It's too early to say categorically that China is experiencing another "warm winter" this year but the world's fourth largest economy is definitely suffering the impact of global warming, a senior meteorological official said on Tuesday.
Qin Dahe, director of the China Meteorological Administration, told a press conference in Beijing that global warming had made extreme weather -- like high temperatures, drought and hurricanes -- more common in China.
A woman and her child walk on a street in Shanghai February 6, 2007. The highest temperature in Shanghai reached 23.4 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, which broke the corresponding record in the past 10 years.
People walk on a street in Shanghai February 6, 2007.
Beijing temperatures reached 10.8 degrees Celsius on Sunday -- the first day of spring according to China's traditional lunar calendar -- and surged to 16 degrees Monday. This is the highest recorded temperature at this time of year for 167 years.
Yulan magnolia trees on Chang'an Boulevard in downtown Beijing -- which normally blossom in late March -- are already in bud.
High temperatures in Beijing at this time of year were "obviously" related to global warming but the final verdict on the city's "warm winter" could only be given at the end of February, Qin said.
Beijing has had 20 "warm winters" -- where average December to February temperatures are at least 0.5 degrees Celsius higher than average -- in a row since 1986.
This year the signs of a warm winter have not been limited to Beijing. In Nanjing, capital of east China's JiangsuProvince, sweet-scented osmanthus are well ahead schedule and already in blossom.
In the northeast the average January temperature was up 4.1 degrees Celsius on the historic norm and increased to 2.7 degrees in the southwestern Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
Qin, referring to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said if a temperature increase of 1.9 to 4.6 degrees continued for a millennium Greenland's ice cap would melt completely and cause sea-levels to rise by seven meters.
Co-chair of the IPCC Working Group I, Qin said because of the influence of human activities the global climate had been warming since 1750. This was evidenced by higher average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising sea levels.
Last summer's severe drought around Chongqing Municipality in southwest China and typhoons on the east coast had occurred against a backdrop of global warming, he said.
Qin explained that meteorological disasters caused direct economic losses of 200 to 300 billion yuan (US$25.8 to 38.7 billion) in China annually. This was equivalent to 2 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Greenhouse gas emissions, in particular carbon dioxide discharges, are widely considered to be the prime factor in global warming. China, the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter after the US, may have to face the challenge of declining grain output and increasingly scarce water resources.
The government has backed the UN brokered Kyoto Protocol and committed itself to improving energy efficiency by cutting its energy consumption by 20 percent per unit of gross domestic product in the period from 2006 to 2010, Qin noted.
China reduced emissions by the equivalent of some 800 million tons of coal between 1991 and 2005. The country's forests, grasslands and natural reserves had helped absorb another 3.06 billion tons, he said.