Controlling Yangtze River Floods: A New Approach
Full Case Study (PDF, 129 Kb)
After nearly a millennium of efforts to control floods in the Yangtze River basin with dikes, polders and other hard engineering measures, the Chinese government adopted a radically different approach after the disastrous 1998 floods. A soft path approach was used that saw several thousand square kilometers of floodplains restored to safely hold and slowly release peak floodwaters.
Restoring the floodplains was a ‘no regrets’ adaptation that is robust in managing climatic variability and change, and has extensive environmental and socio-economic co-benefits. In this case larger floods can be more safely managed. The environment has benefitted through improved water quality, recovery of flora and fauna, conservation of threatened species and designation of nature reserves. While 2.4 million people were relocated from the most flood-prone lands to adjacent, higher ground, in general their livelihoods and resilience have improved.
The policy is a proactive strategy that utilizes China’s scientific capacity and cross-sectoral planning mechanisms, and is implemented with substantial government investment. A particular strength of the Chinese approach is the iterative development and implementation of targeted policies that favors adaptive management.
Barriers remain, however, including: the challenge of coordinating between overlapping institutions; ongoing advocacy by public officials for hard, engineering solutions; and the lack of ability to hold local officials accountable for implementing national policies.
The inclusion of floodplain restoration measures in the 2007 National Climate Change Programme illustrates how China is taking forward sound adaptive management and incremental implementation of ‘no regrets’ climate change adaptation measures.
About the Authors:
Dr. Jamie Pittock has a background in zoology and geography from Monash University, Australia, and from 1989 he worked for various non-government environmental organisations. Jamie was Director of WWF’s Global Freshwater Programme from 2001 to 2007 promoting sustainable river basin management and representing WWF in international institutions. He then undertook doctoral research on freshwater ecosystems and climate change at the Australian National University.
In 2010 Jamie was appointed as Program Leader, Australia and United States Climate, Energy and Water for the United States Studies Centre, and also as Director of International Programs for the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance at the Crawford School of Economics and Government at the Australian National University. His research considers how our societies under climate change can better manage increasingly scarce and variable water resources to benefit people and nature.”
Dr. Ming Xu is a “Bairen” professor with the Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Director of Beijing Office of the Global Carbon Project. He holds a B.S. on Forest Science and M.S. on Forest Ecology from China and a Ph.D. on Ecosystem Science from University of California at Berkeley. He has teaching and research experience at Rutgers University. His research interests focus on climate change and ecosystem functions through modeling and experimental approaches. He has led a number of national and international projects on climate change adaptation, such as the “Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation in the Yangtze River Basin”, the “Development of National Biodiversity and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan for China” and the “Forest Carbon Accounting and MRVing in Sichuan Province, China”. He has published more than 60 peer-reviewed papers on various topics such as climate change, biodiversity, and ecosystem carbon cycle.
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