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China's Policies on the Environment
Special> United Nations Climate Change Conference> China's Policies on the Environment
UPDATED: June 14, 2008 NO. 25 JUNE 19, 2008
China's National Climate Change Program

Part 2 Impacts and Challenges of Climate Change on China

Due to limitations on knowledge and analysis methods, there exist large uncertainties in the present assessment of climate change impacts carried out by various countries. Studies indicate that climate change has caused some impacts on China, such as sea level rise in the coastal areas, glacial retreat in northwest area, the earlier arrival of spring phenophase. It will also bring about significant impacts on China's natural ecosystems and social economic system in the future. Meanwhile, as a developing country at a low development stage, with a huge population, a coal-dominant energy mix and relatively low capacity to tackle climate change, China will surely face more severe challenges when coping with climate change along with the acceleration of urbanization, industrialization and the increase of residential energy consumption.

2.1 China's Basic National Circumstances of Climate Change

2.1.1 Inferior climatic conditions and severe natural disasters

China has relatively harsh climatic conditions. Most of China has a continental monsoon climate with more drastic seasonal temperature variations compared with other areas at the same latitude such as North America and West Europe. In most parts of China, it is cold in winter and hot in summer with extremely high temperature. Therefore, more energy is necessary to maintain a relatively comfortable room temperature. Precipitation in China is unevenly distributed both seasonally and spatially. Most of the precipitation occurs in summer and varies greatly among regions. Annual precipitation gradually declines from the southeastern coastal areas to the northwestern inland areas. China frequently suffers from meteorological disasters, which are unusual worldwide in terms of the scope of affected areas, the number of different disasters, the gravity of disaster and the mass of affected population.

2.1.2 Vulnerable ecosystem

China is a country with a vulnerable ecosystem. The national forest area for 2005 was 175 million hectares and the coverage rate was just 18.21 percent. China's grassland area for the same year was 400 million hectares, most of which were high-cold prairie and desert steppe while the temperate grasslands in Northern China were on the verge of degradation and desertification because of drought and environmental deterioration.

China's total area of desertification for 2005 was 2.63 million square kilometers, accounting for 27.4 percent of the country's territory. China has a continental coastline extending over 18,000 kilometers and an adjacent sea area of 4.73 million square kilometers, as well as more than 6,500 islands over 500 square meters. As such, China is vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise.

2.1.3 Coal-dominated energy mix

China's primary energy mix is dominated by coal. In 2005, the primary energy production in China was 2.061 billion tce, of which raw coal accounted for as high as 76.4 percent. For the same year, China's total primary energy consumption was 2.233 billion tce, among which, the share of coal was 68.9 percent, oil 21 percent, and natural gas, hydropower, nuclear power, wind power and solar energy 10.1 percent; while the shares of coal, oil, and natural gas, hydropower and nuclear power in the world primary energy consumption were 27.8 percent, 36.4 percent and 35.8 percent, respectively. Because of the coal-dominated energy mix, CO2 emission intensity of China's energy consumption is relatively high.

2.1.4 Huge population

China has the largest population in the world. In 2005, the population of China's mainland was 1.31 billion (not including Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan), accounting for 20.4 percent of the world total. China is still at a low level of urbanization, with a huge rural population of about 750 million, and in 2005, urban population accounted for only 43 percent of the national total population, lower than the world average. Huge population results in huge employment pressure, with annually more than 10 million new labor forces in the urban areas and about 10 million new rural labor forces moving to the urban areas as a result of the urbanization process. Due to the huge population, China's per capita energy consumption is still at a low level. In 2005, China's per capita commercial energy consumption was about 1.7 tce, only two thirds of the world average, let alone the average level of the developed countries.

2.1.5 Relatively low level of economic development

China is currently at a relatively low level of economic development. In 2005, the per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of China was about $1,714 (based on exchange rate of the same year, the same below), only about one fourth of the world average level. Remarkable disparity in economic development exists among different regions of China. In 2005, the per capita GDP of the eastern areas of China was $2,877, while that of the western areas was $1,136, only 39.5 percent of the former. The income disparity between rural and urban residents is also great. In 2005, the per capita disposable income of the urban residents was $1,281, while that of the rural residents was only $397, equivalent to 31 percent of the former. Furthermore, poverty eradication is still a huge challenge for China. By the end of 2005, the poverty-stricken people in China's rural areas numbered 23.65 million, with the per capita annual pure income less than 683 yuan.

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