Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Lock in low carbon urbanization

By He Jiankun (China Daily) Updated: 2014-01-03 08:34

Forward-looking planning and revised evaluation criteria for government officials are needed to ensure greener growth

Industrial and population concentration in the course of China's rapid urbanization has fostered new points of economic growth, but it has also increased energy use and taken a heavy toll on the environment. So how the world's largest developing nation advances the next phase of urbanization is a pressing question.

The central conferences on economic and rural work in December reiterated the country's commitment to green and low carbon development made at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in November, and low carbon development will be a defining feature of China's urbanization in the coming years. At the heart of this must be lower carbon cities.

The key to cities with smaller carbon footprints lies in the fundamental transformation of the economic development pattern. China's current economic growth pattern is still a copy of the one experienced by Western nations, whose urbanization was realized through high-energy consumption and high carbon emissions. Although China has made intensive efforts in energy conservation and the improvement of energy efficiency, and it is on course to catch up with the developed world, its energy use per unit of GDP is double the global average and about three to four times that of developed nations, with industry accounting for about 70 percent of the nation's total energy use. An industrial structure characterized by heavy and chemical industries is the reason why China's energy consumption per unit of GDP remains at a high level.

The fundamental transformation of the country's economic growth pattern, therefore, requires industrial transformation and upgrading. In pursuit of innovation-driven growth, priority needs to be given to developing high-tech industries, low emissions industries and a modern service sector. Meanwhile, it is imperative that traditional industries enhance their technology, raise the added value of their products and embark on a lower carbon emissions path. Exports that require a lot of energy to manufacture should be limited in order to better position Chinese-made products in the global value chain.

A key step in the process of building low carbon cities is to establish greener infrastructure. Urban design and infrastructure, once established, will last for decades, perhaps even hundreds of years. Like many developed nations, some Chinese cities have set up a high carbon urban design that will make the transition to low carbon costly. That is why in the new phase of urbanization, China must carry out forward-looking urban planning and lock in low carbon technologies and infrastructure.

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