Heat Waves and Droughts in China and Climate Change Goals

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Heat Waves and Droughts in China and Climate Change Goals

The Guardian article, “China heatwave: scorching temperatures and severe drought – in pictures”, shows China’s droughts and heatwaves – the exposed river and lake beds, a nearly scorched vegetable farm, residents cooling themselves in a river, and residents storing water in containers as they face strained water supplies.

Consistent high temperatures have caused the dry season to come early in 71 years and resulted in Poyang Lake drying up, revealing its riverbed.

Other notable rivers in China that have dried up include the Changxing river in Zhejiang province, the Jialing River, a major tributary of the Yangtze in Chongqing, and creeks.

Authorities have conducted rain-seeding operations as drought relief measures in Yichang, Hubei province.

Droughts are threatening China’s food supplies

The record-breaking heatwave in China, combined with the months-long drought, threatens food production, particularly the autumn harvest, urging four government departments to issue an “urgent joint emergency notice” (Davidson, 2022).

Crop losses can worsen the country’s food supply problems and push them to procure it from more distant sources.

The New York Times says that heatwaves and droughts are wilting orchards, mainly in Sichuan province, a leading grower of China’s fruits like apples and plums (Bradsher & Dong, 2022).

Bradsher & Dong (2022) mention the following:

  • Vegetable farms are also struggling, which can cause fruit and vegetable prices to skyrocket. The article noted that the cost of Bok choy, a staple leafy vegetable, has almost doubled in price in Wuhan.
  • Droughts are “crippling” its hydroelectric dams and forcing the country to rely more on coal.
  • According to NY Times, heatwaves are causing rolling blackouts in regions that depend on dams for more than three-quarters of their power supply. Drying up rivers also makes it difficult for ships to carry supplies and leads to more delay.
  • The article notes that the receding waters of the Yangtze River, mainly due to rainfall failure in July and August, means that ships cannot reach the upstream ports and will have to wait for more rain. In the meantime, the country must divert their cargo to a fleet of trucks to carry them or around 500 or more trucks for a single cargo ship load.
  • Power disruptions lead to factory shutdowns and logistical delays that hugely impact China’s economy. While reduced power supply from dams is pushing the country to return to burning coal – the root cause of climate change.
  • Its worst drought has disrupted its hydroelectric dams that supply more than three-quarters of its power. The country is forced to depend more on coal which is the root of the climate change problems.
  • “The extreme weather sweeping across China also has potential implications for the world’s efforts to halt climate change. Beijing has sought to offset at least part of the lost hydropower from the drought by ramping up the use of coal-fired power plants. China’s domestic coal mining has been at or near record levels, and customs data shows that its coal imports from Russia reached a new high last month.”
  • China’s reverting to coal raises questions about its commitment to slowing down its carbon emissions.
  • “In the short term in China, the very, very painful realization is that only coal can serve as the base” for the electricity supply, said Ma Jun, the director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Beijing environmental group. But in the medium term, Mr Ma says that “China is very committed to carbon targets and renewable energy” in talking about the direction of its country’s climate strategy.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for 28% of global emissions.

An article from Science.org, ‘Can China, the world’s biggest coal consumer, become carbon neutral by 2060?’ says that China’s previously claimed that it will peak its CO2 emissions around 2030, a target that analyst says is achievable, but reaching carbon neutrality before 2060 will require drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels in transportation and electricity generation and offsetting any remaining emissions through carbon capture and storage or planting forests.

On 22 September, Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly via a video link, “We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060″ (Normile, 2020).

Josep Canadell, an earth system scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, says that although China’s new targets won’t hit the 1.5°C warming limit set by the Paris Agreement but will hit the below 2°C mark.

With the current drought and heatwave pushing China back to massive coal production and use, one might wonder whether the country’s climate goal announcements and pledges are just a “litany of broken climate promises,” as UN Chief António Guterres puts it (Normile, 2020).


China heatwave: scorching temperatures and severe drought – in pictures. (2022, 24 August). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2022/aug/24/china-heatwave-scorching-temperatures-and-severe-drought-in-pictures

Davidson, H. (2022, August 24). China issues alert as drought and heatwave put crops at risk. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/24/china-issues-alert-drought-heatwave-put-crops-at-risk

Bradsher, K. & Dong, J. (2022, August 26). China’s Record Drought Is Drying Rivers and Feeding Its Coal Habit. NY Times. Retrieve from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/26/business/economy/china-drought-economy-climate.html

Normile, D. (2020, September 29). Can China, the world’s biggest coal consumer, become carbon neutral by 2060? Science. Retrieved from https://www.science.org/content/article/can-china-worlds-bigger-coal-consumer-become-carbon-neutral-2060

PHOTO CREDIT: Dried Jialing river bed by Gwydion M. Williams. We have cropped the image to fit the website’s size requirement.

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