Striking a balance between human development, resource allocation and environmental protection amid rapid urbanization is a grim and unavoidable challenge facing the country, experts said Thursday.
The unprecedented surge in urbanization has greatly improved the lives of city dwellers, but also resulted in pollution, widening income gaps, depleting resources and unbalanced regional development, Shan Jingjing, a senior researcher with the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said at the launch of the Blue Book on China's Urban Development.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the country's urbanization rate rose from 19 percent in 1980, to 44 percent last year. CASS deputy head Chen Jiagui said the rate is about three times the world average over the period.
Chen estimated the urbanization rate will reach 60 percent by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050, about the same as most developed countries.
However, such rapid growth is proving to be costly.
Figures in the book show that between 2001 and 2005, the discharge of industrial wastewater grew 20 percent and the emission of gaseous waste rose 67 percent.
The book also said that in 2005, about two-thirds of the 76.7 billion tons of wastewater discharged were done so without being properly treated.
Last year, none of the 113 key environmental protection cities met the standards of Grade I air quality, and more than half failed the Grade II air quality standards.
In addition, although the country's energy consumption per unit of gross domestic production has been in decline since last year, it is still above the world's average, the book reported.
At the same time, the income gap between the rich and poor in cities is widening. Inadequate education, medical care and social security have all reportedly become obstacles to healthy urban development, it said.
Experts are calling for better urban planning, public services and the full implementation of energy-saving and environmental protection policies.
Shan highlighted the reform of the household registration, or hukou, system, which is believed to have prevented the free flow of human resources between rural and urban areas.
She also called for more efforts to increase employment and help the poor.
Lian Yuming, the head of the Beijing International Institute for Urban Development, agreed that China had paid too much for rapid growth.
"Resources and the environment are two major pillars of sustainable urban development.
"We must think about our future," he said.