Thursday, May 26

Sandstorms in China highlight the threat of a climate crisis | Climate change

Recent sandstorms that engulfed Beijing in a post-apocalyptic orange haze and intense droughts in other parts of the country are highlighting the challenges China faces from rising temperatures induced by the climate crisis.

The widespread sandstorms that hit the capital and spread to central China for several days in mid-March and again at the end of the month were triggered by below-average snow cover and precipitation, as well as by temperatures and winds. higher than normal. in Mongolia and northern China.

The combination provides the perfect conditions for creating sandstorms and could indicate more frequent dusty weather as temperatures rise in the region.

“Although the sandstorms were mainly caused by natural factors, they remind us that there is only one Earth for humanity,” Liu Youbin, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Environment, said at a press conference in Beijing.

“We must attach great importance to ecological protection and construction and strengthen international cooperation”, he said.

Since 1978, China has been trying to combat the encroaching sands of the Gobi desert region by planting a series of forest strips in its northern areas. This “Great Green Wall” has been somewhat effective in reducing erosion and slowing the expansion of the desert, but it does little to knock down high-altitude dust blowing from afar.

“Hotter summers and shorter winters with less snowfall will likely lead to an overall decrease in soil moisture levels. [across the region], making it more prone to being blown away and blown away, and threatening China’s laudable tree-planting efforts, ”said Darrin Magee, professor of environmental studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in the US and an expert on China’s water resources.

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“Climate change will almost certainly exacerbate the sandstorm problem in northeast China,” he said.

While sandstorms are a natural occurrence, there are a number of human factors at play that contribute to the intensity in addition to the climate crisis.

“Where the sand originates, both recent overgrazing and desertification have contributed to the desertification of Mongolian grasslands,” said Liu Junyan, a Beijing-based energy and climate activist for Greenpeace East Asia.

“I think one of the most important things is to stop overgrazing, and this is something that the Chinese government has done for the past two decades in parts of northern China,” he said.

On Tuesday, the State Council of China published new guidelines to strengthen grassland protection, with the goal of achieving a stable plant cover rate of 57% in its grasslands by 2025, as well as greater efforts to tackle excessive or illegal grazing in protected grasslands.

For Magee, the impact of semi-nomadic pastoralists in Inner Mongolia and Tibetan areas is more exaggerated than other industrial factors leading to groundwater depletion and drying in the region.

“A few thousand pastors practicing what pastors have done for centuries are clearly not the problem,” he said. “Continuous high rates of groundwater withdrawal for mining, industry, and agriculture in northern China are not helping either, and unfortunately I find it increasingly difficult to believe that climate change buffers, green belts or transfers of inter-basin water really have an impact. “

Major water transfer projects, such as the south-to-north canal and pipeline series, are primarily aimed at supplying water to densely populated cities such as Beijing or increasingly industrialized agricultural areas near those cities, and do little to restore depleted groundwater.

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In addition to sandstorms, parts of China have been hit by severe drought recently, including the eastern coastal provinces of Zhejiang and Fujian, which were mostly dry from October last year through February, with a respite in March.

Further south, China’s economic powerhouse Guangdong Province and the largely rural province of Guangxi have also suffered drought conditions since late last year, with authorities here increasingly turning to cloud seeding to induce rain.

The province where conditions are now most severe is Yunnan, in the extreme southwest of the country, where 82% of the province is experiencing drought, causing water shortages for people and livestock in the worst areas.

Liu Junyan hopes that the twice-postponed UN biodiversity conference, known as Cop15, to be held in Kunming, Yunnan, in mid-October, can highlight the interactions between climate change, water resources and biodiversity.

According to studies on temperature increases in China, Yunnan is the province with the highest climate-related warming in the last decade and has been affected by frequent droughts in recent years.

“I was recently in Yunnan to see the weather, and it is even more horrible than in previous years,” Liu said. “In general, the government still does not consider that climate change has a great impact on biodiversity.”

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