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China in Jeopardy from Drought Image courtesy of Richard Mortel on Flickr

China in Jeopardy from Drought

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China has been making headlines in recent months regarding its well-documented trade war with the U.S. Each state slapped tariffs worth hundreds of billions on each other’s imported goods. The trade war continues to attract the attention of the international arena, but behind the scenes China has been experiencing another serious economic threat, drought. Drought has already inflicted a major blow to their economy and will continue to do so. China’s drought should act as a warning to the international community on the importance of combatting climate change.

Warming temperatures from carbon emissions are largely to blame for China’s increasingly extreme droughts. About 20% of China’s land is desert, but unusually dry conditions have cost China $7 billion annually since 1987. President Xi Jinping has often spoken about the need for climate change reform primarily driven by health concerns regarding pollution. China’s extreme smog has ravaged the health of its citizens. One study published in 2015 reported poor air quality in China contributed to 1.6 million deaths annually. Today, China is the world’s leading carbon emitter, but also the world’s leading renewable energy investor. One fifth of China’s population is anticipated to depend on renewable resources for their energy needs by 2030. China’s ambitious goals to lessen their dependency on fossil fuels almost parallels the suggested action in the UN’s special report on climate change published last week.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a climate change assessment warning the world about the impacts of rising temperatures if the planet does not reach carbon zero by 2050. The report implores the international community to stop temperatures from passing 1.5°Celsius instead of 2°Celsius as per the Paris Climate Agreement. However, even if the world reduces emissions to keep temperatures from passing 1.5°Celsius, China’s economy could lose up to $47 billion due to increasing drought. Wheat, one of the country’s largest industries, is anticipated to be one of the hardest hit commodities. Wheat production has already decreased, and it may drop an additional 20% next year. China’s collapsing wheat industry would devastate the global market because they are the world’s principal producer.

In addition to drought, desertification is devastating the country’s northeastern borders. The Gobi desert, located in the northeast, is expanding at an alarming rate of 2,250 miles annually. The Gobi’s rapid rate of expansion makes it the world’s fastest growing desert. Fortunately, the Chinese government has implemented some mitigation strategies. Since the launch of the Three-North Shelter Forest Program in 1978, billions of trees along the desert’s border were planted in hopes of slowing expansion, but the program has not been as successful as expected.

The loss of arable land compounded by drought has placed millions at extreme risk for food and water insecurity. China lost about 6.2% of agricultural land between 1997-2008. As this occurred, their population grew by 100 million, which further strained food security. Desertification has pushed the Chinese government to relocate hundreds of thousands of villagers and residents, known as ecological migrants, to areas the government deems suitable to live. Without carbon reduction, drought and desertification will continue to displace citizens and potentially lead to civil unrest.

Declining agricultural production impacts the economic security and human security of China. China will continue to lose billions in their agricultural industry. Intensifying drought could cause prices to soar worldwide. While China has made notable steps to mitigate their carbon footprint, China cannot combat climate change on their own. Nations around the world must take the IPCC’s climate assessment seriously and begin implementing carbon reduction policies. All nations on Earth share the same planet and climate change doesn’t adhere to state boundaries. Without serious climate reform, China’s drought will worsen, desertification will continue to consume arable land, and more residents will be displaced.