In May 2022, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) released its National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035 together with 16 other central government ministries, bureaus and departments. 1The Strategy updates and strengthens policies laid out in China’s first National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation, released in 2013.2
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Sixth Assessment Report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability released in March 2022, found that “there are feasible and effective adaptation options which can reduce risks to people and nature” from climate change. The IPCC identified adaptation strategies with respect to flooding, forests, food systems, energy systems, human health, disaster risk management and other topics.3
The need for adaptation strategies and expenditures in China in the years ahead will be especially high. The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability found, for example, that:
- Without adaptation expenditures, China will suffer the world’s biggest economic losses as a result of rising sea levels and the resulting floods.4
- Without adaptation expenditures, annual heat-related deaths in 27 major Chinese cities are likely to nearly double, from 32 per million people annually in 1986–2005 to 49–67 per million if global average temperatures rise 1.5°C (2.7°F) from pre-industrial levels. This number is projected to increase to 59–81 deaths per million for 2°C (3.6°F) of warming.5
These findings are consistent with findings in official Chinese government reports, including the China Blue Book on Climate Change published each year by the Chinese Meteorological Administration. The 2022 edition of the Blue Book states that:
- Average annual temperature increases since 1951 have been higher than the global average, rising 0.26°C (0.47°F) per decade.
- Extreme heat waves and storms are becoming more frequent in China.
- In 2021, glacier retreat in China was almost at record levels, with the west end of the Urumqi Heyuan 1 glacier retreating 8.5 meters in one year.6
One leading study found that every RMB invested in climate adaptation in China could generate RMB 2–RMB 20 in returns over 30 years.7
First National Strategy for Climate Adaptation
The 2013 National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation focused on strengthening monitoring and early warning capabilities, improving public awareness, protection of water resources and prevention of soil erosion, among other topics. It included sectoral adaptation tasks for agriculture and food security and measures to integrate national and regional adaptation strategies. The Strategy highlighted the need for greater financial support for science and technologies related to climate adaptation and called for more international cooperation on this topic.8
Since the release of the National Strategy for Climate Change Adaptation in 2013, the Chinese government has adopted plans that improve climate resilience in a number of sectors including food systems, water resources, forestry, meteorological disaster information systems, urban areas and public health. Some of these plans are described as climate change adaptation plans in official documents, others are not.
- In the agriculture sector, policies have focused on water conservation, water use, reduction in soil erosion and capacity-building for fertilizer conservation.
- In forestry, there have been improvements in pest control, afforestation areas completed and new desertification control areas.
- In marine conservation, several government departments teamed up to address problems such as the destruction of coral reefs, illegal mining of sea sand, illegal dumping of waste and the human occupation of wetlands.
- In water resources, the central government has issued policy documents to strengthen unified management and protection programs. The Yangtze River Protection Law of 2020 strengthened policy and regulatory frameworks for green development and ecosystem restoration in the Yangtze River basin.9
- In urban infrastructure, there have been considerable investments in the resilience of water supply, drainage pipelines and power systems.10
In January 2021, Vice Premier Han Zheng spoke at the Climate Adaptation Summit. He called on all nations to formulate and implement climate adaptation plans.11
National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035
The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035, released in May 2022, is a major update of the previous version. The number of ministries participating almost doubled—from 9 to 17. The updated Strategy emphasizes “proactive adaptation”—actively preparing climate impacts, rather than passively responding to them.12
The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035 highlights that climate change has made China more vulnerable to extreme weather events and that extreme weather poses increasing danger to public health. It calls for strengthening monitoring and assessment of climate risks.
Food security is central to the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035. The Strategy says that, as vegetation belts move north, China needs to take action to optimize its farming and switch to higher-yield and more stress-resistant crops. This builds on regional efforts underway to assess the best adaptation measures by region and crop.13
The Strategy 2035 also notes the importance of climate impacts on supply chains, the financial sector and energy supply. It argues that the risk management capabilities of the industrial, financial and energy sectors have become a key aspect of China’s climate change readiness. The participation of more ministries and administration reflects this as well, with chapters of the Strategy dedicated to more sectors and the health impacts. By doing so, the Strategy 2035 emphasizes that climate change is a significant non-traditional security threat to China, a statement that was not made in the 2013 version.
The Strategy envisages that by 2025, China will improve its institutional mechanisms for monitoring and early warning systems to deal with extreme weather events and have made considerable progress in prevention capabilities. By 2025, China will also have established climate-adaptive pilot cities using adaptation technologies.14
In addition, the Strategy states that China will (i) strengthen monitoring at rivers and lakes to boost flood control and improve water supply security, and (ii) reform water prices and impose binding consumption targets in key regions. The Strategy includes a target to cut water intensity—the amount used per unit of economic growth—by 16% over 2021–2025.
The Strategy states that by 2035 (i) China will have established a nationwide climate impact and risk assessment system, with improved early warning capabilities, and (ii) all major projects will include climate in environmental impact assessments.