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Socioeconomic development

China’s economy is widely thought will continue to grow in the upcoming decade finally accomplishing the OECD countries by the end of the century. For the world as a whole the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has identified four narrative storylines for global future development in its special report on emission scenarios (SRES). The two most different scenarios are abbreviated as A1 and B2. Key characteristics of the A1 storyline and scenario family are very rapid economic growth, global population that peak in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. In contrast, the B2 storyline and scenario family give more emphasis on local solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability.

For China these scenarios have been recently specified (van Vuuren et al. 2003).

The scenario A1b-C expects an ‘open’ China in a globalised word. The scenario B2-C sees China gearing to solve regional environmental problems. In both scenarios the population will peak at around 1.6 billion by 2050 and decrease afterwards to around 1.5 billion in 2100. Mostly relevant for the water conflicts in the Guanting region is the different role of coal and domestic production in both scenarios. Although coal will play a major role in both scenarios, China can replace more of it by imports in the A1b-C than in the B2-C scenario. Furthermore, intensive agricultural production under irrigation in the Guanting area is much more likely under the B2-C than the A1b-C scenario. Taking the competing requests of agriculture and mining as well as subsequent industries and furthermore on hand site side and the higher priority of environmental criteria the challenges for regional water management will be probably more pressing under B2-C than A1b-C.

Another decisive aspect is the usage of irrigation by agriculture. China committed itself to a high degree of self sufficiency. It is estimated that the national grain production must reach 575 million tons and 650 million tons in 2010 and 2030, respectively (Lui 2005).

Under these general conditions, which are consistent with the B2-C development path,  irrigation will be used as before mainly to support wheat planting in the Northern plains during the dry winter and spring time, although the crop is much less suitable for modern water saving technologies as drip irrigation, micro sprinkler technology and greenhouse production.  Water conflicts between agriculture and other sectors could be much more pressing. At the national level, (Lui 2005)calculated an irrigation water shortfall of 15.9 billion cubic meters in 2010 and 39.1 billion cubic meters in 2030.

Alternatively, China could relax its grain self-sufficiency policy so that farmers and local leaders are under less pressure to produce grain. Under such conditions of an increasing exposure to international markets the relative prices of grain over high-value crops would change so that high-value crops become more profitable than grains (Lohmar et al. 2003). Then, the total water demand for agriculture is much more likely to decrease and with it the degree of water conflicts.

(source: Wechsung, project proposal)

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