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China Spends Big to Counter Severe Weather Caused by Climate Change

Country invests heavily in warning systems and infrastructure to tackle effects of extreme temperatures, typhoons, fog and storms.

by Jonathan Watts

China is ramping up preparations for typhoons, dust storms and other extreme weather disasters as part of a 10-year plan to predict and prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Improved warning systems, new emergency drills and bolstered infrastructure will form the backbone of the new regulations, which are the country's most advanced measures yet to deal with natural disaster.

China has a long history of devastating floods and droughts, but officials said the problems were intensifying.

"It is necessary to respond to the new situation under climate change to avoid and mitigate the losses caused by meteorological disasters," said Gao Fengtao, deputy director of the state council's legislative affairs office, as he unveiled the new policy.

In recent years, he said, disasters were characterized by "sudden occurrence, wider variety, greater intensity and higher frequency in the context of global warming".

Officials warned this posed a threat to human life and a huge challenge to China's sustainable development.

Zheng Guoguang, head of China's meteorological administration, said natural disasters caused economic losses each year of up to 300bn yuan (£29bn), equivalent to about 2% of the country's gross domestic product.

He cited the unusually severe snow storms that engulfed southern China in 2008 and the worst drought in a century that is now afflicting Yunnan, Guangxi and Sichuan provinces.

The new regulations for the prevention of and preparedness for meteorological disasters will establish a legal framework for disaster response, risk assessment, evacuation measures and public education.

They will cover terrestrial phenomena – such as extreme temperatures, dust and sand storms, lightning strikes, fog, typhoons – and "space weather", such as solar storms.

Officials said the move was part of a 10-year national plan that clarified the government's response to climate change and stipulated what measures regional and local governments should take in terms of infrastructure investment, reporting mechanisms and disaster drills.

But it was unclear how much the central government would spend on the program and the proportion of the costs it would bear. Local authorities in poor areas often neglect Beijing directives that they cannot afford to implement.

Despite its developing nation status, China has an advanced meteorological monitoring system, using weather satellites and a global network of 158 radar stations.

Zheng said the government has invested 10bn yuan in the system in recent years, with the budget rising 15% annually.

"The large sums that China invests in its meteorological infrastructure are rarely seen in the world," he said.


Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared in The Guardian. Jonathan Watts is an Asia environment correspondent.

Image Caption: Two women wearing face masks walk along a street in Beijing this month. China warned residents across much of the country's north, including the capital, to avoid going outside as a sandstorm blanketed the area in fine yellow dust. Photograph: Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images

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