A leading Chinese weather scientist has stated the effects that climate change might have on infrastructure projects and the health the country’s citizens. This rare official statement on the subject is part of a growing movement for environmental policy reform as China’s growing middle classes push for a cleaner living environment. Zheng Guogang, the head of China’s meteorological administration, said that temperature increases appear to be already higher than global averages in the country. China is one of the biggest producers of gases that may contribute to climate change, such as carbon dioxide, and is yet to set specific targets to reduce its emissions.
The impact of China’s emissions on health and infrastructure is much debated, with some believing that it might contribute to a reduction in life expectancy in the country – although it may be moving towards environmental reform. Mr Zheng urged for a reduced carbon future for his country as it might contribute to safeguarding the environment whilst also increasing the quality of living conditions in urban areas. The admission is rare in China, with the government admitting climate change affects the country whilst avoiding the direct effects and scale of the emissions.
Energy has been in high demand in China with a growing population and industrialisation requiring power. Much of this energy has come from coal – which emits significant levels of carbon dioxide – although a growing middle class may be expecting environmental reform to improve living conditions and to protect their health. Internationally, the apparently increasing momentum behind environmental targets on reducing emissions may look to involve China as well as other countries with high emissions such as the United States. Equally, with the United Nations climate change conference in Paris later this year, it is thought that the conference may aim to get a legally binding universal agreement on climate.
This admission by a Chinese official might indicate that the government is considering environmental reforms. With growing international support for emissions targets it might benefit China to progress away from emission heavy fuels. Equally, improving air quality and emissions in cities such as Beijing may have a productive effect on both the quality of life and health for the residents. Public opinion may also play an important role in environmental reforms as the potential health effects of emissions are already beginning to lead to increasing calls for both cleaner air and reduced emissions.
The possibility of any UN climate targets being legally binding might also lead to increased emphasis by governments on switching to cleaner energy and reducing emissions. The Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to talk about the UN climate conference and China’s environmental situation when he visits President Barack Obama at the White House in September. The possibility of the two largest emissions producers discussing environmental change might be a significant step and might have influence on any agreement made in the UN conference. Increasing domestic and international momentum behind environmental protection may sweep China into reforming its policies.
Environmental protection is increasingly important as the impacts of emissions on health and infrastructure become more accepted and evident. China’s rapidly growing economy has used energy sources such as coal, which it may now look to move away from. The increasing domestic and international pressure might lead to the Chinese government beginning to reform its energy use. This year may see ample opportunities for China to pursue environmental reform. Also, President Xi Jinping appears open to reform, with his attempts to increase transparency in the government, so he may believe it is time for China to reform its environmental policy. With the Chinese economy starting to mature to a consistent growth rate, it may be time to seek more sustainable energy sources.
How might the recent government admissions indicate that Chinese society is increasingly open to environmental reform?