Zheng Guogang, head of the China Meteorological Administration, says future variations in climate are likely to reduce crop yields and damage the environment.
In one of the strongest official statements to date on the challenges faced, Zheng told China’s official Xinhua news agency that climate change could have a “huge impact” on the country, with a growing risk of climate-related disasters.
“To face the challenges from past and future climate change, we must respect nature and live in harmony with it,” Zheng said. “We must promote the idea of nature, and emphasise climate security.”
Zheng said temperature rises in China over the past century have been higher than the global average. He warned that river flows and harvests are likely to suffer as the incidence of droughts and violent rainstorms across the country increases.
To face the challenges from past and future climate change, we must respect nature and live in harmony with it.
Zheng Guogang, head of the China Meteorological Administration
In turn, this could affect major infrastructure projects such as the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river, the biggest hydroelectric scheme in the world.
Other projects that could be hit by changes in climate are the rail line between the northwestern province of Qinghai and Tibet − the highest railway line in the world, and partly built on permafrost − and a massive project aimed at bringing water from the south of China to the parched towns and cities of the north.
“The safe production and operation of major strategic projects is facing a serious threat,” Zheng said.
Although millions of people in China have benefited from years of double-digit economic growth, damage to the environment has been extensive and has become a major social, health and political issue.
China is now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases − largely due to its continued reliance on coal for power generation.
There are frequent public protests about the state of the environment, particularly water and air pollution. In Beijing and several other cities, air pollution frequently exceeds internationally-recognised health safety limits.
The authorities are taking various measures to tackle the country’s considerable environmental problems, but they are nervous about public protests on the environment getting out of control.
Earlier this month, “Under the Dome” – a documentary on China’s pollution, made by one of the country’s leading investigative reporters − was taken down from the internet by the authorities after having been viewed by an estimated 100 million people.
Under China’s present five-year plan, which started in 2011, there is a focus on the need to encourage “green, cyclical and low-carbon development”.
The plan claims: “These actions will increase the strategic position of combating climate change in China’s overall economic and social development.”
In an effort to improve its environment and meet international obligations to cut emissions, China is in the midst of a renewable energy programme costing billions of dollars.
Late last year, Beijing announced for the first time a date when the country’s emissions would peak – 2030 – and then taper off in the years following.
China is also involved with the US and other countries in a wide range of energy-saving research projects aimed at combating climate change.