Review Article | Published:

The impacts of climate change on water resources and agriculture in China

Nature volume 467, pages 4351 (02 September 2010) | Download Citation

Abstract

China is the world’s most populous country and a major emitter of greenhouse gases. Consequently, much research has focused on China’s influence on climate change but somewhat less has been written about the impact of climate change on China. China experienced explosive economic growth in recent decades, but with only 7% of the world’s arable land available to feed 22% of the world’s population, China's economy may be vulnerable to climate change itself. We find, however, that notwithstanding the clear warming that has occurred in China in recent decades, current understanding does not allow a clear assessment of the impact of anthropogenic climate change on China’s water resources and agriculture and therefore China’s ability to feed its people. To reach a more definitive conclusion, future work must improve regional climate simulations—especially of precipitation—and develop a better understanding of the managed and unmanaged responses of crops to changes in climate, diseases, pests and atmospheric constituents.

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Acknowledgements

We thank X. L. Yang and G. N. Liu for detailed and constructive comments. We thank J. H. Gash, M. Minnock and C. Koven for English language editing. We also thank Y. Li and Y. Kuang for providing photos of glacier retreat between 1985 and 2005 at Mt Anyemaqen, Qinghai. This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30970511, 90711002, 30721140306 and 40638039), the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZCX2–YW–305), the National Basic Research Program of China (2004CB720207) and the Foundation for the Author of National Excellent Doctoral Dissertation of PR China (FANEDD-200737).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Ecology, Department of Geography, College of Urban and Environmental Science, Key Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes of the Ministry of Education, and Center of Climate Research, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Shilong Piao
    • , Zehao Shen
    • , Shushi Peng
    • , Liping Zhou
    • , Hongyan Liu
    • , Yuecun Ma
    • , Kun Tan
    •  & Jingyun Fang
  2. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, UMR CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Batiment 709, CE L'Orme des Merisiers, Gif-sur-Yvette, F-91191, France

    • Philippe Ciais
    •  & Pierre Friedlingstein
  3. State Key Laboratory of Atmospheric Boundary Layer Physics and Atmospheric Chemistry, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100029, China

    • Yao Huang
    • , Yongqiang Yu
    •  & Tianyi Zhang
  4. Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, Beijing 100012, China

    • Junsheng Li
  5. Laboratory of Climate Studies, National Climate Center, China Meteorological Administration, No. 46 Zhongguancun Na Da Jie, Beijing 100081, China

    • Yihui Ding
  6. QUEST, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1RJ, UK

    • Pierre Friedlingstein
  7. China Water Information Center (Hydrological Bureau), Lane 2 Baiguang Road, Beijing 100053, China

    • Chunzhen Liu

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Contributions

Author contributions S. Piao, P.C., Y.H., Z.S., L.Z., H.L., C.L. and J.F. designed the research. S. Peng, S. Piao and K.T. performed climate change analysis. Y.H. provided agriculture data and performed related analysis. All authors contributed to the writing.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shilong Piao.

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