Shenzhen has been added to the list of provinces and municipalities that will pilot China’s proposed carbon trading market. That takes the initial set to seven. The participation of Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hubei and Guangdong has been known since the summer. An official with the National Development and Reform Commission confirmed the go-ahead with the pilot scheme to Xinhua, but otherwise details remain sketchy. Central government has still to set overall carbon discharge reduction targets, which are a prerequisite for establishing the national carbon trading market that has been pencilled in for a 2015 launch.
By then, China’s goal is to have cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 17% from 2010 levels, according to a white paper on climate change issued this week ahead of the UN’s forthcoming climate change talks in Durban in South Africa. A reduction of that magnitude will be a tough ask given the pace of the economy’s growth. The pilot carbon-trading scheme is expected to start in 2013.
By 2025, Shanghai and Beijing will have higher GDPs than Los Angeles and London, a further sign of the world’s eastwards economic shift. The prediction comes from the McKinsey Global Institute, the economic research arm of McKinsey & Co., the international consultancy firm, which has been working on mapping the changing economic power of the world’s metropolitan areas, and is recirculating some work on this it first released in March. Shanghai is already among the world’s top 50 cities ranked by GDP, but as well a Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Foshan, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan and Xian will all join it by 2025, McKinsey predicts. European cities will be most numerous among the dropouts, but another will be Taipei.
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.
The climate talks in Tianjin have ended. They have done little to smooth the path to the Cancun session of the U.N.Framework Convention on Climate Change that opens at the end of next month save on the creation of the $100 billion fund rich countries agreed at the Copenhagen round of talks to provide poor countries to help deal with the impact of climate change.
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The ambition of the Tianjin meeting was always limited: to create a checklist of not what would be done at Cancun, but what might be done. Even that was barely achieved. “This week has got us closer to a structured set of decisions that can be agreed in Cancun. Governments addressed what is doable in Cancun, and what may have to be left to later,” the U.N.’s Christiana Figueres (right, pictured at the meeting’s opening) said in her end-of-meeting statement (video, speaking notes), a less-than-ringing endorsement of success. The European Commission’s Jurgen Lefevere was closer to the mark when he called the outcome “very patchy”.
The biggest of the leave-to-latter issues is the deadlock between the world’s two biggest energy consumers and polluters, China and the U.S. with the U.S. saying that China won’t agree to global binding, verifiable emissions curbs and China saying the U.S. and developed economies have to commit first to doing much more than the developing nations as they polluted first. Both Beijing and Washington accuse the other of trying to subvert the U.N. process in their separate ways.
There was some tetchiness between the two countries’ officials throughout the Tianjin meeting, as noted in Xinhua’s report. Having been blamed for the failure the Copenhagen meeting, Beijing is getting its share of finger-pointing in this time. The risk for a binding global treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012 is that climate change becomes another bickering bilateral dispute between Washington and Beijing.
Beijing misplayed the game at the Copenhagen round of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change last year and got the blame, unfairly or not, for the deadlock. It came with its best and final offer, which is not the way to arrive at any U.N.-sponsored gabfest. It then expected the developed nations and the U.S. in particular to make concessions on greenhouse gas emissions while saying that it had done about all it could. Cue the developed nations to be shocked, shocked by the intransigence of the developing nations of which China was seen as the champion, and to make their excuses and leave. A legal binding comprehensive global agreement, or anything close to it, to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, receded into the background leaving only a last minute back-room stitch-up between the U.S., and the developing countries that matter in all this, China (now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases), Brazil, South Africa and India, that in essence said every country will say what it can do on climate change, and leave it at that: no further negotiation, nothing legally binding, no global agreement and not much say for Europe or the other developing nations outside the dirty big four.
The current meeting that China is hosting in Tianjin ahead of the follow up talks to Copenhagen, due to be held in Cancun towards the end of this year, is an attempt by Beijing to show itself to be a more adept international player. The agenda seeks to tie down industrialized nations post-Kyoto commitments on cutting down emissions and to rough out a script for the Cancun meeting. Beijing still wants an outcome that will let it stick with its existing — and quite ambitious goals on energy conservation — and not crimp its future growth rates. The long-term outlook for China’s economy is to slow over the next two decades from the double digit growth it has seen over the past two; and that has political implications of its own inside the country. But it doesn’t want to be bound to those goals, while still not being so within a global agreement, and especially one that reined in the U.S.. Plus Beijing wants to grab global leadership in energy-efficient technologies, and send a message to recalcitrant provinces and municipalities within China who are not embracing to the full the central government’s drive to cut pollution. All in all, not an easy trick to pull off so how much better it is to be helping make the rules.