Changde, a city in Hunan Province, is located in middle of China with a population of approximately 6 million people. Changde is an important component in the Yangtze River Economic Zone and the Dongting Lake Economic Zone.

With the annual rainfall 1200-1500 mm and the majority falls in spring and summer, Changde faces the severe risk of urban inland flood and its intensity goes even worse when climate scenarios show more fluctuating in precipitation. Meanwhile, with the rapid progress in urbanization and industrialization, urban rivers turned to muddy and smelly with the surface overflowing with cyanobacteria. In the purpose of updating city infrastructure to be as flexible as a sponge in adapting to environmental changes and inland flood risk, as well as addressing the urban river pollution issues, sponge city has been strategized as a key measure to deal with water problem and as a core urban adaptation approach.

Since 2004, Changde has been seeking solutions on urban water control system through international cooperation with German expertise. In 2009, the municipal government released the policy paper on ‘Framework for Water-Sensitive Urban Development and Sustainable Water Resources Utilization in Water City Changde-Jiangbei Urban Area’, which clearly asserted to construct Sponge City, mitigate urban inland flood, improve urban water environment and reduce urban heat island effect. In 2016, the city was listed in the first batch of “National Pilot Scheme of Climate Adaptation City” in China.


The city of Changde has set the goals for sponge city and urban adaptation in

“no water accumulation during light rains, no waterlogging during heavy rains, no black or odorous water body, and mitigated heat island effect”.

as stated in a few government documents as below.

Policy framework

To support the implementation of relevant work on sponge city and urban adaptation, Changde has published <General Planning of Sponge City in Changde City (2015-2030)> and <Implementing Suggestions on Accelerating the Construction of Sponge City in Changde City> to specify its goal of sponge city construction.

To support the implementation of urban adaptation, the city has issued “Changde Urban Climate Adaptation Implementation Plan” in 2017. The plan has included an assessment on the impacts and vulnerability of climate change and put forward new spatial layout and scale of urban infrastructure. The plan has also defined the implementation on urban adaptation with clear guidance, principles, overall objectives, specific indicators and action plan of supporting projects. The project portfolio has been established along with project construction schedule, investment plan and financing model. Furthermore, the plan urges to improve urban planning system, increase associated investments, widely apply practical scientific technology, and to conduct performance appraisal and official supervision on all actions.

Specially, Changde has released a few supporting policies to implement urban adaptation, including “Guidelines for the Construction of Climate Adaptation Cities in Changde City”, “Technical Guidelines for the Construction of Climate Adaptation Cities in Changde City” and “Performance Evaluation Criteria for the Construction of Climate Adaptation Cities in Changde City“. Quite a few advanced approaches and technologies that have been applied in developed countries are introduced in those policies to deal with climate risks such as storms and rainstorms high temperature and drought.

Implementation and department coordination

A municipal-level task force for the implementation of National Climate Adaptation City Pilot Scheme has been set up and assigned the mayor as the team leader. The task force has recruited its members from the Communist Party of China and municipal government departments to perform the responsibilities of decision-making, coordination amongst departments and conduct performance appraisal, etc. The task force has asserted and prioritized the work of urban adaptation as a key livelihood project.

To support the work of the mentioned task force, relevant municipal government departments are assigned to lead and coordinate specific tasks with contribution from others, including:

  • Housing and Construction Bureau: Preventive engineering facilities have been constructed through strengthening management; Construct low-impact rainwater system to effectively reduce and relieve urban waterlogging; Construct green benchmarking buildings to effectively slow-release heat island effect; Strict implementation of management control system, effective implementation of land use, construction, construction permits; Build underground comprehensive pipeline corridor, effectively support the normal operation of urban lifeline system,
  • Municipal Public Utilities Authority: Build cloud computing center to effectively improve the level of emergency management of urban disaster prevention and mitigation;          
  • Water-control bureau: promote the integration of urban and rural water supply; To control the black and odor of water body, effectively save and protect water resources, strengthen flood control levees and effectively enhance the city’s flood control capacity;
  • Department of Transportation: with snow melting and ice melting equipment, the safe passage of vehicles during the freezing period of urban roads and bridges can be effectively guaranteed.


  1. Limitations in coordination within government institutions

Sponge city construction is a comprehensive project with many management problems involved. It is difficult to coordinate the work because of unreasonable department settings, unclear responsibilities and disputes of departmental interests. For instance, rainwater runoff should be controlled according to catchment area and the elimination of black and odorous water body should be comprehensively controlled according to river basin. It is difficult to implement construction and management responsibilities due to the different administrative subjects of administrative divisions.

There are also gaps in the current legal framework for sponge projects, complicated approval procedures, and difficulties in timely landing and completion of projects; difficulties in renovating residential areas in old urban areas; imperfect evaluation system, relatively backward monitoring means; and difficulties in accurately implementing performance appraisal, accountability, rewards and punishments.

  1. Insufficient financing and investment

A large project portfolio brings in large shortage of government and private funds in a short time. Though priority has been given to sponge project construction, it is difficult to finance the portfolio due to the low return on the investments and long investment cycle.

  1. Lack of technical support

The construction of sponge city and urban adaptation means an all-round change in urban planning, construction, operation and urban management. It requires system-wide change in conceptualization, technology application, equipment upgrade, facility renewal. It is difficult for Changde city to obtain adequate technical supports on multi-industry and multi-specialty with high relevance to sponge city and urban adaption at a reasonable cost, domestically and abroad.

Actions and Outcomes

  1. Reinforce administrative arrangements

Changde has establishes the Office of Sponge City Construction Task Force, and appointed the director of housing and urban and rural construction as the director of the office. Officers and staff with experience and professional expertise are selected from relevant functional departments to take on planning, organizing and supervising tasks. To enables the sponge city construction led by an official management agency, Municipal Public Utilities Administration has been reformed into “Municipal Sponge Administration“, which has significantly improved the effectiveness of sponge city construction.

A series of Changde-specific policies, regulations and technical guidance on sponge city construction are revised and issued, so as to further clarify the responsibilities of relevant departments with clear ‘How-to’ guidance. Amongst many others, they are <Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of Sponge City>, <Regulations on the Approval and Management of Construction and Planning of Sponge City in Changde>, <Measures for Central Financial Subsidies and Incentives for the Construction of Sponge Cities in Changde>.

More practically, the city has combined the renovation of sponge-type residential areas in old urban areas with the renovation of shanty towns, to greatly improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the projects.

  1. Project development for sponge city construction and urban adaptation

By end of 2018, the city has completed 137 pilot projects of sponge city construction with another 11 in progress. The built area has reached 56.04 square kilometers and 6.79 square kilometers in construction. In the pilot area, all 16 inland flood sites have been renovated. No-flood area has reached 34.97 square kilometers, accounting for 96.9% of the pilot area.

Departments of urban planning, housing and construction have built climate adaptation projects, such as:

  • managing and controlling rainwater projects to reduce urban inland flood;
  • green building projects to reduce heat island effect;
  • Control black and odorous water project, to save and protect water resources;
  • Flood control project to enhance the city’s flood resistance capacity;
  • construction of integrated underground pipeline corridor project to support the functional operation of urban lifeline system.
  1. Exploring project funding sources

To improve the city’s visibility and expand project funding sources, Changde has been promoting the city through carrying out innovative pilot projects, and strive for various types of national special awards and subsidies.

The city is making the full use of existing financing sources including financial fund at city and sub-city level, sponge city pilot subsidy from MOHURD and international cooperation, and the PPP (public-private partnership) cooperation with private sector.

In particular, the decision-making leaders of the provincial and municipal Committee therefore have agreed to allocate special funds in the annual fiscal budget to give full support to the construction of sponge cities.

During 2015-2017, the total investments on sponge city project is 7.8 billion CNY. There are five PPP projects planned for sponge city construction, three of which are currently under implementation with a total investment of 5.264 billion CNY. The remaining two PPP projects are in the preparation stage.

  1. Sourcing technical expertise

Concerning the utilization of technical expertise, Changde has made a breakthrough at integrating international and local experts in a cost-effective way. Senior international and local technical are engaged to undertake special planning and project design while international team are responsible for conceptual design and local teams are responsible for project design and construction.

The government has sent management and professional technicians to study and investigate at home and abroad. The government has also sponsored international seminars to engage international experts for on-site research and guidance.


After several years of construction, Changde City has met the flood control standard once in a hundred years, the rate of reaching the standard of flood dike is 100%, the standard of waterlogging prevention and control is once in 30 years, and the main indexes of water environment quality of urban river reach the standard.

Sino-German Urbanisation Partnership

The partnership is working to influence political dialogue to address the challenges created by a fast-paced urbanization process and climate change in both China and Germany. It aims to create platforms for cross-city institutional exchange of experiences, facilitate knowledge exchange and promote capacity building that can drive the development of joint solutions to these challenges. Key targets of the exchange are to reduce CO2 emissions, promote a more balanced urbanization development and improve quality of life in cities in both China and Germany.