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China Sweats in Warmest Temperatures on Record

by: Dan Martin    6 February 2007

Skating has been banned on the melting ice of Beijing's lakes, trees are blossoming early and people are shedding their heavy clothes as China experiences its warmest winter on record.

The temperature in the capital hit 16 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday, far above the historical average of just below freezing for this time of year and the highest since records were first compiled in 1840.

The head of the Beijing Municipal Observatory, Guo Hu, said the record high was part of a consistent trend this winter, while state-run media reported similar phenomena across the country.

"In January and February, Beijing experienced its highest temperatures in 167 years," Guo told AFP on Tuesday.

"Beijing has basically seen warmer winters from the late 1980s. This is due to the influence of global warming."

At Qianhai Lake, normally frozen solid at this time of year, local merchant Chen Chuanyang lamented the early start to spring after authorities called a halt to skating due to the ice melting earlier than usual.

Chen hires out skates in the winter but on Friday -- when the skating ban was imposed -- he was forced to move over to his summer job driving pedicabs.

"I've had to switch early but there are no customers for that either," he said.

Aside from the early ban, the China Daily newspaper said magnolia trees in Beijing had already started blossoming as conditions in the city resembled a balmy day more commonly seen in April.

Other reports flooded in on Tuesday showing the impact of global warming across the nation.

January-December average temperatures were the highest in 56 years in both the eastern province of Jiangsu and the remote western region of Xinjiang, 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) apart, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The mercury in the normally frigid far northeastern province of Heilongjiang had also hit 40-year highs and 300,000 people were suffering from a drought in Shaanxi province after January rainfall was 90 percent below average, it said.

The accounts of an overheated China came less than a week after a stark United Nations report was released warning that climate-changing gases were having a significant impact on global warming.

The report said Earth's average surface temperatures could rise by between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees by 2100.

China's top meteorologist and one of the main authors of the report, Qin Dahe, told a press conference on Tuesday that China's unusually warm winter and other extreme recent weather bore the hallmarks of global warming.

Qin, the head of the China Meteorological Association, said China would experience more years like 2006, when it was hit by some of the worst typhoons and droughts in decades.

China is one of the world's biggest emitters of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas blamed for global warming, which is released into the atmosphere through the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels.

About 70 percent of China's energy comes from burning coal, and there are plans to dramatically increase production as the energy demands of the nation's fast-modernising population of 1.3 billion people continue to soar.

China built 117 government-approved coal-fired power plants in 2005 -- a rate of roughly one every three days, according to official figures.

However, China's government reiterated Tuesday its position that the responsibility for climate change rested with developed countries.

"You need to point out that climate changes are the result of the long-term emissions of the developed countries," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said.