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In Lishui, China’s “home of longevity”: working towards resilience and adaptation to climate change

Barjor Mehta's picture
Also available in: 中文
Photo:Xiao Wu

Over the past three decades, China’s unprecedented pace of urbanization has allowed more than 260 million migrants to move from agriculture to more productive activities. This has helped 500 million people escape poverty and for China to grow at an average 10 percent a year for three consecutive decades. At the same time, between 2000 and 2014, weather-related disasters caused more than RMB 4.645 trillion ($749 billion) in damages.

There is strong evidence that climate change is altering the profile of hazards. The observed frequency and severity of extremely heavy rain storms since the 1950s in China have significantly increased and future climate scenarios suggest that interannual variability in rainfall may increase further, aggravating the risk of flooding and as well as severe lack of water.

Over the past two decades, the city of Lishui in Zhejiang Province of China suffered from devastating floods, landslides, as well as heat waves. Today, the over 2 million people of Lishui have a lot to be proud of. Their city is recognized as China’s “top ecological, picturesque paradise for healthy life and home of longevity”. This is the result of close attention from city and provincial officials in understanding the root causes of the problems caused by the changing climate. This has been followed by inclusive planning, design and implementation of technically sound projects that are in harmony with the rivers flowing through the city in concert with the surrounding hilly terrain’s natural and city-wide storm water drainage systems.

These made Lishui the ideal location for the National Workshop on Pioneering Climate-Resilient Cities on March 30 and 31, 2017 co-hosted by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MoHURD) and the World Bank Group.

Fourteen cities represented during the workshop have had similar experiences due to the changing climate. Many have experienced flooding from high intensity rain and typhoons, others have had to deal with severe heat waves and water scarcity conditions. All the cities are still growing rapidly. Thus the adoption of climate risk-informed plans ensure sustainability of the large infrastructure investments required by the cities.  

Cities have come to realize that adapting to climate-related hazards requires senior city level leadership seeking, coordinating and managing active participation from a wide array of public, private and community level organizations. These may include, among others, individual households and communities most likely to be affected by adverse events, working closely with the local and provincial government bureaus for urban planning, construction, disaster management, media, water resources, drainage, electricity, roads, public transport, solid waste, health, education, housing, police and weather forecasting services.

To this end, China created the Climate Adaptation Pilot City Program where 28 cities (combined population of around 110 million) will receive technical advice from national technical experts and will be invited to workshops like the one in Lishui to exchange practical knowledge, learn from international experiences and identify nationally available expertise in universities and research institutes. Each city will design its own adaptation plan and line up financing for projects and initiatives. NDRC and MoHURD will remain involved in providing advice and conduct regular monitoring and evaluation of the pilot activities.

Over time, experiences and lessons learned from the pilot program will inform NDRC and MoHURD in developing policy actions and physical targets that will then be mainstreamed across the entire urban local government system of the country.

The workshop allowed World Bank experts to share global lessons learned and emerging approaches from cities around the world that are relevant to China in working to enhance resilience and ensuring adaptation to climate change. The Bank also presented innovative financing methods and management arrangements that could crowd in private sector and create new revenue streams to finance climate risk reduction investments, as well as diagnostic tools such as the City Strength, a process and methodology developed and utilized by the World Bank in several countries.

The World Bank works with China to adapt global knowledge to specific and complex local problems that often have significant global public goods benefits as well as knowledge spillover effects both within China as well as globally.  The Lishui workshop is a good example of this process—helping the pilot cities in assessing their vulnerability to climate change, formulate and implement action plans to adapt to climate change, including through enhancing resilience to hydro-meteorological disasters, and strengthen capacities to address emerging challenges of increasingly frequent and severe catastrophic events brought by changing climatic conditions; and also enabling the World Bank to learn how China is going about methodically designing and rolling out a national program on climate resilience and adaptation.

The workshop was made possible and benefitted from the efforts of Huang Dafei, Zheng Jia, Wu Xiao and Shen Lidan.