Atlantic Cities

Can China Support Its New Urban Majority?

Can China Support Its New Urban Majority?
Reuters

By the end of 2011, the population in China was about 1.35 billion. Roughly 51.27 percent of that, 690 million people, are considered urban, according to a recent announcement from China’s National Bureau of Statistics. It’s an interesting landmark, but also slightly troubling in light of another official report that warns of "grim" threats from climate change.

These risks are largely tied to changes in land use and consumption, according to this article from Reuters.

"China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming and changes to China's regional environment," says the 710-page report, officially published late last year but released for public sale only recently.

Even so, China's rising emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels, will begin to fall off only after about 2030, with big falls only after mid-century, says the report.

The rising amount of greenhouse gas in China is anticipated to have a deep impact on the country’s ability to provide enough food for its population, which has increased by about 33 million people since 2006. Along with climate change affecting the productivity of the land, the country could see widespread water shortages. Under one scenario in the report, eight of the 31 provinces and provincial-status cities could see severe droughts by mid-century.

These changes are greatly exacerbated by China’s increasing carbon dioxide emissions. China recently became the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and is expected to continue that dominance. The report calls for emission reductions that would have China emitting about 9.5 billion tons of CO2 in 2020. This would be a relatively small increase from the 8.15 billion tons emitted in 2010. By comparison, 33.51 billion tons of CO2 were emitted globally in 2010.

Urbanization is also putting more cars on the road - 18.5 million cars were sold in China last year, a slight increase from the 18 million the year before.

Though it’s been argued that cities are actually the greener, more environmentally friendly way to live, the rapid de-ruralization and urbanization in China are in such overdrive that it’s hard to imagine how the country will chart a greener, more sustainable course.

Photo credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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