As China boomed, it didn’t take climate change into account. Now it must.
China’s rapid growth over the past four decades has erected thriving cities where there had been hamlets and farmland. Cities attracted factories and factories attracted workers. The boom lifted hundreds of millions of people out of the poverty and rural hardships they once faced.
Today, these cities face the daunting new challenge of adapting to the extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, a possibility few gave much thought to as the country embarked on its extraordinary economic transformation. China’s rapid and jumbled urbanization has, in some ways, made the challenge more difficult.
No weather event can be directly linked to climate change, but the storm that flooded Zhengzhou and other central Chinese cities last week, killing at least 69 people on Monday, reflects a global trend that recently saw flooding fatal in Germany and Belgium. and the extreme heat and forest fires in Siberia. The floods in China also highlight the environmental vulnerabilities that accompanied the country’s economic boom and could further undermine it.
China has already taken steps to start tackling climate change. Xi Jinping is the country’s first leader to make the issue a national priority.
As early as 2013, Xi had promised to build an “ecological civilization” in China. “We must maintain harmony between man and nature and pursue sustainable development,” he said in a speech in Geneva in 2013.
The country has almost quintupled the area of green space in its cities over the past two decades. He introduced a pilot program to create “sponge cities,” including Zhengzhou, that better absorb rainfall. Last year, Xi pledged to accelerate emissions reductions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. This was a tectonic policy shift and could prove to be a shift in practice also.
The question is whether it is too late. Even though countries like China and the United States are rapidly reducing greenhouse gases, warming those already emitted is likely to have lasting consequences.
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