China is walking a tight rope, balancing environment and economy. The country could suffer more than any other from climate change, with almost 1.5 billion people risking drier conditions in the north and increased tropical storms in the south. Almost 9 percent of its land is desert and this area is fast growing. Entire villages in the north have been lost, submerged in sand, covered by the encroaching desert. Severe sandstorms are becoming more frequent: 5 per year in the 1960's to 24 per year in the 1990’s. The Chinese government have tried to fight the spread of the deserts with ambitious ecological restoration programs like the planting of more than 40 billion trees over an area the size of Germany. But with continuing investments in dirty energy sources that help fuel their rapidly growing economy, these attempts to curb climate change seem sadly futile. 70 percent of China’s energy still comes from cheap coal. Yet strangely enough, China is one of the countries that is now leading the way when it comes to investment in renewable energies.
China is the world’s biggest energy consumer. In 2009 it crept past the US consuming the equivalent of 2.26 billion tonnes of oil. Urbanisation and industry was growing rapidly, yet at the same time, the country suffered devastating drought, severe flooding, increased sandstorms and air pollution. In Yunnan Provence, the government went to war for water. It launched iodine rockets in an attempt to bring rain to one of its worst droughts in living memory. But firing 10 000 rockets did not prevent 21 million people being forced to seek emergency supplies: six months without rainfall had destroyed five million hectares of crops and dried out over 300 reservoirs. If that wasn’t enough, China then suffered some of the worst flooding in its history with 700 people killed in the highest flood related death toll in more than a decade. The highest water levels China had ever seen cost them billions of pounds in damages.
In August 2010 China overtook the world in wind power generating capacity. Surging past Germany and the United States but not without criticism. The Dabancheng Power Station is the largest wind farm in Asia with a potential annual generating capacity of 18 gigawats. Situated in one of the regions that suffers most from desertification , the wind power rich Xinjiang province. Fears have arisen that the rapid growth hasn’t been handled correctly and that China are shielding domestic industries from foreign competition. China’s expansion of new energy is likely to lead the world by the end of the decade, however, continuing the lead in coal consumption.
Regardless of this energy lead, China is increasingly affected by a changing climate. Recent World Bank estimates show that China has only a quarter of the global average of water per capita, meaning China's ability to deal with limited water resources will undoubtedly affect the economic success of its future.
Considered one of the eight most life threatening places on the planet, Minqin in north-west China is sandwiched between the two expanding deserts Tengri and Badain Jaran. Many people here have b...