Analyzing the building blocks for sustainable and livable cities in China
Faced with rapid urbanization, Chinese cities, like many other cities around the world, are exploring sustainable development pathways for a more livable environment that supports economic growth and is environmentally responsible. To provide technical consultation and policy recommendations to these cities, the World Resources Institute (WRI) initiated the international “Sustainable and Livable Cities Project” in 2012 and selected Chengdu and Qingdao as two pilot cities in China. The findings from the pilot projects are built upon both international expertise and local experiences. They will be replicated in other cities around the country to advance the transformation of urban development strategies and explore sustainable urbanization pathways in China.
The project has gotten off to a great start, as Qingdao and Chengdu are both exploring low-carbon development paths to fit their local contexts. On November 19, 2014, WRI China and China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) co-hosted the “Workshop on Sustainable and Livable Cities Project Interim Findings & Low Carbon Development” in Beijing. WRI has since launched five research papers based on research in the two pilot cities. The papers focus on the water, transport, and energy sectors, analyzing challenges and opportunities cities face and proposing solutions for low-carbon urban development.
Recognizing the importance of water management to low-carbon development
Water and energy management are key factors for urban social and economic development. To satisfy the demand for better water quality, urban water systems require more energy to supply water and manage wastewater and sludge. Lessons from Europe and the United States have shown that effective management strategies – such as updating wastewater collection systems and recovering energy from sewage sludge – can lower the energy consumption of urban wastewater systems and help a city reach its environmental targets. The water-energy nexus – or the relationship between how much water it takes to produce energy and how much energy it takes to supply water – is also an important consideration in the selection of an urban water source.
However, Chinese cities have not paid sufficient attention to the amount of energy consumed in supplying water and managing wastewater or the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. The “Sustainable and Livable Cities Project” analyzed and evaluated the energy consumption and efficiency of urban water supply and wastewater management, and suggests that cities incorporate the water-energy nexus into comprehensive low-carbon urban development plans to protect urban water environments, improve water supply security, and reduce related carbon emissions.
Making transport planning a city-wide effort
Transport challenges in Chinese cities are not limited to the very visible issues of congestion or poor air quality, but are also shaped by profound systemic challenges like the disconnect between land-use planning and public transport planning, limited funding for public transport, uncontrolled car ownership and usage, and poor integration among various transport modes.
To cope with these problems, the “Sustainable and Livable Cities Project” draws on successful strategies from cities like Singapore, Tokyo, London, and New York, like transport demand management (TDM) policies and the promotion of short, walkable blocks. The project suggests that cities should more strategically coordinate transport planning with other efforts including urban planning, policymaking, investment, financing, industrial management, and administrative enforcement. Cities should adopt the “avoid-shift-improve” framework to promote comprehensive people-oriented – rather than car-oriented – urban policies that radically improve urban transport, congestion, and emissions. This framework lays a solid foundation for low-carbon and sustainable transport development.
Curbing energy use in Chinese cities
Cities contribute 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. For most Chinese cities, energy demand will increase further in coming years. Controlling carbon emission requires transforming the energy supply and managing the rapidly increasing energy demand from the construction industry and the transport sector. The “Sustainable and Livable Cities Project” examined citywide energy use and emissions sources to formulate feasible short-, mid-, and long-term low-carbon development strategies for Chinese cities.
WRI will further cooperate with NDRC and the two pilot cities under the sponsorship of Caterpillar Foundation. Based on its interim research findings, the project will create a scalable development model to provide more policy recommendations and technical support for the development of clean, safe, and healthy cities in China.
Read the full reports here (Chinese).