Adaptation to climate change is crucial for China due to its huge population and various and vulnerable ecosystems.
Water resources, forests and coastal zones will be the most likely affected sectors (IPCC 2001). Agriculture will, however, continue to be the most important sector to adapt to climate change: nearly 70 per cent of China’s population depends directly on agriculture. Like other developing countries, China will need to develop adaptation strategies imposed by climate change against the background of existing poverty, resource and infrastructure constraints.
Northeast China was selected for this case study because it illustrates how anticipatory adaptation can lead to positive impacts from climate change in agriculture. This region is already one of the most important bases of commercial food grains (wheat, rice and maize) and economic crops (soybean, sugar beets) in China and possesses many state-owned agricultural ranchers that run field production like factories and realise adaptation measures quickly. Recent climate warming has on the one hand created favourable conditions for agricultural development in Northeast China through a prolonged growth period, northward movement of accumulated temperature belts and decreases of cold stress. On the other hand, environment and natural resource problems (e.g. water shortage, urbanisation) have placed enormous regional stress on agricultural production and ecosystems, illustrating the complex nature of the impacts of climate change. This case study analyses the adaptation efforts of key actors active in agriculture production in Northeast China: farmers, non-government communities, country cooperation credit organisations, agricultural technology dissemination groups and the central and local governments. An examination of their adaptation actions demonstrates that the positive opportunities provided by climate change will not happen automatically but will require communities to be supported through resources such as extension services, new crop varieties and institutional frameworks that allow experimentation and reward entrepreneurship. Over the longer term and at higher temperatures, the negative impacts of climate change, such as increased water stress and extreme events, may decrease or reverse the benefits of climate change (IPCC 2001).
Section 2 of this study introduces the climate change status and the political–economic facts of Northeast China. Section 3 looks at agricultural production in the case study area in more detail and the role of different players in adaptation strategies and outcomes. Section 4 sets out the lessons learnt. Northeast China is demonstrated to be eager to adapt to climate change and benefits from the warming temperature, although different players have different requirements as far as adaptation support is concerned. A key factor in successful adaptation is the enthusiasm of farmers, activities of non-government communities to react to adverse conditions, support of agricultural technology dissemination groups and agricultural policies and directions implemented by central and local governments. The concluding section provides valuable experiences that can be shared by stakeholders in other regions with similar circumstances.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.4 (2005) Benefiting from Global Warming: Agricultural Production in Northeast China