China’s Approach to Disaster Risk Reduction: Human Security Challenges in a Time of Climate Change

AuthorNeil Renwick
Published date01 April 2017
Date01 April 2017
Subject MatterArticles
China’s Approach to
Disaster Risk Reduction:
Human Security
Challenges in a Time
of Climate Change
Neil Renwick1
Natural disasters strike at people’s lives across the world but hit underdevel-
oped countries and societies’ poorest hardest. Those living in the Asia-Pacific
region are significantly more likely to experience natural disaster than those
in any other part of the world. China is one of the most exposed to natural
disasters, with a long history of devastating events and remains at high risk. China
has undertaken major disaster risk reduction (DRR) reforms. Importantly,
China is also increasingly committed to international cooperation over DRR
within a Sendai Framework. Adopting a Human Security perspective, this
article explains and critically evaluates China’s DRR reforms. It highlights China’s
increased willingness to collaborate with international agencies over knowledge
exchange and capacity building to improve its domestic DRR and contribute to
the international DRR system. The study argues that China’s reforms are a work
in progress, but demonstrating improvement. It argues that China’s expressed
wish for closer international DRR cooperation is a new opportunity to main-
stream China and it is incumbent on the international community and Chinese
Government to build on emerging collaboration and grasp this long-overdue
Natural disasters, disaster risk reduction, China, reforms, cooperation
1 School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Coventry University, Coventry, UK.
Corresponding author:
Neil Renwick, School of Humanities, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, George Eliot Building, Coventry
University, Priory St., Coventry, CV1 5FB, UK.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
4(1) 26–49
2017 SAGE Publications India
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2347797016689207
Renwick 27
Natural Disasters
Disaster risk reduction (DRR) is central to sustainable development. China’s
development has been blighted by such events and human security has been at a
premium in China as natural disasters have been a constant companion of the
Chinese people for many centuries. China has a long history of major natural
disasters and remains at high risk today. China accounted for the largest number
of reported natural disasters by country in 2015 with 26 such events (Centre for
Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters [CRED], 2015). This article sets out
China’s experience of natural disasters and examines China’s changing pattern of
response to natural disasters and highlights its growing involvement in inter-
national DRR.
In addition to naturally occurring factors such as fault lines (Shanghai is one of
the world’s largest cities located on such a line), anthropomorphic factors are even
more central to explaining China’s vulnerability to natural disasters. As a recent
Chinese study comparing two earthquakes in Yunnan in 2014 has highlighted,
China’s natural disasters have resulted from a combination of (i) the costs of
breakneck, environmentally destructive industrialization; (ii) a prolonged expo-
sure to regulatory neglect; and (iii) a consequential anthropomorphic contribution
to global warming, climate change and increased incidence of extreme weather
(Jia, Chen, Fan & Pan, 2016).
China has elaborated a national strategic plan and is pouring millions of dollars
into DRR and into its multitrack measures in response to climate change and
global warming. However, the sheer scale and breadth of accumulated challenges,
entrenched industrial megalith, and bureaucratic labyrinth represent major
In particular, climate change is causing more extreme, ‘wild’, weather, increas-
ing risks to human life, health and livelihood as well as to the critical infrastructure
of states. The critical implications of climate change for natural disasters are
Firstly, there has been an intensification of climatic change and its impact
resulting from global warming. The factor of time is significant with acceleration
in the worldwide incidence of natural disasters. There were triple the number of
natural disasters between 2000 and 2009 than there were between 1980 and 1989.
The overwhelming proportion of this increase, some 80 per cent, has been attri-
buted to climate-related events (UNISDR/CRED, 2010).
Second, there is a factor of space, an extensification of factors contributing to
disasters to take ever-greater extent of the changing global context. Since 1990,
natural disasters have affected about 217 million people every year with climate
change (CRED, 2015). The scale of disasters has expanded owing to increased
rates of urbanization, deforestation and environmental degradation, and to intensi-
fying climate variables such as higher temperatures, extreme precipitation and
more violent wind/water storms.
Third, the consequential recognition that natural disaster prevention, monitoring
and response require coordinated multilayered and multidimensional responses

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