China needs to adapt to climate change: top meteorologist

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China's top meteorologist has warned climate change could cause "incalculable" damage to the country and that efforts should focus on adapting to global warming rather than slowing it.

The comments by the head of the China Meteorological Administration appeared to mark a departure from the government stance that has so far stressed both as equally important.

"Global warming is a fact. For a huge developing country like China it's more practical and urgent to adapt to climate change than to seek to slow down the process," said Zheng Guoguang.

Zheng was writing in the latest edition of Seeking Truth, a Communist Party magazine, released this week just days before a global conference on climate change in Copenhagen where China is expected to play a crucial role.

China has made both slowing the pace of climate change and adapting to the new environmental challenges official priorities.

Yang Ailun, Greenpeace China's climate and energy campaigner, criticised Zheng's comments as "not a very responsible signal" to be sending the world ahead of next week's summit.

"It is crucial for China to adapt (to climate change) because China will be badly affected. However China is the biggest carbon dioxide emitter and has an increasingly important role in tackling emissions," Yang said.

Yang added that Zheng's comments were "not in line with the government's position" and may merely reflect a personal view.

It is rare for officials to express views at variance with China's official line.

China faces potentially disastrous consequences from climate change, wrote Zheng, who is also a member of a group tasked with developing China's climate change policies.

He estimated grain production could slump 37 percent in the second half of this century without "adequate adaptive measures", threatening the country's food security.

"If extreme climatic disasters occur twice or more within five years, for example, a major drought over two or three years, then the impact on our country's economic and social development would be incalculable," Zheng said. Zheng said annual grain output could fluctuate by 30 to 50 percent from long-term averages as climate change leads to more severe drought and floods.

Extreme weather conditions currently cause production to fluctuate by between 10 and 20 percent, he said.

China should prioritise "reducing the impact of global warming on the country's food security and strengthening the capacity of agriculture to withstand climatic risks," Zheng said.

Zheng urged Beijing to increase the nation's grain reserves, boost productivity and better protect arable land and water supplies.

His comments came after China last week unveiled a plan to slow growth in its world-leading carbon emissions.

Despite saying it is a major victim of climate change, China is resisting calls by rich nations such as the United States to agree to emissions cuts.

Beijing says the developed world is largely to blame for climate change and should bear the burden of reducing emissions.