Super Emitter China Suffers Climate Consequences

Super Emitter China Suffers Climate Consequences

China, the world’s largest economy, is suffering the effects of climate change, in increasingly dramatic ways. China, which is responsible for more of today’s emissions than any other country, felt the pangs of a warming planet this summer, enduring brutal heatwaves, droughts, and floods that were so severe, they interrupted factory operations. The unpredictable weather may force the country to embrace a more ambitious climate policy, for the sake of saving itself, even as its economy slows and its population soars.

CBC: China's 'unprecedented' heat wave passes 70-day mark, August 23, 2022.

South China Morning Post: China’s historical heatwave bakes Sichuan province, slows hydropower stations, August 25, 2022.

CNBC: China's ongoing heat wave leads to power and factory disruptions, August 18, 2022.

Why This Matters

China this summer canceled climate negotiations with the United States, but their own vulnerability to climate consequences may accelerate tough decisions about an energy transition away from polluting coal and other sources of energy. Many of China’s major cities face severe flooding risks, especially as northern glaciers in Tibet melt. Shanghai and Tajin, both major metropolitan areas, are particularly vulnerable to flood damage to their low altitude. It is not just flooding, though, that is a threat. In the Sichuan region, punishing droughts crippled the country’s hydropower infrastructure last summer, forcing factories to shut down as power failed. As climate change has worsened the dual threat of droughts and floods has become 200% times more likely.

Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse | Here's how, October 19, 2021.

Luckily, China has made significant efforts in recent years to expand its share of renewable energy, investing $380 billion in these projects last year alone. Unfortunately, China has also hastened its investments in coal, casting suspicion on its commitment to decarbonize by 2060. In 2021, the country’s “standard coal equivalent of energy” grew by 5.2%, the highest rate in a decade.

Sky News: Drones and rockets bring rainfall to China, August 27, 2022.

South China Morning Post: Elderly Chinese ‘chill out’ in air-conditioned supermarket to beat the heat, August 24, 2022.

PBS: Extreme heat in China threatens major water source and hydropower abilities, September 2, 2022.

The Climate Change World Tour

Like China, the US faces a complicated path to bracing itself against climate consequences, as its large geographic size means that each region faces its own threat. In the South, Hurricane Ian, one of the worst hurricanes in recent memory. On the other side of the country, severe drought in the West continues, driving a decline in hydropower. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that extreme weather events like these could deplete the economy, as relief grows costlier.

It is not just the US and China, though, that are being walloped by climate change. A recent UN report warns that no one will be safe from its impacts, particularly as a new study finds that 5 out of 9 critical climate tipping points have been breached.

PBS: As Heat Waves Worsen, THIS Policy Predicts Where People Will Die, August 16, 2022.

BBC: Deadly heatwaves '100 times more likely' due to climate change, May 18, 2022.

PBS: Report shows devastating economic impact of rising sea levels along American coast, September 14, 2022.

DW: Floods, drought and the consequences of extreme weather (Documentary), July 26, 2022.