China: Studies Addressing Global Climate Change

Guo Yuan

Institute of Nuclear Technology, Tsinghua University, Beijing, P.R. China

Lin Erda

Agrometeorology Institute, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

Liu Zhiping

Energy Research Institute, State Planning Commission and Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, P.R. China

SUMMARY: China, as the most populous country, plays important roles in the actions to address global climate change. Given the prospects for continued rapid economic growth into the next century, it is essential that China be included in any international strategy to mitigate global climate change. The Chinese Government has made great efforts to formulate and implement research in this field. Along with economic development and the poverty alleviation, GHG emissions, particularity CO2 emissions, will increase unavoidably. The challenges China face are both to minimize the GHG increase without unduly impeding social and economic development, and to minimize the risks arising from climate change. In the past few years, some bilateral or multilateral cooperation has been carried out. Prior research efforts have been devoted to the assessment of GHG mitigation technology options, and the analysis of impacts of and adaptation to climate change-mainly focused on agriculture, water resources, forests and coastal resources. As a result, a large body of data, models and experience has been accumulated. However, these researches are mainly focused on macro study at either the state or sector level. Preliminary results show that a high potential of GHG reduction exists in China, and some regions with higher vulnerability in several sectors have been identified. It is necessary to conduct further and broader studies to formulate China's national response to global climate change.


China is one of more than 150 countries which signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. As an indication of its commitment to implement the provision of the convention, China has initiated the process of formulating a National Response Strategy for Global Climate Change. In the past few years, ADB/SSTC and GEF/NEPA projects have been implemented, making the first stride to identify options in a wide range of sectors in China. On the basis of previous studies, a new project, China Country Study, that is under the U.S. Country Studies Program has been initiated. The project will improve the Chinese scientific and institutional capacity to carry out studies addressing global climate change and to formulate China's national response strategies. The China Country Study will allow for indepth study of mitigation options and vulnerabilities and adaptation options and improve confidence in information reliability.


Results of Previous Studies
Since the energy system in China is the most significant contributor to GHG emissions, special efforts have been made to analyze mitigation options for energy-intensive sectors, while research on the assessment of GHG mitigation options in the land- use sectors and other nonenergy sectors has been comparatively much more limited.

In the ADB/SSTC and GEF/NEPA projects, the major efforts were put on the assessment of mitigation technology at the sectoral level and macroeconomic analysis of defined scenarios. In order to study the interrelationship between economic development and GHG mitigation, different kinds of models were developed and used. Major results from both studies concluded that with future increases in population, economic development, and urbanization in China, as well as a growing demand for materials and services, there will be strong pressure for increased energy consumption and an inevitable rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

For China, the technical options for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases in the energy sector fall into two broad categories: 1) increasing the efficiency of energy utilization and reducing energy losses in the end-use sectors and energy production and conversion sectors, and 2) promoting the substitution of lower emitting fuels (e.g., natural gas) and essentially GHG-free energy sources (e.g., hydropower or nuclear energy) for coal.

Improvement in the direct, technical efficiency of energy use is clearly the top priority for specific action to mitigate GHG emissions in China over the short and medium term. Further improvements in the technical efficiency of energy use can have a major impact on China's GHG emissions over the next twenty-five years. Improvements in energy efficiency also are among the most cost-effective means to reduce GHG emissions, since there are many investments where energy cost savings more than offset total costs. Expanded investment is required to reduce energy use per physical unit of output, both through renovation of existing facilities and through adoption of more efficient processes and equipment in new facilities. Actions to conserve coal are most important because of coal's dominance in the energy mix and the high carbon dioxide emissions associated with its combustion. Industry will continue to be the sector with the greatest potential for energy-efficiency savings. Improving the efficiency of use of certain energy-intensive raw materials, such as steel, requires addressing many of the same problems in implementation as direct technical energy efficiency.

China also has built a sound institutional network for promoting energy conservation and has developed a wide range of programs, some with marked success. Improvements in energy conservation will require the further development of market-based incentives. Implementation of a national initiative to develop higher efficiency small- and medium-scale coal-fired industrial boilers, through adoption of advanced technology, is among the top priorities for reducing GHG emissions over the near term. Additional support is also needed to encourage the adoption of other types of high- efficiency equipment, such as high-efficiency electric motors, variable-speed motors, and associated high-efficiency industrial electrical equipment, more efficient air-conditioning equipment and refrigerators, efficient lighting devices, and steam traps associated with industrial piping networks. Improving the efficiency of electric motors and associated industrial equipment is most important, since such equipment accounts for almost half of China's total electricity use.

Expanded use of less carbon-intensive alternatives to coal is a second important objective for the energy sector in China's GHG reduction strategy. To contribute significantly to China's energy economy over the medium and long term, however, greater support for the development of low- or non-carbon energy technologies is urgently needed today. Consistent with China's development and environment protection goals, more efforts should be made to accelerate the technological development of alternative energy sources, particularly renewable energy technologies. Efforts should focus on research and development, and technology demonstration and dissemination activities aimed at reducing the cost of alternative energy supply and improving its cost-effectiveness when compared with the use of coal. Primary emphasis should be given to technologies that are most likely to contribute significantly to China's long-term energy supply, such as harnessing nuclear power, wind farms based on large-scale generators, advances in solar photovoltaic and thermal-electric technologies, large-scale biomass energy utilization schemes, and new methods for extracting natural gas under difficult geological conditions.

China Country Study Activities

On the basis of previous studies mainly focused on macro analyses at either state or sector level, a two-year cooperation project‹ the China Country Study, sponsored by the U.S. Government and implemented by the State Science and Technology Commission (SSTC)­ was initiated on November 1, 1994. This project differs greatly from the previous studies since it is aimed at:
  1. Establishing a China-specific methodology guideline in collaboration with appropriate U.S. developments and institutions, which will be used for the compilation of the GHG inventory, assessment of vulnerability, and analysis of adaptation and mitigation technologies as well as the socioeconomic evaluation of scenarios and response policies.
  2. Carrying out case-studies for selected regions and chosen technologies following the methodology guideline, aimed at developing demonstration projects for further research in China.
  3. Undertaking national assessments based on research outputs, case-studies, and prior research.
  4. Providing support for national policy dialogues on GHG emission mitigation options.
The study contains four major assessment elements designed to cover the following topics:
  1. Identification of GHG sources and sinks and compilation of an inventory of major GHGs.
  2. Assess the impacts of climate change and studies of adaptive response policies.
  3. Identify and integrate technological options for GHG mitigation and their socioeconomic and environmental implications analysis.
  4. Socioeconomic evaluation of China's response policies to climate change including integrated option assessment for future GHG emissions.
In this project, assessment of GHG mitigation options will focus on the individual technologies from ten technology categories identified by previous studies as priorities for mitigating GHG emissions in China, including power generation, industry boilers, electric motors, renewable energy and other categories. Particular attention will be given to the nonenergy sectors, including rice paddy and forest systems.

The major work related to the mitigation option assessment includes: collate existing information on current technology options in China in relation to GHG emission; develop a mitigation options indicator (ranking) system for technical, economic, and environmental factors suitable to China; evaluate and select technologies adapted to China's specific conditions for mitigating GHG emissions; identify obstacles and transmit policy suggestions for implementation of high-priority technologies to government agencies; and establish a technology characterization inventory for reducing GHG emission in China. The project will conduct preliminary micro-scale socioeconomic analyses for highly ranked technologies, evaluate and rank existing or emerging domestic and exogenous technologies in terms of technical feasibility, economic characteristics, environmental impact, technical maturity, absorption capacity, and resource constraints. Simulation models and analytical tools will be employed.

The INET model has been modified since it was used in the ADB study. An input-output (I/O) matrix is being added to its dynamic technology choice framework. The model requires testing and the inclusion of additional technological and economic data. The country study will incorporate the new data into the model. Technological data will come from the technology mitigation options working group. Scientists at MIT that contributed to the development of the I/O‹ INET model will participate in the new modifications for the model.

In addition, the Chinese country study team will be trained on the Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNL) Second-Generation Model that is under development. Both models will be reviewed as widely as possible among Chinese experts. The suitability of these and other models to the research targets, merits, and shortcomings concerning modeling conception, theory, and method, as well as the availability of the required data, will be reviewed and evaluated, in order to determine the modelling method by which the Chinese conditions could be best addressed so as to satisfy the research objectives.

Quantitative analysis on the interactive effect of future technological options and macroeconomic development will be carried out based on the I/O‹ INET and PNL models. The analysis will include the system evaluation of the potential GHG technical mitigation options, their effects on investments and costs and the macroeconomy. The SGM model will also be used as a reference tool for scenario generation and microeconomic policy assessment. As China is under the rapid reform where a market economy will become the framework of economic development in the future, the SGM model, which is a general equilibrium model, will help to analyze the possible impact of response policy within the context of international trade and technology transfer. Meanwhile, as SGM is a simulation model, it will help to generate economic development scenarios as well as emission scenarios, and to identify the Business as Usual (BAU) scenario.

Currently, China is at an initial stage in the socioeconomic assessment of climate change issues. Since this field covers a broad range of methodologies and issues, there is a need for a literature search, an evaluation of methodologies appropriate to the Chinese context, and the development of guidelines for the country study working groups and Chinese socioeconomic professionals at the national and regional level. A draft "Guidance on Socioeconomic Assessment Methodology in China" will be prepared by the project, the guidelines will address the theory and methodology for socioeconomic assessment and data collection, identify the diverse range of factors in an assessment including level of development, prices, technology mixture, etc., that differ from region to region and sector to sector.


Results of Previous Studies

China is a developing country with the largest population in the world, in which only 7 percent arable land has to feed 22 percent population of the world's total. The climate in China is of various types and affects economic development. Geographically situated at the middle latitude regions, China has a large, well developed, and densely populated coastal area, and has long been plagued by water shortage and uneven water distribution. Therefore the country is quite vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

Agriculture and Forestry. The dynamics of moisture availability is the key factor affecting the agriculture and forest sectors. Based on some GCM (Global Circulation Model) results, if the temperature rises, the middle latitude regions may have less rainfall and more evapotranspiration, while low latitude regions might get more moisture in China. The substantial change in temperature and precipitation would make climate more unstable and could possibly result in instability of agriculture and agricultural product supply; readjustment of farming practices that would affect the yields; acute water shortage in north areas that would lead to desertification, degradation and soil erosion, and agricultural ecosystem deterioration; reduction in the areas appropriate for timber production and modest reduction in forest coverage; and increasing financial demands for agriculture and forest development to adapt to climate change.

Water Resources. The impact of global climate change on the alteration of wet and dry seasons, and flood and drought occurrences is quite apparent. The simulation-produced data show that a rise in global temperature would increase the summer monsoon thus exacerbating the likelihood of flood or drought disasters. The possible climate variation will increase the frequency of floods and water logging in rain-intensive southern areas, and aggravate the drought in the semiarid and semi- rainy northern areas, thus disrupting the normal water allocation. The consequent difficulties in water management would produce an adverse impact on social and economic development.

Sea-level Rise. China's coastal line is as long as 18,000 km. The threatened rise of sea level might submerge the land where the economy grows rapidly with a dense population. The data observed on a long-term basis indicate that the sea level of China is rising at a rate of 1.4 mm per year.

Adaptation Strategies
Agriculture. Since crop-yields are highly dependent upon the hydrological cycle (i.e., precipitation and potential evapotranspiration) and solar radiation, agriculture is likely to be one of the production sectors most affected in the case of climate change. The territories of China that are sensitive to the impact of climate change can be divided into six areas as follows: areas along the Great Wall; Huang-Huai Plain; North area of the Huai River, including eastern Shangong; Central and southern areas of the Yuman Plateau; Middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River basin; and Loess plateau.

The above areas are only identified as more sensitive to climate change. The actual degree of vulnerability depends upon social, economic, and technological factors. The analysis illustrates that the areas where agriculture is most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are the eastern and southern parts of China.

The possible adaptation strategy will include three categories:

Forestry. China has about 128.6 Mha of forest lands, representing 13.92 percent of the total land, which has been the major sink of CO2 and regulator of climate. Forest coverage preservation and expansion through a reforestation drive and deforestation prohibition is quite essential to mitigate GHGs and respond to climate change. Relative to the size of its population, China has limited forest resources. On a per capita basis, the forested area which is 0.11 ha and the stock volume which is 8 cubic m amount to approximately one-sixth and one-ninth of the world average, respectively. The vulnerable forested areas are mainly located at N. Lat. 33-40, including Shandong, Henan, Shaxi, Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.

Water Resources. In China, water resources are mainly recharged from precipitation. The bulk of rainfall (about 71 percent) is formed by the condensation of vapor from outside of China while 29 percent originates from the land surface within the country. The vapor from outside is transferred by the southwestern, southern, and southeastern monsoons from the Bay of Bengal, the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, the Bohai Sea, and the Sea of Japan. Rainfall in China is vulnerable to the monsoon climate in Asia, which is subject to global climate change and thus, in turn, makes China more affected by severe drought and chronic water shortage.

Sea-Level Rise. Over the recent years, a statistical analysis of data monitored from 48 coastal tide observatories in China shows an increase in mean sea level of 1.4 mm per year, which has produced a significant impact on China's coastal zones. The possible countermeasures would be:

Methodology for China Country Study

  1. Using the GFDL, UKMO and NCAR GCM scenarios, a high resolution regional climate model (RCM) is being developed for China. It will provide predictions of regional climate change at a smaller grid scale. It is expected to be suitable for China's conditions. It will be used along with the GCM scenarios.
  2. The climate scenarios will be used to assess the vulnerability to climate change of six key sectors. The Agricultural sector includes crop and grasslands. DSSAT 3.0 and SPUR 2.0 will be used, respectively, to simulate the changes of wheat and maize production in the eastern part of China and the changes of cattle beef production in Inner Mongolia. A Chinese weather generator will give several climate variabilities under the GCMs, so the results should be more reasonable.
  3. The Forestry sector will use the Holdridge Life Zone Classification Model and the Forest GAP Models to simulate the changes in productivity and distribution of mature forest in Northeastern China and Yunnan Province. In addition some comparison methods will be used in different forest areas.
  4. The Water Resources sector will use a runoff model similar to the WATBAL and CLIRUN models to simulate and assess water demand and supply in Hailuan River Basin and Huaihe River Basin.
  5. In the Coastal Resources sector, no single model can be used to determine the impacts of global changes. The IPCC approach, including the seven-step methodology will be used to assess the impact of sea-level rise on the coastal areas of the Pearl River Delta.
  6. The Air Quality sector will use EKMA and OZIPM models to assess the changes of SO2 and TSP for two main cities and a province.
  7. Each of the sectors above will develop adaptation strategies, respectively. Some sectors should consider the results of socioeconomic analysis.


At present, analyses and projections regarding global climate change contain scientific uncertainties that still need to be resolved. It is therefore necessary that broad international cooperations should be carried out to address these uncertainties. In developing the national response strategy for global climate change, the results that are most credible and consistent with China's specific conditions should be taken into full consideration. Where possible, this study should define the range of uncertainties and have policy makers know what is known, unknown, uncertain, and controversial.


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March 1995

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