Why cities will be the main battleground in China’s quest for carbon neutrality
- Green, low-carbon and healthy cities, expected to house 80 per cent of China’s population by 2050, can act as an engine of, rather than a brake on, the country’s high-quality development
Cities are also the melting pot for various decarbonisation strategies for different sectors, providing the ideal scale for piloting and ramping up new policies and actions. As a result, cities are the main battleground for China to meet its carbon neutrality targets.
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Low-carbon development has a positive effect on employment. According to the International Energy Agency, investing US$1 million in areas such as building efficiency, green transport or solar photovoltaics can create more than twice as many jobs as in areas like coal or natural gas. The Coalition for Urban Transitions also estimates that the measures mentioned above would support 15.2 million jobs in 2030.
Realising these goals would require additional investments worth 38 trillion yuan, but would potentially generate returns with a net present value of 53.2 trillion yuan by 2050, based on energy and material cost savings alone.
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The combination of “new infrastructure” and sustainable cities will help China achieve long-term, high-quality and sustainable development. The example China sets for the rest of the world will also influence the development of many other countries.
China needs to focus on the following four recommendations at the national level. First, place sustainable cities at the heart of its 14th Five-Year Plan, stimulus recovery plans and the Paris Agreement’s nationally determined contribution. Cities should be encouraged to lower emissions and issue a carbon-neutrality road map by 2025.
Second, national policies and standards – such as transport policies, building codes and infrastructure investment – should be aligned with urban transformation, while tackling the degradation of critical natural resources, environmental pollution and rising emissions.
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Third, innovative business models should be promoted, with a priority on investment in green construction and retrofits, climate-smart infrastructure, renewable urban energy, waste efficiency and nature-based solutions. Research and development should be encouraged for big data and new low-carbon technologies, to promote carbon-neutral, climate-resilient urban construction.
Finally, international cooperation should be strengthened and green technology exchanges and green investment promoted. The proportion of Chinese green outward foreign direct investment should be increased through the Belt and Road Initiative and green development of participating countries encouraged, while scaling up China’s climate governance experience.
Dr Li Fang is chief representative in the Beijing Representative Office of the World Resources Institute China