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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

2.3 Challenges Facing China in Dealing With Climate Change

2.3.1 Critical challenge to China's current development pattern

Natural resources are fundamental to the development of a national economy. The industrial structure and economic advantages of a country are determined to a considerable degree by its resource availability and combination. China is a country with a large population and at a relatively low level of development, and its economic development has long been constrained by the scarcity of per capita resources and it will continue to be so for a long time. The development history and trend of various countries have revealed the obvious positive correlations between per capita CO2 emissions, per capita commercial energy consumption and the economic development level. In other words, with current level of technology development, to reach the development level of the industrialized countries, it is inevitable that per capita energy consumption and CO2 emissions will reach a fairly high level. In the development history of human beings, there is no precedent where a high per capita GDP is achieved with low per capita energy consumption. With its ongoing economic development, China will inevitably be confronted with growing energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The issue of GHG mitigation will pose a challenge to China to create an innovative and sustainable development pattern.

2.3.2 Huge challenge to China's coal-dominated energy structure

China is one of the few countries whose energy mixes are dominated by coal. In 2005, 68.9 percent of China's primary energy consumption was coal, while the world average was only 27.8 percent. Compared with oil and natural gas, coal's carbon content per unit calorific value is 36 percent and 61 percent higher, respectively. China will face much more difficulties than other countries in decreasing its carbon intensity per unit of energy for mainly three reasons: Its energy mix adjustment is constrained by the mix of energy resources to certain extent; its energy efficiency improvement is subject to the availability of advanced technologies and financial resources; and its coal-dominated energy resources and consumption structure will not change substantially for a long-term period in the future.

2.3.3 Great challenge to China's independent innovation on energy technologies

One of the main reasons for China's low energy efficiency and high GHG emission intensity is the backward technologies of energy production and utilization in China. On one hand, there are relatively large gaps between China and the developed countries in term of technologies of energy exploitation, supply and transformation, transmission and distribution, industrial production and other end-use energy; on the other hand, out-of-date processes and technologies still occupy a relatively high proportion of China's key industries. For example, the overall energy consumption per ton of steel in large-scale iron and steel enterprises is about 200 kgce lower than that in small enterprises, and the overall energy consumption per ton of synthetic ammonia in large or medium-sized enterprises is about 300 kgce lower than in small enterprises. Owing to the lack of advanced technologies as well as the large proportion of out-of-date processes and technologies, China's energy efficiency is about 10 percent lower than that of the developed countries, and its per unit energy consumption of energy-intensive products is about 40 percent higher than the advanced international level. Science and technology are the ultimate resort for humankind to tackle climate change. As China is now undergoing large-scale infrastructure construction for energy, transportation and buildings, the features of intensive emissions associated with these technologies will exist for the next few decades if advanced and climate-friendly technologies could not be made timely available. This poses severe challenges to China in addressing climate change and mitigating GHG emissions.

2.3.4 Challenges on the conservation and development of forest and other natural resources

To combat climate change, it is necessary for China, on one hand, to strengthen forest and wetland conservation to enhance capacities for climate change adaptation; and on the other hand, to strengthen forest and wetland restoration and afforestation to enhance capacities for carbon sequestration. Forest resources in China are far below the needs for social and economic development. With the acceleration of industrialization and urbanization, the quest for forest and wetland conservation is increasing. Aridification, desertification, soil erosion, and wetland degradation remain as severe environmental problems. Land available for afforestation/reforestation is mostly located in areas suffering from sandy or rocky desertification, which poses a great challenge to forestation and ecological restoration.

2.3.5 Long-term challenges on adaptation to climate change in China's agricultural sector

China not only encounters frequent agricultural meteorological disasters that cause longtime instability in agricultural production, but also features low per capita cultivated land, a less developed agricultural economy and a very limited capacity for adaptation. In coping with the climate change, how to rationally adjust agricultural production distribution and structure, improve agricultural production conditions, control the prevalence of plant diseases and pests/insects and spread of weeds, reduce production cost, prevent the potential desertification expansion, and ensure sustainable development of China's agricultural production are some of the aspects that pose long-term challenges for China's agricultural sector in terms of improving its capacity of adapting to climate change and resisting climatic disasters.

2.3.6 New challenges on China's water resource development and conservation in terms of adapting to climate change

There are two objectives for development and conservation of water resources in adapting to climate change in China: to promote sustainable development and utilization of water resources; and to enhance adaptive capacity of water resource system to reduce its vulnerability to climate change. How to enhance water resource management, optimize water resources allocation, strengthen infrastructure construction, ensure the anti-flood safety of large rivers, key cities and regions, promote nationwide water-saving program, guarantee safe drinking water and sound social and economic development, and make a good use of river functions while protecting aquatic ecosystem are the long-term challenges on water resource development and conservation in terms of enhancing climate change adaptation capability.

2.3.7 Challenges on China's coastal regions in terms of adapting to climate change

The coastal regions in China are characterized by dense population and most active economic activities. Since most of these coastal areas are low and flat, they are vulnerable to marine disasters caused by sea level rise. At present, China clearly lacks capacity in marine environment monitoring, resulting in insufficient capacity of early warning and emergency response to ocean disasters associated with climate change. Lower standards for coastal anti-tide engineering also weaken the ability to resist ocean disasters. In the future, coastal erosion, seawater intrusion, soil salinization and back flow of seawater into the river estuaries caused by sea level rise will be among realistic challenges in coping with climate change in China's coastal areas.

Part 3 Guidelines, Principles and Objectives of China to Address Climate Change

China's social and economic development is now at the stage of important strategic opportunity. China will implement its fundamental national policy of resource conservation and environmental protection to develop a circular economy, protect ecological environment and accelerate the construction of a resource-conservative and environmentally friendly society. In order to actively fulfill its international commitments to the UFCCCC, China will strive to control its greenhouse gas emissions, enhance its capacity to adapt to climate change and promote the harmonious development between economy, population, resources and the environment.

3.1 Guidelines

To address climate change and to make further contributions to protect global climate, China will be guided by the following:

- To give full effect to the Scientific Outlook on Development;

- To promote the construction of socialist harmonious society;

- To advance the fundamental national policy of resource conservation and environmental protection;

- To control GHG emission and enhance sustainable development capacity;

- To secure economic development;

- To conserve energy, optimize energy structure, and strengthen ecological preservation and construction;

- To rely on the advancement of science and technology;

- To enhance the capacity to address climate change.

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