By Lili Pike
Months before the December climate conference COP21 in Paris, 11 major Chinese cities pledged to peak their greenhouse gas emissions well before 2030. China’s 35 largest cities are responsible for 40 percent of national emissions, making urban sustainability efforts critical to the country’s overall climate change mitigation strategy. In advance of COP21, China promised to “embark on a new pattern of urbanization, optimizing the urban system and space layout, and integrating the low-carbon development concept in the entire process of urban planning, construction and management.”
However, record smog levels in Beijing during the Paris conference highlighted the gap between rhetoric and reform. The government responded with a limited ban on cars, but proactive rather than reactive strategies are necessary, especially considering China’s plan to drastically increase its urban population.
In an analysis of the country’s COP21 goals, China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy (NSCS) recognized urbanization as a significant challenge. The country’s urban population is projected to reach 1 billion by 2030, with 75 percent of the population living in cities by 2050. As farmers move to cities, their lifestyles will inevitably shift, which could lead to an increase in energy consumption. One study showed that China’s average urban resident consumed 1.4 times as much energy as the average rural resident in 2012.
But in this rush to urbanize, China also has an enormous opportunity to move toward a “new pattern of urbanization.” Chinese cities could fulfill their potential to be the most energy-efficient human habitat rather than stoking energy consumption.