Just a little over a month after the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies helped host an urban climate challenge conference in Beijing, the city recorded a dangerous level of smog that reached more than 23 times the World Health Organization’s recommended limit for human exposure to fine particulate matter that can enter the bloodstream via the lungs.
F&ES community members gathered in late October with environmental experts, government lobbyists and nonprofit leaders at the Yale Center Beijing to discuss urban climate issues, which plague the city. On Monday, Beijing issued a “red alert” for the country’s current state of air pollution. This is the highest-issued level of the emergency air-pollution response system, according to The New York Times. The event was co-sponsored by F&ES, the Yale and Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology Center on Atmospheric Environment and Tsinghua University’s Center for Earth System Science and School of Environment. The faculty and students from these institutions convened to raise questions about the environmental impact of China’s rapid industrial expansion. Scientists at the two-day event aimed to help Chinese environmentalists and politicians remedy the climate problems.
“The workshop was an opportunity for scientists and practitioners to brainstorm … and to identify low-hanging fruits for climate mitigation,” said Xuhui Lee, professor of meteorology at F&ES. Lee led the conference alongside F&ES Associate Dean of Research Karen Seto, who could not be reached for comment.
The workshop was not the first sustainability-related event held at the Yale Center Beijing. In June, a workshop entitled “Ecological Civilization” organized in collaboration with F&ES, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Communication University of China united government, environmental and religious leaders in discussion. A conversation about the environmental risk of Chinese transnational corporations was held in July, in conjunction with F&ES and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Lee said heat stress — a phenomenon in which the body is unable to cool itself down, which can result in heat cramps, heat exhaustion or even heatstroke — in China’s cities, already a worsening problem, can be aggravated by global warming.
“Heat stress is a problem urban residents face now largely because of the urban heat island phenomenon,” he said. “The problem will only get worse as urbanization continues.”
Lee explained that more than 85 percent of global carbon emissions occur in cities, a statistic that is only “a bit lower in China.”
Zhen Xu, an administrator at Yale-NUIST, named discussions on greenhouse gas reduction and urban climate improvement as other key developments in the conference.
David Youtz, the executive director of the Yale-China Association and a participant on the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations where he worked on a joint U.S.-China energy initiative, emphasized the timeliness of this conference leading up to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris, which ends this week.
“These two countries are the largest carbon emitters and energy consumers, so their decisions and courage will determine, to a large extent, how well we do on addressing climate change,” Youtz said.
Zhen said the conference enhanced communication between the universities, but that greater organizational involvement from Chinese institutions during preparation stages would have led to a better event.
Lee mentioned a difficulty of executing the program — getting people to show up. He explained that it is not customary for the Chinese to plan ahead more than a week or two in advance, meaning few people attend.
“Had they been able to join us, the event might have had a higher impact,” Lee said.
The Yale Center Beijing is located in the Chaoyang District