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China’s summer of climate destruction

  • By Stephen McDonell
  • China correspondent

6 hours ago

Image Credit: BBC/Joyce Liu

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Large parts of the Zhuozhou corn in northern China have been eradicated

This year’s summer in China was marked by extreme heat and devastating floods.

And the floods this time have hit areas where such weather has never happened before. Scientists blame climate change and warn that the worst is yet to come.

“I’ve never seen a flood here in my entire life,” says 38-year-old Zhang Junhua, who is standing next to a huge paddy field that is now completely useless. “We just didn’t expect it.”

His family and friends are safe, he says, because they have been given plenty of warning not to go to higher ground, but everyone in his village is now facing difficult months.

In addition, the devastation in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province has had a major impact on the country’s food supply.

That month, 40% of the region’s famous Wuchang rice crop was wiped out as it was visibly flattened by the volume and speed of the water. Places that should have seemed lush and green are now brown and dead.

“The fields where we grew our crops were all flooded. We can’t plant more this year,” says another farmer, Zhao Lijuan, while smiling and trying to philosophize about the impact on her community.

“The losses are incalculable. We have tens of thousands of hectares of rice fields here,” says the 56-year-old, adding: “When I saw the water coming here, I cried. It has devastated everything and I am scared.” The typhoons will come back.

The recent floods have killed at least 81 people, including some trying to save others.

But the economic woes were far greater as the country was already struggling to recover after three years of strict coronavirus containment measures.

And if the government wants to measure the immediate cost of non-urgently tackling climate change, all it has to do is use its own statistics.

In just over a decade, the number of floods recorded in the country has increased tenfold.

In the summer of 2011, China experienced six to eight monthly floods. Last year more than 130 were registered in July and 82 in August.

Image Credit: BBC/Joyce Liu

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The number of floods recorded across China is increasing

according to dr Greenpeace East Asia’s Zhao Li explains part of the explanation for the surge in flooding numbers is that China is developing better systems to monitor and record flood data.

However, she says global warming is clearly still a significant factor.

“Warmer temperatures can increase the rate of evaporation, leading to more moisture in the atmosphere,” she says. “This increased moisture content can result in more intense precipitation and more frequent and severe storms, including hurricanes and cyclones.”

A Greenpeace study two years ago, based on mapping from the UN climate panel, found that more heat waves and extreme rains would effectively add a month to summer this century in the provinces around Beijing and Shanghai. In the Pearl River Delta it would be more than 40 days.

Officials at the Chinese government’s meteorological agency have reported that extremely high temperatures and extreme precipitation have definitely increased since the mid-1990s.

In the face of potential disasters, Dr. However, Greenpeace’s Zhao Li said people are not prepared for what is imminent.

“We are not prepared for extreme weather events. The most recent experience with the floods underscores this,” says Dr. zhao

“It is a daunting and perhaps unrealistic task to modernize the entire infrastructure to withstand a flood that is the worst in hundreds of years. However, climate change is rotating these once-a-century events with a frequency that shows we will soon have another catastrophe under control.”

Officials in China tried to mitigate the effects of the recent floods by using a system of dams on waterways to change their direction.

Image Credit: BBC/Joyce Liu

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People in Zhuozhou have seen their businesses damaged by floods

The problem is that the water has to go somewhere, and it was Zhuozhou in Hebei Province that suffered the damage.

These are difficult decisions, but in the end it will be a government decision as to who must suffer for the greater good.

In Zhuozhou, a bright future is still a long way off for many.

“It will take me eight to 10 years to recover from these losses,” says Mr. Zhang, who has two small businesses there. “The government has not said if they will compensate us. I run two businesses, but what can I do?”

A few weeks ago, cars were still slowly pushing their way through persistent flood water and mud on the main street. Mud-caked vehicles were parked on either side of the road, their windshields smashed when they went under when the water suddenly rose with such force.

A brown line marked the high water mark, where all sorts of objects from the first floor were swallowed and spat onto the street as the tide spread its carnage.

“We have suffered great casualties: trucks and other vehicles; our goods; Furniture; everything we own was destroyed,” says Ms. Han, who runs a warehouse for supplies with her husband.

He points out that even the goods that were stored well over ten feet high on shelves were ruined.

Then his wife opens the door to their nearby house – a thick layer of mud covers everything.

“Every day we try to clear away more mud,” she says. “I can’t describe how I felt when I saw that. It’s as if our life’s work has ended.”

Image Credit: BBC/Joyce Liu

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The clean-up work in Zhuozhou continues

Climate scientists are the first to recognize that extreme weather events cannot be viewed in isolation.

In June, northern China burned, temperatures rose above 40 °C (104 °F) week after week, and then it rained like a month within 24 hours.

“These weather events happen without climate change,” says Prof. Cascade Tuholske. “The mechanisms driving single events or compound events such as heat waves and floods in China this summer are complex, but climate change is making extreme events more frequent and intense.”

The professor, a geographer at Montana State University, adds that “weather extremes caused by climate change are a major concern for China because of its dense population and as a large global economy.”

He also says that “every tonne of CO2 left in the ground means fewer people in China will be harmed in the future.”

Whether through droughts or sudden floods, extreme weather events are drawing renewed attention to the impact of climate change on China, and it seriously questions whether current climate change mitigation policies are ambitious enough to contain the destructive force that climate change could potentially cause catastrophic events.

However, this is a global challenge that cannot be solved by one country alone.

Source: www.bbc.com

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Amanda Walker

Global events enthusiast. Reporting with a critical lens to offer readers a deeper perspective.

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