent of the world’s arable land; that it has only one-quarter of the world’s average per capita water distribution (one-tenth in large parts of northern China, which are heavily dependent upon agriculture); and that the agricultural land base is fast diminishing due to urbanization, industrialization, and the conversion of arable land to grasslands and forest.
Collaboration on Adaptation
Much of the evidence that supports the understanding of the likely adverse impacts on Chinese agriculture from climate change stems from collaborative work between the UK and China which started in 2001. A joint project, Impacts of Climate Change on Chinese Agriculture (ICCCA), has combined cutting-edge scientific research with practical development policy advice. Although national in scope, the project included pilot work to develop a stakeholder based approach to adaptation in the Ningxia region of northcentral China. ICCCA was successfully completed in December 2008. The UK-China collaboration is now continuing with a major new project which is going beyond agriculture and looking at additional socioeconomic sectors and geographic areas.
Continue reading in the China Environment Forum’s China Environment Series 11, from the Wilson Center. Other articles in the series can be found on CEF’s website.
John Warburton is a DFID senior environment adviser and is currently based in Beijing.
Photo Credit: “Field,” courtesy of flickr user totomaru.