Prof. Mike McElroy Comments on China Meteorological Administration "Blue Paper"

August 12, 2021
Climate Change

Full article in Carbon Brief

China’s warming rate outpaces global average, paper says

WHAT: China is a “sensitive” and “significantly affected” area of global climate change, according to a “blue paper” from the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), a state-affiliated public institution in charge of meteorological administration and research. The paper said that China’s surface temperature had warmed at a rate of 0.26C per decade between 1951 and 2020. The rate was “obviously higher” than the global average of the same period, which measured 0.15C per decade, the paper said. It added that China has experienced “rising” extreme weather events, such as heavy precipitation and high temperature. Various media outlets, such as Xinhua and Caixin, covered the paper.

WHEN: CMA released its findings last Wednesday, five days before the IPCC published its sixth assessment report (AR6). AR6 said that it is “unequivocal” that humans have warmed the planet, causing “widespread and rapid” changes to Earth’s oceans, ice and land surface. (Read Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A to learn more about the IPCC report.) Moreover, last Thursday, Greenpeace East Asia (GEA) published related analysis. It found that in 24 out of the 28 sample cities in China, the first “hot day” of the year – measuring 30C or higher in temperature – had “arrived earlier” between 2001 and 2020, compared to the previous two decades. (More about the IPCC and GEA reports in “Other News” below.) 

WHO: The “blue paper” was released by CMA’s Climate Change Centre, also known as the National Climate Centre (NCC). Established in 1995, the organisation is in charge of developing a national-level climate operating system, according to an official pamphlet. Chao Qingchen, deputy editor of the paper, told Beijing News that climate change is bringing “higher risks” and “bigger impact” to China.

HOW: The CMA paper noted that China’s annual average precipitation showed an “increasing trend” between 1961 and 2020, with an average increase of 5.1mm every 10 years. The “increasing trend” was “especially notable” in the southern parts of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, central and northern parts of the Tibetan Plateau and northern and western parts of Xinjiang, the paper said. Over the period, “extreme heavy rainfall events” increased while “extreme low temperature events” decreased, the authors noted. They also found that there have been “significantly more” extreme heat events since the mid-1990s. 

WHY IT MATTERS: The “blue paper” showed clear evidence that human influence is causing changes in the climate system in China, according to Prof Zhou Tianjun, a lead author of a chapter of the IPCC AR6. Prof Zhou, who works at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Carbon Brief: “If we compare the key climate change indicators assessed in the ‘blue paper’ to that assessed in AR6 in a global perspective, we can see that climate change in China is a regional manifestation of global warming.” Prof Michael B McElroy from Harvard University told Carbon Brief that the “blue paper” provides an “important” account and context of the contemporary changes in China’s climate system. Prof McElroy noted that the paper highlighted the need for “immediate” investments in infrastructure that could “at least partially” mitigate future damage. “And it provides strong reasons for China to continue, if not expand, its current policies to reduce its emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases, promoting similar objectives elsewhere in the world,” he added.