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Insights from China


In 2019, China’s total energy consumption was seven times higher than in 1980 and China accounted for 27% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is seen as a consequence of the country’s rapid development since its economic opening and development reforms, which started in 1979. To mitigate environmental and societal challenges connected with its rapid industrial, civil and urban development, the aspiration towards a green and sustainable transition has been part of Chinese reform programmes since the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010), in which targets for lower energy and water consumption, and for a reduction in major pollutants were spelled out for the first time in the country’s planning history. China’s ambition has been gradually increased and widened in the course of the government’s subsequent five-year plans and it now has some of the world’s most ambitious sustainability targets in place.

Video Series

With our video series we want to bring attention to selected cases of sustainable and low-carbon urban innovation from China, which may be interesting to learn about as “best practices” for other regions.

Transforming Urban Mobility: The Bicycle Highway in Beijing

Beijing strives to become a biking-friendly world-class mega city. The construction of a 3,200 km biking network and 9 “soft mobility” pilot zones in the 5th Ring Road area of the Chinese capital were completed in 2020. As an important segment of the biking network, a 6.5 km bicycle highway was inaugurated in 2019. Among other benefits, the bike highway provides for faster and safer commuting by bike between densely populated neighbourhoods.

Revitalisation of the Liangma River in Beijing

The Liangma River crosses the centre of Beijing’s Chaoyang District. Between 2015 and 2020 the Beijing Chaoyang District Water Bureau completed the Liangma Riverfront Revitalisation Development, from strategic master planning, to design and actual construction. Following
the great success of the Liangma project, the Chaoyang Water Bureau applied similar ecological restoration measures to other rivers in the district.

Longgang: The Largest Waste-to-Energy Plant in the World

Shenzhen, a megacity of 20 million people, produces approximately 15,000 tons of waste every day. This is expected to increase at a rate of 7% per year. With an investment of CNY 4.4 billion and an area of about 543 sq. km, the Longgang Energy Ecological Park is at the completion stage and will become the world’s largest waste incineration power plant, with a daily processing capacity of 5,000 tons of household waste and the capacity to handle one-third of all waste generated by Shenzhen’s 20 million residents. As a 165 MW power plant, generating 550 million KWH of electricity a year, its GHG emissions reduction effect will allow Shenzhen to meet its emission reduction targets.

Shenzhen: Switching to 100% Electric Buses

In 2017, Shenzhen became the world’s first city to have a 100% electric bus system. Around 176,000 electric buses and 5,600 electric taxis now operate  in the city under the management of three local bus groups.
The goal of switching the mobility system entirely from diesel to electric was achieved via four key enabling factors, including state and local subsidies, a reduction of upfront investment using a leasing business model, optimization of charging and operations, and a producer responsibility scheme for batteries. With this approach, Shenzhen achieved total annual CO2 emission reductions of 1.35 million tons in 2017.

With this publication we want to provide notable, but not internationally well-known examples of innovative, green projects from China. We have selected 10 case studies, which are described in relation to internationally agreed goals: Reducing greenhouse gases, managing storm water runoff, promoting biodiversity, integrating urban life, work and leisure, and promoting a circular economy – all common challenges for large Chinese cities and for cities in other parts of the world.
The sustainability impact of the cases described is measured especially in terms of the their effects in promoting biodiversity, reducing the cities’ greenhouse gas emissions, their contribution to urban resilience, their degree of resource efficiency, and their potential to foster sustainable lifestyles for urban dwellers. These parameters have a strong impact on the consequences of China’s ongoing, rapid urbanisation, which, if countermeasures are not diligently considered in all urban planning processes, may potentially lead to further rapidly growing energy consumption, climate change and environmental degradation.