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A Low-carbon Path Will Make Cities More Sustainable, Livable

World Bank, May 3, 2012 Adjust font size:

By embarking on a low-carbon growth path, China's cities can help reach the country's targets for reducing the energy and carbon intensity of its economy, and become more livable, efficient, competitive, and ultimately sustainable, says a new World Bank report released today. Cities contribute an estimated 70 percent of energy-related greenhouse gases. With China set to add an estimated 350 million residents to its cities over the next 20 years, the case for urgent action is strong.

The report, titled Sustainable Low-Carbon City Development in China, aims to provide central government policymakers and those of municipalities, cities and townships in China with practical lessons on sustainable low-carbon development, based on the World Bank‘s experience and its long-term relationship with many Chinese provinces and cities.

"For China to achieve its 12th Five-Year Plan target to reduce 17 percent carbon intensity, addressing cities' emissions is crucial," said World Bank’s Country Director for China Klaus Rohland. "The report provides a framework for actions that Chinese cities could and are already taking to promote both economic development and low-carbon growth."

According to the report, industry and power generation are major contributors to the carbon footprint of Chinese cities, producing in some cities an estimated 40 percent of city emissions each, with the remaining 20 percent contributed by transport, buildings, and waste.

To achieve low-carbon growth, the report suggests that cities will need to act on multiple fronts. Actions affecting land-use and spatial development are among the most critical because carbon emissions are closely connected to the urban form. Spatial development has also very strong "locked-in" effects: once cities grow and define their urban form it is almost impossible to retrofit them because the built environment is largely irreversible and very costly to modify. Furthermore, cities need energy-efficient buildings and industries; a transport system that offers alternatives to automobiles; and a shift to efficient management of water, wastewater, and solid waste. And cities need to incorporate responses to climate change in their planning, investment decisions, and emergency-preparedness plans.

The report lays out five key cross-cutting actions that form the overarching framework for low-carbon city development. Policy makers need to:

• Set the right indicators to encourage low-carbon growth;

• Complement administrative measures with market-based approaches and tools;

• Break the current link between land use, city financing and urban sprawl;

• Encourage more inter-sectoral and inter-jurisdictional cooperation; and

• Balance climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.

The report also stresses the need to focus actions on addressing specific sectoral challenges, particularly those related to energy, transport, and other municipal services including water and waste management services. The report provides specific recommendations for each of these sectors, drawing on the experience of Chinese cities and World Bank-supported programs.

On energy, the report recommends that city leaders should encourage a cleaner supply of energy including through maximizing the use of renewable energy, enhance the role for market-based methods in energy demand management including through setting prices to reflect full costs, consistently implement building energy efficiency codes and switch to consumption-based billings for district heating.

On urban transport, cities should encourage walking and bicycling and enhance the quality of public transport services, integrate different modes and services of public transport, better manage auto ownership and use through taxation and fees, and increase the use of electric vehicles when conditions are ripe.

On water management, cities should consider compact urban development patterns to minimize infrastructure needs and pumping costs. Cities should also reevaluate their water intake strategies and water treatment methods to minimize energy use, and enhance demand management through appropriate pricing strategy. On solid waste management, cities should actively promote waste minimization, segregation, composting, and recycling so as to reduce the need for incineration and landfilling.

"The complex challenges facing China's cities require a comprehensive approach, with coordinated action from different levels of government as well as civil society," said Axel Baeumler, World Bank Senior Infrastructure Economist and a co-editor of the report. "The central government has set clear targets to the reduce carbon intensity of the economy; but a few key complementary actions – on the land and municipal finance agenda, on facilitating coordination across different governmental entities – could help to empower city governments to effectively implement low-carbon action plans," adds Shomik Mehindratta, World Bank Lead Urban Transport Specialist and co-editor of the report.

In the 12th Five-Year Plan period and beyond, China has an opportunity to implement low-carbon strategies and approaches, ranging from innovations in new technology, to increased efficiency in existing industries, and to better management of the growth of cities. This will also make its future cities more sustainable, more efficient, more competitive and more livable.

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