While China was booming, it failed to factor in climate change. Now it is necessary.

China’s rapid growth over the past four decades has erected thriving cities where there had been hamlets and farmland. Cities attracted...


China’s rapid growth over the past four decades has erected thriving cities where there had been hamlets and farmland. Cities attracted factories and factories attracted workers. The boom lifted hundreds of millions of people out of the poverty and rural hardships they once faced.

Today, these cities are facing the formidable new challenge of adaptation extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, a possibility few thought much about as the country embarked on its extraordinary economic transformation. China’s rapid and jumbled urbanization has, in some ways, made the challenge more difficult.

No weather event can be directly linked to climate change, but storm which flooded Zhengzhou and other central Chinese cities last week, killing at least 69 people on Monday, reflects a global trend which recently experienced fatal flooding in Germany and Belgium, as well as extreme heat and forest fires in Siberia. The floods in China also highlight the environmental vulnerabilities that accompanied the country’s economic boom and could further undermine it.

China has always experienced flooding, but like Kong Feng, then professor of public policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing, wrote in 2019, the flooding of cities across China in recent years is “a general manifestation of urban problems” in the country.

The vast expansion of roads, subways, and railroads in cities that swelled almost overnight meant there were fewer places where rain could be safely absorbed, disrupting what scientists are calling the natural hydrological cycle.

Faith Chan, a geology professor at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo in eastern China, said cities across the country – and there are 93 with populations of over one million – modernized at a time when Chinese leaders have made climate resilience a lower priority than economic growth.

“If they had the chance to rebuild a city or plan one, I think they would agree to make it more balanced,” said Mr Chan, who is also a visiting scholar at the Water @ Research Institute. Leeds University. from Leeds.

China has already taken steps to start tackling climate change. Xi Jinping is the country’s first leader to make the issue a national priority.

As early as 2013, Xi had promised to build an “ecological civilization” in China. “We must maintain harmony between man and nature and pursue sustainable development,” he said in a statement. speech in Geneva in 2013.

The country has almost quintupled the area of ​​green spaces in its cities over the past two decades. He introduced a pilot program to create “sponge cities,” including Zhengzhou, that better absorb rainfall. Last year, Xi pledged to accelerate emission reductions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. a tectonic change in politics and may also be in practice.

The question is whether it is too late. Even though countries like China and the United States are rapidly reducing greenhouse gases, warming those already emitted is likely to have lasting consequences.

Rising sea levels now threaten China coastal metropolises, as increasingly violent storms hit inland cities which, like Zhengzhou, are sinking under the weight of hastily planned development, with sometimes poorly constructed buildings and infrastructure.

Even Beijing, which was affected by a mortal The 2012 flash flood that killed 79 people still lacks the drainage system needed to siphon rainfall from a major storm, despite the capital’s glittering architectural landmarks signifying China’s growing status.

In Zhengzhou, authorities described the torrential rains that fell last week as a once-only storm in a millennium that no planning could have prevented.

Even so, people asked why the city new metro system flooded, trapping passengers as the water steadily rose, and why a “smart tunnel” under the third ring road the city was flooded so quickly that people in cars had little time to escape.

The worsening impact of climate change could pose a challenge for the ruling Communist Party, given that political power in China has long been associated with the ability to control natural disasters. Several years ago, a public groundswell about toxic air pollution in Beijing and other cities finally forced the government to act.

“As we have more and more events like what happened in recent days, I think there will be more national awareness of the impact of climate change and more thinking about what we are doing. should do about it, ”said Li Shuo, a climate analyst at Greenpeace in China.

China’s urbanization has, in some ways, made adjustment easier. It displaced millions of people from rural villages which had much less defense against recurrent flooding. This is why the toll of recent floods is in the hundreds and thousands, not millions, as some of the worst disasters in the country’s history were.

Zhengzhou’s experience, however, underscores the extent of the challenges ahead and the limits of easy solutions.

Once a simple crossroads south of a bend in the Yellow River, the city has grown exponentially since China’s economic reforms began more than 40 years ago.

Today, skyscrapers and apartment towers stretch out into the distance. The city’s population has doubled since 2001, reaching 12.6 million.

Zhengzhou is flooded so frequently that locals joke about it bitingly. “No need to envy these towns where you can see the sea,” read an online comment that spread during a flood in 2011, according to one. report in a local newspaper. “Today, we welcome you to see the sea in Zhengzhou.”

In 2016, the city was one of 16 chosen for a pilot program to expand green spaces to mitigate flooding – the “sponge city” concept.

The idea, much like what American planners call “low impact development”, is to channel water from dense urban spaces to parks and lakes, where it can be absorbed or even recycled.

Yu Kongjian, the dean of the School of Landscape Architecture at Peking University, is credited to popularize the idea in China. He said in a telephone interview that in its rapid development since the 1980s, China has turned to Western designs unsuited to the extremes already experienced by the country’s climate. The cities were covered with cement, “colonized”, as he put it, by “gray infrastructures”.

China, he said, must “revive ancient wisdom and improve it,” by reserving natural spaces for water and greenery as farmers once did.

As part of the program, Zhengzhou built more than 3,000 miles of new drainage, cleared 125 flood-prone areas and created hundreds of acres of new green space, according to a item in the Zhengzhou Daily, a state newspaper.

One of these spaces is Diehu Park or Butterfly Lake Park, where weeping willows and camphor trees surround an artificial lake. It only opened last October. It was also flooded last week.

“The sponges absorb water slowly, not quickly,” Dai Chuanying, a park maintenance worker, said on Friday. “If there is too much water, the sponge cannot absorb everything.”

Even before the floods last week, some had questioned the concept. After the city flooded in 2019, the China Youth Daily, a party-run newspaper, lamented that the heavy expenses on projects had not resulted in significant improvements.

Others noted that the sponge cities were not a panacea. They were never intended for torrential rains like the one in Zhengzhou on July 20, when eight inches of rain fell in an hour.

“While the Sponge City initiative is an excellent sustainable development approach to stormwater management, it is still questionable whether it can be seen as the complete solution to flood risk management in a climate. changing, “said Konstantinos Papadikis, dean of the School of Design at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Xi’an.

The factories that have fueled China’s growth have also pumped more and more gases that contribute to climate change, while seriously polluting the air. Like everywhere else, China now faces the tasks of reducing emissions and preparing for the effects of global warming that seem increasingly inevitable.

Professor Chan said that in China the issue of climate change has not been as politically polarizing as in the United States, for example. This could facilitate public support for the changes that local and national governments need to make, many of which will be costly.

“I know that for cities land use issues are expensive, but we are talking about climate change,” he said. “We’re talking about future development for the next generation or the next, next generation.”

Li You contributed to the research.

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Newsrust - US Top News: While China was booming, it failed to factor in climate change. Now it is necessary.
While China was booming, it failed to factor in climate change. Now it is necessary.
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