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Global Warming - Impact Zones

Impact Zone - China

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming addressed our nation's energy, economic and national security challenges during the 110th and 111th Congresses.

This is an archived version of the committee's website, where the public, students and the media can continue to access and learn from our work.

China and the United States facing similar global warming challenges

China, like the United States, is an expansive country with diverse geographical regions that will be affected differently by global warming. The north is expected to get drier, much like the southwest in the United States; meanwhile, China's south will become wetter, like the American northeast. And, just like America, China must develop advanced coal-burning technologies in a world threatened by global warming pollution.

Regional impacts

In the western Qinghai-Tibet plateau, a region that covers about a quarter of China's land surface, average temperatures have risen 2 degrees Fahrenheit just since the 1980's, accelerating the melting of glaciers and frozen tundra across the plateau. The region is warming up fast, and glaciers covering the region are shrinking by 7 percent a year. The tundra that spans Tibet and the surrounding high country will eventually deteriorate into desert if the melting continues. This will intensify the droughts and sandstorms already lashing northern China.

In the south, however, the rivers, streams, and lakes fed by these rapidly melting ice sheets will flood at increasingly frequent rates. Millions of people in southern China who depend upon these bodies of water for drinking, fishing, transportation, irrigation, and electricity will find their lives significantly impacted. Scientists are projecting massive flooding and landslides around the Three Gorges Dam area of the Yangtze River. And when the onslaught of water suddenly ends with the melting of the final highland glaciers, the region will experience the intense water shortages already being felt through much of the north.

Economic challenges 

China has predicted that its agricultural output will decline by 37 percent over the next 50 years due to changes in rainfall, water availability, and rising temperatures. The UN predicts the costs of global warming will reach $7.8 billion in China by mid century. The majority of this impact will be felt in the agricultural sector, where feeding 1.4 billion mouths will become a major challenge. Weather related damages have already been estimated to cost China $25.8 to 38.7 billion each year, equivalent to 2-5 percent of the nation's economic output. With global warming bringing more extreme weather in the future, this number only stands to rise.

Meanwhile, China's economy is booming. The growth in new electricity generating capacity is even more staggering: between 2000 and 2005 electricity consumption grew 150%. Around 550 new coal power plants are currently being built, coming online at the rate of about 2 new plants per week. However, even with all this growth, the total carbon emissions for the average Chinese person is only one fourth of the average American.
China, the United States, and the rest of the world must start building all new coal-fired power plants with advanced technologies that allow the heat-trapping carbon pollution from the plants to be captured and stored underground.

China taking steps to clean up its act

In June of 2007, China released their first plan to address global warming through increasing energy efficiency. The plan includes improving energy efficiency 20 percent by 2010 and changing tax laws to favor less pollution by increasing economic pressure on heavily polluting businesses.

China also has higher fuel economy standards for its fleet, which range from 16.2 mpg for the largest vehicles to 36.9 mpg for the smallest (China's fleet is divided into 16 different categories of vehicle for purposes of setting fuel economy standards). These were increased to 18.1 mpg and 42.9 mpg respectively by 2008.

China also has announced an ambitious renewable energy plan. The government's plan includes investing money in energy efficiency technology, renewable energy, forestation and public awareness campaigns to educate people on the causes and effects of global warming.

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