Last edited 28 Dec 2020

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The Institution of Civil Engineers Institute / association Website

WFEO Climate Stories: Professor Jianping Wu

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The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is hosting the World Federation of Engineering Organisations’ (WFEO) Committee on Engineering and the Environment from 2019 to 2023. As part of a new blog series, members of the committee give us a snapshot of climate change impacts and solutions in their part of the world.

To kick off the WFEO Climate Stories blog series, Professor Jianping Wu of Tsinghua University and his colleagues Jing He and Xiaodong Guan give some insight into climate change in China.

What is the level of acceptance in China that climate change is man-made? What policies have been agreed and what kind of actions have been committed to address climate change, both on mitigation and adaptation?

The overall goal of China’s climate action is to “have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060”, according to remarks from President Xi Jinping at the General Debate of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly.

In recent years, China has implemented a series of actively and national strategy to tackle the climate change issue, including adjusting the industrial structure, optimising energy structure, saving energy and improving energy efficiency, promoting the construction of carbon market, and increasing forest carbon sinks. China has participated in the global climate governance positively, upholding multilateralism, as well as faithfully fulfilling the obligations under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement.

China are implementing the Belt and Road South-South Cooperation Initiative on Climate Change, and mobilising stronger support for international cooperation against climate change through the BRI International Green Development Coalition and other platforms.

What are the key issues in China that you consider to be caused by climate change?

The key climate change issues in China could be caused by the following aspects.

  • Agricultural production: The impact of climate change in this issue is mainly on changes in planting structure and farming, fluctuations in the grain output, as well as aggravation of agricultural disasters. Climate change reduced the yields of wheat and corn by 1.27% and 1.73%, respectively, and the drought-affected area of arable land increased nationwide.
  • Contradiction between water supply and demand: Climate warming may reduce the run-off of rivers in north China, while increasing the run-off in the south. It will increase the average annual evaporation in various river basins. Among them, the evaporation of the Yellow River and inland river regions may increase by about 15%. It is estimated that from 2010 to 2030, the annual water shortage in western China will be about 20 billion cubic meters.
  • Increased risk of disasters in coastal areas: As extreme weather events are the main cause of disasters along the coast of China, the Yellow River, Yangtze River, and Pearl River Delta are the most vulnerable areas. Climate change may increase the sea level along China's coast by 0.01- 0.16 meters by 2030. Then, many coastal areas are more likely to be flooded, and the impact of extreme weather is increased.
  • Changes in forests and ecosystems: Take glaciers as an example, it is estimated that by 2050, the area of glaciers in western China will be reduced by 27.2%. The peak is expected to occur from 2030 to 2050, with an annual increase of 20% to 30%.
  • Diseases: Climate change may cause an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, and therefore increase the extent and scope of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, malaria, dengue fever and heat stroke.

What do you think engineering could do about these issues?

In my opinion, engineering can help provide technologies to reduce carbon emissions and develop new energy. It should focus specifically on the safety of water engineering, road engineering, energy engineering, coastal engineering, ecological environment and the power grid and could be conducted in the following ways.

What are the main barriers to effective climate action in both your country and engineering?

The main barriers to effective climate actions lie in the following areas:

  • Reducing carbon emissions means increasing the economic burden. The development of clean energy, energy-saving and emission reduction requires sizeable funds. It is of great significance in the long run, but it may affect economic recovery in the immediate future.
  • Psychological factors of people. People have become accustomed to high energy consumption. Once the emission reduction affects their personal lives, especially if they are forced to change their living habits, they will become very resistant.
  • Different industrial structures in developed and developing countries. For now, developed countries provide funds and technology to developing countries to improve the living environment. Despite the fact that developing countries could obtain economic growth and employment, the negative effects of climate change have been ignored.

What are the key priorities for climate action within engineering?

The key priorities for climate action within engineering should be concentrated on high-quality monitoring and observation, especially in vulnerable areas; improving the simulation accuracy of climate modes, especially concerning the regional scale and improving the prediction accuracy of climate change, particularly in the next 10 to 30 years, regarding extreme weather events. The climate is changing, how it changes and how much it changes is of great importance to the policy-maker, and engineers can make that assessment much more scientific and reliable.

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This article originally appeared on the ICE Civil Engineering Blog, on 24 December 2020. It was written by Professor Jianping Wu, PhD, Tsinghua University.

--The Institution of Civil Engineers

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