Tag Archives: Kunming

Some China Cities Slowly Getting Greener

Urbanization and industrialization is a filthy business. Industry pollutes. More of it just pollutes more. As nation after nation has gone through the industrialization phase of rapid development, each has had to trade-off the benefits of growth and their environmental costs. China is no exception, but it puts great store on being green. We are directed to a new article published by McKinsey & Co., the firm of management consultants, which asks the question, how green are China’s cities. Its answer? The country’s push for sustainable urban development shows mixed results. As a whole, China’s cities don’t meet global benchmarks for sustainability, but things are getting better and there are examples of successes for the laggards to follow.

The article is based on a paper first published last year by a joint team from the firm, Tsinghua University and New York’s Columbia University. Its Urban Sustainability Index uses data from 2004-2008 and covers 112 cities in China. It groups 18 indicators in to five categories, from the provision of basic needs such as clean water to political and policy commitment to sustainability.

The commonalities among the successful cities were “an unwavering focus on industrial restructuring, designing sensible transit systems and green space, pushing improvements through standards, monitoring and pricing, and exploring ways to make industries more resource efficient.” As might be expected, the successes also “displayed a clear, long-standing commitment to achieving their sustainable ‘vision”… “engineered a large degree of cooperation among relevant departments, for instance between those responsible for environmental protection and urban planning”…and “maintained commitment to their overall goals through several changes in leadership”.

The greenest cities do well across all these measures. Some examples: Tianjin has been consolidating heavy industry away from urban centers, a taking advantage of the moves to make fewer but larger new plants more energy efficient. Shenyang has now got almost all its heavy industry out of its center and is redeveloping the brownfields left behind as residential districts. Qingdao, arguably China’s greenest city, has pushed redevelopment projects to follow mass transit routes, increasing bus ridership at the expense of more heavily polluting private vehicles. Kunming is a pioneer in giving buses priority on roads. Nanning has developed  three greenbelts along the Yongjiang river as part of the creation of urban woodlands and green areas to absorb carbon dioxide emissions. Shandong province officials publicly identified the region’s 1,000 biggest polluters and set aggressive waste reduction targets for each of them.

We don’t underestimate the difficulty of implementing green policies, especially in a country where they require considerable coordination between often competing bureaucracies and in which the yardsticks of success against which local officials are measured (and promoted) have been ones of economic growth. Improving the quality of urban life is an objective of the new five-year plan and a high policy priority for the leadership. Gains are being made. The overwhelming majority of the 18 indicators in the Urban Sustainability Index show improvement during the study period. Yet the relatively limited amount of success stories so far among 112 cities also tells its own story.

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Filed under Environment

Food Price Controls Back On Table

Administrative remedies are such an instinctive reaction for policymakers that the only surprise in reports that Beijing is considering imposing new price controls to dampen the surge in inflation is that they haven’t surfaced earlier.

The always politically sensitive consumer price inflation hit 4.4% year-on-year in October, its fastest rise in two years and way above the 3% target rate for the year. There has been progress on holding the runaway rise in property prices using what monetary policy tools the central bank has to choke off the flow of money into real estate speculation, but the same can’t be done for food, whose prices jumped 10.1% in October. More alarming for policymakers, the average price of 18 staple vegetables was 62% higher in the first 10 days of this month, than in the same period a year earlier, Xinhua reported earlier this week.

We still expect interest rates to rise again before year’s end (though the yuan’s de facto dollar peg weakens the effectiveness of rate rises to soak up excess liquidity), but direct controls would have a more immediate effect on food prices, even at the risk of suppressing the underlying inflationary pressures. But with corn and rice at record highs the now is more pressing than the then.

Fuzhou and Kunming have announced price controls on some vegetables, which may be a test of an idea to hold mayors responsible for ensuring adequate local supplies of staple foods at steady prices. Other cities are said to be monitoring food prices, we assume in preparation should Beijing decide to try the idea more widely. Other measures reportedly being considered include food subsidies to consumers, a crackdown on hoarding and soft commodities speculation and more releases from strategic food stockpiles. (Update: official guidelines for imposing most of these have been announced.)

Further complicating the issue is a rise in global food prices. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food index in October rose to levels last seen during the peak of the food crisis in 2008, which bought a round of export restrictions in producer countries and retail price controls in China. Letting the yuan appreciate would ease some of the sting of the rising cost of animal feed and soy imports for China’s farmers and food producers, but that is a separate hornet’s nest. Price controls are politically safer and more familiar ground.

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Bus Bombs Shatter Pre-Olympics Harmony

This Bystander is back from a break to read of a news agency report (here via the FT ) of three buses being bombed in Kunming, leaving at least three people dead and 14 injured. Xinhua calls the blasts “sabotage”.

Bus explosions are uncommon but not unknown in China as a means of protest by disgruntled farmers and workers. But the authorities in Beijing won’t be happy that these have occurred so close to the start of the Olympic Games and in the face of its efforts to ensure “a harmonious social atmosphere” while the country is on show to the world.

Update: Later staff-written FT story scales back the number of buses and fatalities to two from three, with still 14 injured.

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Filed under Beijing Olympics, Politics & Society