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Chatham House: Climate Change and Security: Examining China's Challenges in a Warming World

Author: Joanna I. Lewis
November, 2009


This article examines how the impacts of climate change on China, and China's response, will drive security challenges domestically, as well as in the greater Asian region and around the world.

Global climate change will increasingly alter the environment. While its causes
are generated across the world, its impacts will be highly variable at the local
level. Some parts of the world may be spared dramatic environmental shifts; many
others may face major climatic changes that could create new social and economic

China's role in the climate change problem has increasingly become a topic of
international attention. Now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases measured on
an annual basis, albeit with relatively low emissions per capita (figure 1), China can
no longer ignore its contribution to this challenge. While China's leadership has
held firm against international pressures to curb its emissions, a clearer realization
of the impacts that climate change may have within the country is giving rise to
growing concern, and it may in fact be this concern that acts as the driving force
behind any future climate change mitigation strategy the country adopts.

Given that China's domestic realities inform its international policy choices,
an understanding of how climate change may affect its population and natural
resources is critical to global climate stabilization efforts. The country's size,
geography, regional politics, resource endowment and role in international trade
will each play a role in determining how climate change affects China, and how
these impacts will in turn affect the rest of the world. This article explores how
China will fare under our changing climate, and examines how the impacts of
climate change facing the country, and its response, may drive security challenges
domestically, within the greater Asian region, and around the world.

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