Published: 09:52, September 28, 2022 | Updated: 18:03, September 28, 2022
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NGOs rally to address climate change
By Hou liqiang

Key role played in helping public adapt to issue at grassroots level

A community meeting to discuss environmental protection is held in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

As children, Tsenkyap Sangmo's grandparents played hide-and-seek in a lush meadow with grass that came up to an adult's waist.

But now, the 22-year-old woman from the Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Qinghai province, looks out on a starkly different scene, as the meadow has significantly less and much shorter grass, and is dotted with increasing areas of black, bare earth.

During the summer, Tsenkyap Sangmo, a college student who feels that conditions in the valley are partly due to climate change, took part in a program run by the NGO Shan Shui Conservation Center to tackle grassland degradation.

"I think that adapting to climate change is very necessary," she said.

This necessity has been underscored by drought in Yushu, which is situated on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the world's highest, which is also known as "the roof of the world".

As of 8 pm on Aug 9, six meteorological stations in the area reported record-breaking daily maximum temperatures this summer. The highest reading was 33.1 C, some 2.5 C above the previous record high in 2016.

The drought turned grass yellow, further aggravating a lack of food for livestock during the winter in an area where people traditionally rely on husbandry for a living, Tsenkyap Sangmo said.

However, Yushu is just one example of the looming adverse impacts from climate change — a reminder to people worldwide to take action to adapt to a worsening situation.

In the Horn of Africa, extreme droughts have resulted in a food crisis, while heat waves across Europe and recent devastating floods in Asia are just some of the latest examples of how climate change can wreak havoc.

People are well aware of the regions that have already borne the brunt of climate change, but they have no idea about which areas will be next. Scientific research, however, has explicitly concluded that if adequate measures for climate adaptation are introduced, losses from such havoc can be greatly reduced.

Against this backdrop, Chinese NGOs are playing a role in helping the public adapt to climate change at grassroots level.

Volunteers attend a training course on climate change in Shenzhen, Guangdong. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Amplifier of change

According to a recent report from the World Resources Institute, every $1 invested in climate adaptation generates a return of $2 to $10 in five respects — strengthening early warning systems, making new infrastructure climate resilient, improving dryland agriculture for crop production, protecting mangroves, and making water resources more resilient.

In February, the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, the UN body that assesses the science related to climate change, also highlighted climate adaptation measures.

These measures can improve agricultural productivity, innovation, health and wellbeing, food security, livelihoods, and biodiversity conservation, as well as reducing risks and damage.

Founded in 2007, the Shan Shui Conservation Center, which is based in Beijing, is dedicated to species and ecosystem conservation. When it started its work in Yushu more than a decade ago, it mainly focused on conservation of the snow leopard on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, said Hu Xuan, who works for the NGO.

Hu worked for the center's grassland program from 2017 to last year, but she is now a part-time employee, as she is conducting research for her doctoral degree in Yushu.

She said that in 2017, the center began its program in Yushu themed on climate change after its employees found that grassland degradation was causing local herders great concern.

"As an alpine region, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has experienced a significant impact from climate change, which has greatly affected and threatened local residents' lives," Hu said.

With warming on the plateau taking place at twice the pace observed globally, the area is often referred to as an "amplifier of climate change" in scientific research.

Meanwhile, the average temperature in the Sanjiangyuan area, where the Yangtze, Yellow and Lancang rivers originate, has risen by 0.34 C every decade from 1961 to 2018, far above the average level globally, according to the China Meteorological Administration. Yushu is home to the Sanjiangyuan National Park.

Hu said that in addition to carrying out a far-reaching survey on the adverse impact that local residents have experienced from climate change, the Shan Shui Conservation Center provides training programs on sustainably managing the grassland.

Children leave a school in Kenya, which has been hit by its worst drought in 40 years. (DONG JIANGHUI / XINHUA)

At one evening training session, for example, the NGO invited Drakyom Palzang, a noted herder from the Ruoergai Grassland on the edge of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in Sichuan province, to discuss the successful restoration of some 667 hectares of grassland that experienced desertification.

Stretching for 2.58 million square kilometers, the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau covers not only Tibet autonomous region and Qinghai province, but also parts of four other provincial regions, including Sichuan.

Hu said, "The classroom for that evening session was packed, with many herders sitting on the floor." She added that the herders planted some 80 hectares of grass on the degraded grassland this year.

"Recently, we started researching whether herders had any traditional approaches or experiences to cope with grassland degradation, but failed to find any," Hu said.

To relieve the grassland from herding, the NGO has helped residents find alternative ways to make a living, she added.

Through a small handicraft workshop it organizes for women, the center plans to register a cooperative to help local residents sell handiwork with local characteristics.

To assist herders tackle the lack of food for their livestock in winter, the center aims to introduce an initiative to subsidize local communities to buy foraging grass, Hu said.

Shi Xiangying, the center's executive director, said that since it started conducting the survey on the impact of climate change in sparsely populated Yushu in 2017, it has collected more than 300 questionnaires.

Despite two recent extreme weather events — drought this year and a heavy snowstorm in 2019 — the survey found that many herders lack awareness of climate change.

In addition to rising temperatures, the area has experienced significant fluctuations in precipitation, with more rapid downpours, Shi said. Such rainfall can have a negative impact on the grassland, and can cause water and soil erosion.

More shrubs are now growing in Yushu — perhaps due to restrictions imposed by the local authorities on felling trees, in order to enhance ecological conservation, Shi added.

"Another possible reason is that rising temperatures have resulted in expansion of areas where shrubs can grow," she said.

Herders have also noticed that snow has disappeared from some mountain peaks that used to be snow-capped, Shi said.

She added that the NGO is considering setting up communities with resilience to climate change, in an effort to help the government promote this issue on a larger scale.

Shi called for the authorities to pay more attention to climate adaption.

"Places that are comparatively vulnerable to climate change are either located in rural areas or in western parts of the country which are not that developed and have low income levels. Residents in these areas suffer more from the adverse impacts of climate change," Shi added.

A road is flooded by heavy monsoon rains in Nasirabad, a district of Baluchistan province, Pakistan, on Aug 2. (ZAHID HUSSAIN / AP)

Quicker action

Accelerated action to adapt to climate change is not only needed on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, but also around the world, according to the latest report from the IPCC, the UN body.

Despite the progress made, there are gaps between the current levels of adaptation and those needed to respond to such an impact and reduce climate risks, the report said.

In China, although some top-level designs have been put forward for climate adaptation, the nation still lacks measures at grassroots level, according to a foundation in the highly developed Pearl River Delta.

Research by the Harmony Community Foundation found that most climate mitigation and adaptation policies in the delta are introduced at national and provincial level, said He Xin, director of the environment program at the organization, which is based in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province.

"This results in a problem of communities knowing little about adapting to climate change," she said.

In view of this situation, the foundation launched an initiative in 2018 to subsidize NGOs conducting climate adaptation programs in communities. However, after failing to find qualified NGOs, it decided to launch the initiative itself last year.

The initiative is designed for the foundation to foster "climate pioneers" through a campaign aimed at growing plants, which integrates climate education. These pioneers will be tasked with finding problems caused by climate change in their communities, and will be subsidized to introduce adaptation measures.

"The pioneers we are looking for are those with an awareness of climate change and the ability to explain this issue," He said, adding that they should also have the ability to organize public participation.

However, He said the foundation has failed to make the progress that was expected.

"The term 'climate change' is still strange to many residents, even though they have experienced specific changes in local climatic conditions," she said. Despite the recruitment of qualified climate pioneers, motivating participation from more such enthusiasts remains a challenge, He said.

But she stressed that the foundation is determined to forge ahead with the initiative, adding that it has adjusted its strategy in the hope of making breakthroughs.

This year, in implementing the initiative, the foundation targeted communities and urban villages that have experienced flooding due to typhoons, He said, adding, "We want to focus our attention on vulnerable communities and groups."

Huang Yingxin, another employee at the foundation working on implementing the initiative, said some people joined the campaign to grow plants simply because they wanted to improve the atmosphere in their communities. Few people, however, are interested in climate change.

Despite this, Huang Qiwen, one of the climate pioneers, is confident that the work she has done with the foundation will yield positive results.

She cited a large stump left after a tree was blown down in a recent typhoon, and a tall concrete threshold at the gate to an old building in her community as examples of the looming hazards of climate change.

Huang Qiwen said the building dates to before the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, but the concrete threshold built in recent years to prevent rainwater penetrating the structure fails to match the elegance of the architecture.

In the short term, efforts made by the foundation may not influence many people, or help change their mindsets, but as long as there are participants, changes will be made some day, Huang Qiwen said.

"There might be no change this year, but we have planted a seed in people's minds. For sure, this seed will sprout in the future," she added.