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Roll with the punches

Shi Yu/China Daily

Adaptation is as essential as mitigation for addressing the challenges of climate change

The Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China, along with 16 other relevant ministries, recently released China's National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy 2035, indicating clear priorities for the country's adaptation actions in more than a decade to come. This policy cannot have come at a better time, as China pursues its ambitious carbon emissions reduction and climate change mitigation targets of peaking carbon emissions before 2030 and realizing carbon neutrality before 2060. As stated in the strategy, mitigation and adaptation are two equally essential and complementing components to address the challenges caused by climate change.

Climate change adaptation is defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate change and its effects in order to moderate harm or take advantage of beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, adaptation is the process of adjustment to actual climate changes and their effects; human intervention may facilitate this. The Paris Agreement has defined the global goals on adaptation to enhance adaptive capacity and resilience, and to reduce vulnerability. The agreement further requires all countries to communicate their priorities, plans and actions. Shortly after the publication of the latest IPCC report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, the release of Strategy 2035 responded to the call of the agreement and again showed to the world China's leadership in tackling climate change.

Overall, Strategy 2035 is comprehensive in the topics covered, both from the thematic and geographic points of view. It clearly identifies a variety of linkages across economic sectors and livelihoods. It also provides a thorough overview of China's key climate challenges and possible avenues to enhance the adaptation and resilience of communities, cities, regions and industries. What is worth mentioning is the particular focus on using the natural ecological systems, including water, land, ocean and coastal resources and biodiversity, which corresponds to the principles of the globally popular nature-based solutions and aligns with China's overall national development priority of realizing ecological civilization.

While highlighting the main issues, a few topics may help build the adaptation case more strongly. To start with, a thorough analysis of trade-offs between the level of investments and the expected level of protection and adaptation--the so-called economics of climate change impacts--will help identify the most suitable adaptation measures. Adaptation measures for many of the sectors involved are not deterministic science, and resources need to be used efficiently to make progress.

As a next step, developing further economic tools and ways to assess options will be helpful for the implementation of adaptation policies. Linked to this point is the topic of adaptation indicators. Much research is still needed to measure levels of adaptation in different areas--from cities to regions or from industry to tourism. The trade-offs that will be necessary require further research and development of adaptation indicators applicable to various areas of the economy in China. These indicators will also help measure progress in action plans and the benefits accrued from adaptation actions.

The proposed approach in many sections of pilot and demonstration projects and initiatives is commendable. More flexible solutions to adaptation measures that could change as more information and better science is available in the next few years could help that approach. The proposed adoption of nature-based solutions is also important to lower the cost of adaptation measures as mentioned above.

Moreover, a more consistent approach to pilot projects, demonstration, and scaling up of tested solutions would help further expand and scale up the piloting effect. Given Strategy 2035's horizon of over 13 years, it is possible for all sectors to go through a three-step cycle: a robust number of initial pilots for the first phase, the second wave of a few hundred pilots across the country covering diverse climatic zones, and full coverage of the country in the last stage. Given the growing urgency of the climate challenge, this scaling-up cycle would be beneficial for the country.

Given the complexity of climate adaptation, the implementation of Strategy 2035 could also benefit from matching institutional arrangements to achieve the objectives at the national level and in geographical and national strategic regions (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Coordinated Development Region, Yangtze River Economic Belt, Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Yangtze River Delta Integration Region, Yellow River Basin Ecological Protection and High-quality Development Region).The cross-sectoral nature of climate adaptation implies the complexity of its governance and implementation.

As is the case for many other countries, China faces coordination and management challenges across different departments. Strategy 2035 proposes measures for agriculture and food security, public health, infrastructure, urban environment, and other climate-sensitive sectors. Unlike climate mitigation, with clear targets and quantitative indicators, the definition of the different departments' roles should be more straightforward. The gaps in adaptation metrics and quantitative goals underline the need for identifying the roles of the involved government offices and the most effective and efficient way for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment to facilitate the work under the responsibilities of the various ministries.

The author is China regional director of the Global Center on Adaptation. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn.